By G. Anthonie Riis | Fort Knox NewsOctober 1, 2019
Fort Knox's Equal Employment Opportunity Office is reminding installation supervisors and organizations that the month of October is not simply a time to be aware of people with disabilities; it's also being aware of an entire employment pool.
"October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month," said James Norfleet, Fort Knox EEO specialist. "We celebrate the many and varied contributions of American workers with disabilities, but we also raise awareness about disability employment issues, too."
Even in a boom economy, according to Norfleet, many people with disabilities struggle to get jobs.
"The unemployment rate for the country is historically low at approximately 3.6% right now, but for individuals with a disability, their unemployment rate is closer to 7.2%," said Norfleet. "If the country's employment was that low then we're probably in a recession."
The federal government offers provisions to expedite putting qualified people with disabilities to work, he said.
"The government leads the way in seeking out and hiring those with a disability and facilitating qualified people in a manner that allows them to work and contribute like anyone else," said Norfleet. "Approximately 67% of individuals on Fort Knox have some form of disability."
Norfleet said the installation isn't yet finished meeting its objectives.
"Fort Knox wants to be a model employer, with the goal being that the workforce [consists] of 2% of targeted disabilities," he said. "We're currently at .58 -- less than 1%."
Norfleet said targeted disabilities are some of the more serious handicaps, which include severe physical, intellectual and psychiatric debilities, but the debility alone isn't stipulation enough for a government job.
"Just having a disability doesn't qualify them for a position. They must have the qualifications for the job they're being hired for," Norfleet clarified. "We're talking about people with the skills supervisors are looking for, but who are being passed over because of a severe disability."
Norfleet said the Schedule A hiring process was designed to ease and expedite the hiring of individuals with targeted disabilities.
"We've got a whole pool of more than 1,000 qualified potential employees in [vocational rehabilitation] right here at Fort Knox who might be expedited into the workplace," said Norfleet. "With Schedule A, supervisors can do a non-competitive hire for qualified employees, and that person could be onboard in 30 days."
Norfleet explained that this process could be an attractive alternative to the normal months-long process that too often can yield few to no positive results.
"With the normal hiring, you jump through all the hoops to select candidates, interview candidates and hope you've got the right person for the job, only to lose them because the process took too long. Now, they've taken another offer or they decided they really couldn't pick up everything and move across the country," Norfleet said. "Typically, that means [Schedule A selections] are a better bet because you're hiring locally. They already live here."
There are federal organizations, according to Norfleet, that are specifically designed to alleviate most obstacles faced by individuals with disabilities.
"They may have a disability that has no direct effect on the jobs they perform, or they may need some accommodation to be able to perform the essential functions of the job," he said. "We advise employees and supervisors on reasonable accommodations, and we have programs like the Job Accommodation Network and Computer/Electronic Accommodation that can assist both individuals and employers throughout the process."