“Before I started working here, I suffered from low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence because people tended to look at my disability and not me as a person,” said Charquilla McGaffeny, Training Support Specialist at Parks Reserve Forces Training Area (PRFTA). “This job has helped to rebuild me as a person and I have accomplished many of my goals since being here.”
McGaffeny has dwarfism and lives with physical pain daily, but it does not hinder her personality from shining through. Dwarfism is a condition that causes adults to measure up to 4 feet 10 inches and under. This condition affects about 1 in 15,000 people, and can occur even if both parents are of average height. There are more than 300 conditions that can cause dwarfism. Since childhood, McGaffeny suffers with pain from the compression of her spinal discs, a result of her condition. She survived a 14-hour back surgery and might need other one to help alleviate the pain.
As if her disability were not enough of a challenge, McGaffeny also grew up as the youngest child of eight in McComb, Mississippi. She was bullied for her condition and for being poor. “It was a challenge with so many kids,” she said. “We knew we didn’t have much, but we didn’t know we were poor.”
People, herself included, didn’t know what her condition was. She wasn’t diagnosed until she was a year old, and didn’t learn what dwarfism was until she was an adult. “I didn’t understand why I wasn’t growing,” said McGaffeny.
Before high school, McGaffeny kept to herself to avoid the bullies, and was an honor student. McGaffeny’s mother raised her to be strong and to overcome challenges. “She asked me one day, ‘Quilla, what are you going to do when I’m not around?’” That’s when it hit home. “I finally just accepted who I was and drove on,” said McGaffeny. She learned to be self-sufficient and resourceful, such as learning how to cook and do her family’s hair.
During her high school years, McGaffeny began coming out of her shell by taking a sewing class and joining the softball team. She started making friends and her life became brighter. Her sewing came in handy because she had to alter the hand-me-downs from her sisters. It also helped her earn a little income from selling clothes she made.
“My Momma was my first customer,” said McGaffeny, who gets emotional when talking about her mother, who passed away in 2007. “She always wore what I made, no matter how bad the stitching was. She was my biggest fan and always encouraged me.” Sewing continues to be one of her passions and she has her own business selling items she creates.
Another passion of hers is acting. She says watching the TV show, “Different Strokes” inspired her to be an actress. “I always knew I wanted to act,” said McGaffeny. “I just love entertaining, and making people laugh.” One of her major acting jobs was being an Ewok in “Return of Jedi” in 1996.
McGaffeny recalls a doctor telling her mother that her child would never be able to work. “My Mom was like, ‘Oh no, my child is not going on the (welfare) check! My baby is smart. She might need a little help but she can do what others can do.’”
McGaffeny moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1990, joining some of her sisters who moved to California before she was born. She and her family knew that she’d have more rights in California. “They don’t mess around with discrimination here,” said McGaffeny. She tried to get a driver’s license in Mississippi but was denied because of her disability. She got her California driver’s license in 1991 and owns a car with special adaptations to the pedals.
She began her journey at PRFTA in May 2003, as a CALIDAD Industries contractor serving as a purchasing agent for the installation. In February 2018, McGaffeny became an Army Civilian working as a Training Support Specialist in the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization, and Security (DPTMS). “It was a dream come true,” said McGaffeny. “I always wanted to be in the military but couldn’t because I didn’t meet the height requirement.”
Working as a Department of Army Civilian (DAC) fulfilled her yearning to serve the country. The government employment also meant she finally had a dependent income with benefits.
Range Operations Manager Mark Young, recalls when he began working with McGaffeny in 2007, and how he discovered her caring and generous personality. McGaffeny and another co-worker coordinated an effort to make a baby blanket for his new-born daughter. “Since becoming a DAC, Ms. McGaffeny has really expanded her impact on DPTMS. Where one can really observe her shine is when she is conducting classes to a large audience. No task is too big for Ms. McGaffeny,” said Young. She single-handedly provided all the Range Facility Management Support System (RFMSS) training to customers who were new to the system.”
“I have never felt like anyone here at PRFTA has looked at me as someone with a disability,” said McGaffeny. “I believe they just see me as a person who has the ability to do the job.” She says the PRFTA Command Team has always been supportive of her special needs, and have provided things like step stools, special key board, lumbar back support, and an ergonomic desk chair. “It would be great if we can have ADA equipped vehicles though because I have to use my own vehicle during work hours,” said McGaffeny.
McGaffeny is proud of completing the Foundations Course of the Army's Civilian Education System. Her goal is to be a supervisor in DPTMS one day, and earning an undergraduate and graduate degree in business management.
McGaffeny’s mother told her once, “What is meant for you, can’t be kept from you.” She encourages those with disabilities to never stop dreaming. “Persevere and never let anyone tell you that you can’t achieve your goals. Shoot for the stars, aim for the moon. Believe in yourself.”
This year marks not only the 75th observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), but also the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The National Disability Employment Awareness Month dates back to 1945, with the return of service members with disabilities from World War II. Congress enacted a law to bring about awareness, and to celebrate the contributions of individuals with disabilities in the American workforce.
The federal government has two types of hiring processes – competitive and non-competitive. In the non-competitive hiring process, agencies use a special authority (Schedule A) to hire persons with disabilities without requiring them to compete for the job. Learn more here: https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/disability-employment/
The Army recognizes not only the significance of individual contributions but also the value of diversity and an inclusive environment. U.S. Army Garrison Fort Hunter Liggett/Parks Reserve Forces Training Area hosts many observances to raise awareness and celebrate the diverse culture that makes the Army great.
Available resources: https://askjan.org/