The contents of this column reflect the letters we had received by the time we went to press, June 4, 2010. Letters are limited to 300 words or fewer. All submissions must include the author's name and location. Opinions expressed are those of the authors.

In Reply to 'At Work with the Feds'

I read with interest Ken O'Sullivan's piece, "At Work with the Feds" (March 2010) and immediately began thinking.  O'Sullivan stated that there has been a "steady decline" in the ranks of disabled federal employees in recent years. 

While I'm glad to see any large employer (including the government) make targeted efforts to hire people with disabilities, I still wondered exactly WHY there has been a decline.  Surely, issues of outreach and employer attitudes can (and unfortunately do) factor into trends like this.  But I think we are making a grave mistake if we attribute such a decline solely to those factors.  I'm wondering if the following factors have also contributed:

1) The government is no longer one of the only avenues of employment for people with disabilities.  As ADA has taken hold and societal attitudes have begun to shift, I've started to see workers with disabilities represented in fields outside the traditional "ghettos" of the public and human services sectors.  There are now workers with disabilities well represented in Fortune 500 companies, the financial services sector, IT, customer service and so on.

2) As access technology has become more affordable, more opportunities have opened up for disabled workers as small- to medium-sized employers no longer see the cost of accommodation as an issue.  I'm sure all of us over 40 remember the days when it cost between $10,000 and $20,000 to accommodate a totally blind worker and $5,000 to $10,000 to accommodate a partially sighted employee.  Those costs are now a fraction of what they once were (generally under $1,000 to give a totally blind worker basic accommodations, $5,000 to go all out). 

Federal recruitment efforts aimed at the disabled need to be "outside the box." Recruiters now need to recruit those of us with disabilities in much the same way traditional hires are recruited: by cherry-picking from the private sector and working with college career placement offices.  I'm hoping that O'Sullivan and others involved with this effort also consider venues where people with disabilities who are already employed gather such as the AFB's CareerConnect, E-Sight, and mainstream trade associations.

-- Robert R. Robbins, Maryland Heights, Mo.

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