[author type="author"]David San Miguel[/author][image align="right" caption="The U.S. Army Contracting Command facilitates agreements with AbilityOne and other organizations supporting those with disabilities to provide work for people with disabilities. Here, San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind (SALB) employee Henry Martinez describes his job to SGT Harlowe Allen at the SALB during a visit from 40 U.S. Army South NCOs in June 2011. (U.S. Army photo by Robert Ramon.)" linkto="/web/wp-content/uploads/original1.jpg" linktype="image"]“/web/wp-content/uploads/original1.jpg” height=”167″ width=”246″[/image]
One needs only to read the headlines, listen to the radio, or watch the evening news to learn that the unemployment rate is high and that thousands of people are without jobs.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor statistics reports that the Nation’s unemployment rate for November stood at 8.6 percent—meaning an estimated 13.3 million Americans are without work.
Employment can prove even more challenging for disabled people, said Deborah A. Ault, Chief, Contracts Division, Mission and Installation Contracting Command, Fort Knox, KY. Ault was recognized in March as an AbilityOne Champion by NISH, formerly the National Industries for the Severely Handicapped. According to AbilityOne Program statistics, unemployment for individuals with disabilities is at an “alarmingly high rate of 70 percent.”
The AbilityOne Program is a federal initiative that works with public and private organizations to generate employment for those who are blind or have other disabilities. It employs more than 47,000 disabled individuals, including more than 3,300 wounded veterans, at more than 600 community-based nonprofit agencies across the country.
But the unemployment rate is just one reason that U.S. Army Contracting Command (ACC) is reaching out to contracting officers in the field to encourage them to do business with AbilityOne organizations. “It’s a good fit for the Army Contracting Command,” Ault said. “Contracts awarded under the program provide good job opportunities for people with disabilities, specifically disabled veterans. Once a service or supply is added to the procurement list, a long-term relationship is formed that should continually improve services over time and decrease procurement lead time.”
Carol E. Lowman, ACC Executive Director, agreed. In September, she was appointed by President Barack Obama as a member of the Committee for Purchase from People who are Blind or Severely Disabled.
An avid supporter of the AbilityOne Program, Lowman does what she can to facilitate and encourage AbilityOne contracts. But, she added, “It’s the contracting officers in the field who do the work to support the program.”
[quote align="left"]Contracts awarded under the program provide good job opportunities for people with disabilities, specifically disabled veterans. Once a service or supply is added to the procurement list, a long-term relationship is formed that should continually improve services over time and decrease procurement lead time.[/quote]
Partnerships between ACC and AbilityOne have extended to ACC-Rock Island, IL, where six legally blind individuals have been employed to help close out more than 120,000 contract files from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The workers came from the Chicago Lighthouse for People who are Blind or Visually Impaired, a 105-year-old nonprofit social service agency.
Success stories like those found at Rock Island help educate the public about the variety of disabilities and how individuals with these disabilities can still contribute.
“The biggest challenge is with the customer,” Ault explained. “Customers are concerned that people with disabilities cannot perform certain functions or that quality of service will decline. This is typically overcome by educating the customer about the variety of conditions that constitute disability, both cognitive and physical, and sharing contract success stories.”
Lowman recalls an AbilityOne employee who was cleaning her office, and whose hours were being reduced as a result of budget cuts.
“I asked him how he felt about his hours being cut,” she said. “He responded by telling me he didn’t mind because he knew that the money he would have made would be going to support the Soldier. He knew that he, too, was serving his country. That’s what this program is all about, and I am proud to support it.”
“Support of the AbilityOne Program is the easiest part of my job as a contracting officer,” Ault added. “Knowing that as a result of my contracting efforts, people with severe disabilities will have job opportunities makes that support easy to give. It’s a win-win program.”
- DAVID SAN MIGUEL is an award-winning Army journalist assigned to the U.S. Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal, AL, where he serves as the Editor/Writer of the command’s weekly newsletter.