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In observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), the Walter Reed Bethesda Multicultural Committee hosted an event recently in Tranquility Hall (Building 62) to provide wounded warriors and their families information regarding employment and transition assistance.

“We are basically saying, ‘Thank You,’ and providing some transition information and free food to the wounded warriors,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Jason Zielske, chair of the Walter Reed Bethesda Multicultural Committee. “The purpose of the event [was] to provide awareness that people with disabilities can be productive employees and contributors to society. We hope this event can shed some light on potential contributions and production from persons with disabilities and create an all-inclusive atmosphere.”

This year’s theme for the observance was “A Strong Workforce is an Inclusive Workforce: What Can You Do?”

“‘What Can You Do’ is certainly a question [that is] wide open to interpretation,” said Kathy Martinez, assistant secretary, U.S. Department of Labor (DoL), Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), while discussing this year’s theme for NDEAM in a video message on DoL’s website. When ODEP was established in 2001, it assumed responsibility for NDEAM, and has worked to expand its reach and scope, stated DoL officials.

“For most people, especially adults, the answer [to what can you do] usually pertains to their occupations or employment,” Martinez continued. “That’s because work is fundamental to a person’s identity. It means much more than a paycheck. It offers purpose and the opportunity to lead an independent, self-directed life for all people, including [individuals] like me with disabilities,” added Martinez, who is blind. “I say that with certainty, because I am one of the millions of people with disabilities in this country.”

Martinez said her parents instilled in her and her siblings an expectation of work, “and that has made all the difference in our lives. The importance of work actually extends far beyond the individual. When all people are able to contribute and be recognized for their skills and abilities, society as a whole reaps the benefits. Local economies are bolstered. Communities are strengthened. This important principle is the premise behind this year’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month theme.”

She said the theme reaffirms everyone has a role to play and can benefit from the increasing employment opportunities of people with disabilities. “We encourage employers of all sizes and all industries to foster workplaces [that are] welcoming to employees and potential employees with disabilities. The responsibility doesn’t stop there. Those of us with disabilities ourselves must understand the intrinsic value of work and the skills and talents we have to offer. Youth with disabilities must grow up with the expectations of employment.” She added parents and others must reinforce those expectations “by cultivating a clear vision of work and community participation.”

“Put simply, America’s future success requires us to capitalize on all talents of all segments of our population, and the responsibility for making that happen must be shared,” Martinez said. “There is something everyone can do every day of every month to increase employment of people with disabilities.”

Jim Lefebvre, Army Career and Alumni Program (ACAP) center manager, said his job is to help service members progress to a successful transition out of the military and into a private sector, federal or state job that meets their needs and also meets the needs of that employer.

“Your disability is not something that automatically disqualifies you don’t let that nonsense set in,” said Lefebvre. “We are here to help you with internships and all those sort of programs, but a lot of work is going to come from you. The more work you put into it, the better off your results will be.”

Lefebvre suggests coming to see them as soon as possible, as having ample time usually leads to better results.

“One thing for any disabled person, is starting as early as you’re ready to do so,” said Lefebvre. “If you have a year or 18 months left on your transition process, we will have a lot better success with you. Utilize all of the programs that are out there. There is a wonderful wounded warrior mentor project that’s associated with the program here at Walter Reed. That’s where people like myself work with you on a one-on-one basis much more frequently than you can in the staff world here. [As] staff, you have some individual time, but this is time above and beyond that people donate to the individual or wounded warrior so we can make sure he or she is getting the type of assistance they need.”

Representatives from the ACAP, as well as the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) and the Fleet and Family Support Center participated in the Walter Reed Bethesda’s NDEAM event. ACAP’s goal is to ensure all Soldiers who leave the Army with more than 180 days of active duty comply with legal and regulatory requirements to receive pre-separation counseling on available transition assistance services and benefits as early as possible.

TAP was established to meet the needs of separating service members during their period of transition into civilian life by offering job-search assistance and related services, according to TAP officials. TAP is designed to help service members within 180 days of separation or retirement and their spouses make the initial transition from military service to the civilian workplace with less difficulty. For more information about TAP, visit http://www.dol.g ov/vets/programs/tap/main.htm.

In proclaiming NDEAM 2012, President Barack Obama stated, “In the 22 years since the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we have made significant progress in giving all Americans the freedom to make of our lives what we will. Yet, in times of prosperity as well as challenge, people with disabilities have had fewer opportunities in our workplaces than those without. As we work to revitalize our economy, it is essential that each of us can bring our talents, expertise, and passion to bear in the marketplace. But a stronger economy is not enough; we must ensure not only full participation, but also full opportunity. All Americans are entitled to an accessible workplace, a level playing field, and the same privileges, pursuits, and opportunities as any of their family, friends, and neighbors. I urge all Americans to embrace the talents and skills that individuals with disabilities bring to our workplaces and communities and to promote the rights to equal employment opportunity for all people.”