FAA Celebrates National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM)
Vol.5 Issue 7
(L-R) Douglas Lane, Alison Levy (keynote speaker) and Greg Brooks.

For the first time in the history of the National Coalition of Federal Aviation Employees with Disabilities (NCFAED), their annual Awards program was hosted in the Southwest Region of the FAA. Greg Brooks, President of NCFAED and Douglas Lane, Southwest Regional Human Resources Manager collaborated and developed a program to address the topic of hiring people with disabilities in the private and public sector. Partners with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) instituted the theme "Right Talent, Right Now" for the 2019 program.

In keeping with tradition, this annual event showcases individuals or organizations within the FAA that make a difference. Their efforts or programs showcase the hiring of people with disabilities and providing the necessary adjustments, such as reasonable accommodations that keep the work environment fair and accessible. Individuals and/or organizations are nominated by FAA employees, and if selected, are recognized by NCFAED with an annual award called the Keller-Sullivan Award. This Award is in honor of Helen Keller and her mentor and Ann Sullivan.

On Wednesday, October 2, 2019 at 10am the program was kicked off in Fort Worth, Texas. Local guest singer, Paige Langford sang the National Anthem. Douglas Lane, Manager (AHF-C300) introduced the Acting Regional Administrator Rob Lowe. Lowe welcomed the 125 plus member audience and spoke about creating and supporting an inclusive culture that provides provisions to promote programs like National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). He also talked about the new Air Traffic Organization’s pilot program Aviation Development Program (ADP) that trains people with disabilities to work in air traffic control facilities. He explained the challenges of hiring using Direct Hire or Schedule A candidates within the FAA. "Although we are meeting our goals, we need to work harder to retain and promote these employees who have talent in this very competitive arena of aviation," explained Lowe.

Lowe went on to express, "As our world becomes more complex, so do our challenges…" His message was clear and concise, as there is still a long way to go with the problem solving and achieving continued success with regard to employing people with disabilities.

Lane introduced the keynote speaker, Alison Levy. Ms. Levy is the Manager of the Disability Resource Center (DRC) within the Department of Transportation (DOT). She communicated with the audience by periodically utilizing sign language in her presentation while engaging in her power point presentation. Levy observed this year as being the 20th anniversary of the DRC, as she reinforced the DRC’s mission, "To ensure that the DOT employees and applicants with disabilities can participate fully and contribute to all aspects of the Department’s work, programs and services."

Levy continued with her demonstration by identifying the core services offered by the DRC. She spoke about recruitment and hiring guidance, reasonable accommodations, consultation and technical assistance offered in workshops, webinars, and outreach programs.

Another aspect of Levy’s speech involved On the Spot Hiring Authority and Workforce Recruitment Programs. Noticeably, the audience was interested in her ability to explain the differences between career fields and how those who were considered disABLED could perform the tasks at hand and were competent to overcome their various categories of disability.

Levy also identified the benefits of the Federal government teaming up with the State Vocational Rehabilitation Services, and how bridges can be built between personnel and the services being funded. She informed the audience about specialized amenities such as Interpreting and Captioning technologies. Emphasis was given to the importance of personal assistance services, assistive technologies and facility modifications. Her presentation concluded by telling the audience how they could link up to DRC@DOT.gov for more information and guidance. Levy made herself available after the program to answer questions and provide additional information.

Panel Discussion during NDEAM event with (L-R) Celeste Flemming (moderator), William Belz, Gina Emrich, and John Viard.

The program then provided panel members comprised of William Belz, Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), Gina Emrich, American Airlines and John Viard, Southwest Airlines to provide discussions and answer questions. The panel was moderated by the FAA Academy’s Celeste Flemming of the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center.

Belz articulated the technical and monetary support that TWC provides to its clientele. TWC furnishes a full range of tools and sustenance. By doing so, his organization enables workers with disabilities an opportunity to successfully work and receive training.

Emrich and Viard explained to the audience their level of internal collaboration. As disability advocates for rival airlines, they often find themselves speaking on a daily basis in order to pool resources and their knowledge concerning air travel for disabled customers and travel-related employment issues for employees. She also highlighted the Ability Employee Resource Business Group which focuses on improving the negative experiences for disabled customers who have to travel. She was especially proud of the ’It’s Cool to Fly’ program which serves families who have children with autism. Emrich asserted, "The airlines have learned that focusing on the laws is not as important as focusing on the airline resources available. Furthermore, when you improve the experience for customers with disabilities, you improve the experience for everyone."

Alternatively, William Belz described several success stories at the TWC which included how they assisted and placed an employee decades ago; who is still working successfully for the same employer. This employee was inspired when another disabled wage earner (who had previously obtained transportation assistance through the TWC) came by to give him a ride to work in his specially equipped vehicle.

John Viard noted that he enjoys working with a company whose values completely support Diversity and Inclusiveness (D & I). He affirmed, "Getting the disability program started was a natural process. And it is imperative that we are honest when things do not go as planned. Trust must be maintained through transparency." Viard closed by stating, " Southwest Airlines uses a Talent Acquisition Team that keeps a keen lookout for great people and how current employees serve as resources for identifying talent."

Greg Brooks, National NCFAED President, presented the Keller-Sullivan awards stating, "Helen Keller’s mentor Anne Sullivan successfully broke all physical barriers that permitted her to overcome the seclusion imposed by a childhood illness. So, it is with great honor and pride that NCFAED recognizes these great women for their unimaginable lifetime achievements. NCFAED intends to uphold the legacy with annual awards that recognize those who share the same vitality and drive to overcome adversity when faced with insurmountable odds."

Brooks specified, "Our 2019 award winners come from various backgrounds of the FAA; one recipient deals with compliance and policy, one is a Program Manager who hires those who have daily challenges and another confronts his challenges in a way that motivates others. That’s what makes the FAA a unique place to work. It’s our people who make a difference."

Brooks then introduced NCFAED National Board Member, Hal Buie, Southwest Regional Labor Relations Specialist to come forward and announce that Sadie Perez, Acting Director for Civil Rights within National Policy, Compliance and Special Emphasis Programs was one of the recipients of the 2019 Keller-Sullivan awards.

Greg Brooks (L) and Hal Buie (R) with Sadie Perez, 2019 Keller Sullivan Award recipient

Buie then read the following, "If the FAA has a concern or a question about a disability hiring requirement, they come to Sadie Perez for the answers. Harnetta Williams of Civil Rights wrote in her nomination, "Sadie has devoted many hours working with Human Resources, Aviation Medicine, Chief Counsel, and the Air Traffic Organization to develop a workable employment solution in support of the disability community. When ’ninth hour’ issues come up, Sadie immediately addresses them to ensure successful execution of the programs. She has also worked with other FAA leaders in the creation of the Aviation Development Program (ADP). The ADP platform can be used to enhance and increase the applicant pool for all underrepresented groups and revolutionize the FAA hiring processes." NCFAED also recognizes Sadie’s abilities to lead and change policies if required, and for those reasons NCFAED presents Sadie Perez with a 2019 Keller-Sullivan award."

Next, NCFAED National Board Member, Andrea Harris, Manager Assistant, Air Traffic Safety Oversight Service came forward and introduce the next recipient. She announced that Skyler Herenstein, a Clerk-Typist, from the New York Certificate Management Office (CMO) was the next award winner. Herenstein was nominated by Lorna Christian, an Aviation Safety Inspector within AVS.

Harris read, "Sometimes it’s not the Manager that leads others in the office but, the subordinates. Skyler Herenstein is that inspirational leader. She stated, "Skyler’s positive attitude and outgoing personality has earned him the nickname,"NY3." He enjoys the challenges of his job and when asked what he likes the most about working at the New York CMO, he said the people he works with are supportive and caring. They’re like a family." Lorna also wrote in her nomination, "In the five years Skyler has been in our office, he has earned a special place in the hearts of each of us. His smile and energy add a spark to this office, and we are grateful to have Skyler as part of our team. Because of Skyler’s positive attitude, NCFAED recognizes his contributions to the FAA with a 2019 Keller-Sullivan award."

Finally, NCFAED member Cory Nelson, a SW Region Human Resource Specialist, read the nomination for Randall Burke, Program Director for the Logistics Center at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City. Burke was nominated by Kelly Bennett, Engineering Technician from AML-4023.

(L-R) Greg Brooks, Cory Nelson, Randall Burke and Kelly Bennett. Burke was among the 2019 Keller Sullivan Award recipients.

Nelson stated, "When Kelly Bennett nominated Randall Burke to be recognized with a Keller-Sullivan award the key word that came to his mind was "opportunity." In a previous FAA publication, Burke stated, "My job is to help gather the resources to accomplish the mission, to remove barriers and allow our team of talented professionals to get the mission accomplished." Over the last nine months, the AML-1 Program Director has been instrumental in hiring 12 Direct Hires, who otherwise may not have been given consideration. Technician Bennett was one of those twelve. NCFAED is also very much aware of Director Burke’s initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusiveness within the FAA, and this is why NCFAED presents Manager Burke with a 2019 Keller-Sullivan award." Burke spoke briefly concerning the importance of D&I within the FAA and how we should all try to improve to hire those with disabilities. Greg Brooks then closed the ceremony with brief comments and introduced all of the NCFAED members who were present.

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