Sometimes the best stories at DHS are the ones that are seldom heard. For example, the incredible increase in persons with disabilities employed at DHS and their many contributions to safety and securing our homeland. We've known that to achieve our mission, we must tap into the knowledge, skills and abilities of all Americans. This includes one of the most under-utilized sectors of our country's workforce - people with disabilities. Between February 2004 and October 2007, DHS headquarters witnessed a nearly 300 percent increase in employment of individuals with disabilities - from 50 to 191 employees. And, the department is stronger and more efficient thanks to their countless contributions day in and day out.

Both Secretary Chertoff and former Secretary Ridge have led a focused initiative to ensure that people with disabilities, including veterans who have been wounded serving our country overseas, are offered equal employment opportunities. The results have been remarkable. When this initiative began, individuals with disabilities comprised less than 2.5 percent of the headquarters workforce; now, they comprise over six percent. DHS headquarters further distinguished itself at the SES level, with a 7.4 percent participation rate for employees with disabilities (compared to the government-wide participation rate of less than four percent). We also exceeded the government-wide participation rate for the employment of people with disabilities at the GS 13, 14, and 15 grade levels.

The Secretary's directive for DHS headquarters also served as a catalyst for the component agencies. FLETC and the Secret Service achieved impressive net increases in the employment of individuals with disabilities. FEMA, FLETC and the Coast Guard also exceeded the government-wide participation rate for the employment of people with disabilities at the GS 13, 14 and 15 grade levels. Most impressively, USCIS reports that approximately 10 percent of the new employees hired in 2007 were people with disabilities. This is a direct result of Director Emilio Gonzalez's personal leadership on this issue.

DHS is among the first federal agencies to participate in the Department of Defense's Operation Warfighter. The program provides wounded service members with meaningful opportunities, and provides DHS with an important new pipeline of veterans with skills, talents and abilities needed to support its mission. As a result, five DHS components (including the Coast Guard, USCIS and ICE) exceeded the government-wide participation rate for the employment of disabled veterans in FY 2007.

However, there is still much more ground to cover. While DHS headquarters and some components experienced positive results, the number of individuals with disabilities across our total workforce has essentially remained stagnant. Moreover, individuals with "targeted disabilities" continue to face very substantial obstacles as they seek equal employment opportunities.

To address these continuing obstacles, we are introducing two new projects that will be a great resource to our managers across the Department.

First, we have developed a new training program, "Employment of People with Disabilities: A Roadmap to Success." This 45-minute training describes the department's initiative, identifies the tools that make hiring people with disabilities a convenient option and contains personal testimonials from four DHS employees with disabilities. The statements from these employees are powerful.

The second new project is an "Accessibility Help Desk." Like most large organizations, DHS currently operates many IT Help Desks. We now have a help desk staffed with specialists who understand unique disability-related information technology and assistive technologies. Employees with disabilities can be assured that a trained specialist will be there to help them with accessibility issues.

As we reflect on the department's first five years, and on this initiative, we can point to many significant results. But, we are not complacent. It is our goal to continue to improve on these results if we want to truly open the doors of equal opportunity, and ensure our workforce meets the highest standards of excellence. DHS values diversity.

Daniel W. Sutherland
Officer for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties