|About the presenter: Steven Kaufman is an HR assistant to five specialists and a member of the National Stuttering Association. Born in New York, he currently lives in northwestern Montgomery County, Md., and counts motivational speaking, karaoke, and attending galas as his interests.|
|About the presenter: Beth Bienvenu is a former disability employment policy advisor, and currently works for the US federal government on issues related to access for people with disabilities. She has stuttered since the age of 7 and is a member of the Rockville chapter of the National Stuttering Association. She lives in the Washington DC area in suburban Maryland with her husband and two cats.|
I graduated magna cum laude with a journalism degree, and also earned a paralegal certificate with honors. I was never afraid of speaking on the phone, or going up to complete strangers and talking to them. Yet as I entered the field of law, attorneys and their staff would often grimace or indicate in some way that my speech was going to prevent me from being productive in their workplace. In fact, one associate said to my face, "I don't think a paralegal job is for you. You have to be fluent with my clients and I don't know if you can." Finally I was offered a billing clerk job in a law firm instead of the legal assistant job I wanted. After being vocal about my feelings, I was asked to leave. I felt ashamed of who I was, worthless, and alone.
I spent the last four years of my life working for a restaurant behind the counter, and although I knew this was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I was very grateful to work for an owner who saw I could be doing much more in my life. He always allowed me time off for interviews.
Over the course of three years, I attended special hiring fairs hosted by a Long Island-based company that took place in Washington, DC, and where there would be many recruiters from federal agencies. Every position seems to require "excellent oral communication skills." It can be very painful to have the door continually slammed in your face for something you cannot control and I refused to listen to the reasons why I shouldn't apply. I also started to attend special hiring events for individuals with disabilities, which were sponsored by the "Careers & The Disabled" Magazine, and held at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, DC. Although I received many "We'll keep your resume on file" responses. Some recruiters recognized me from attending repeat events. Persistence and resilience are two qualities that were important in getting me to where I am today.
Some people who stutter are very sensitive about having their stuttering labeled as a "disability," even if it is recognized under the Americans With Disabilities Act, but that was an important piece of legislation that helped me find gainful employment in the United States.
The federal government in the United States has a special hiring authority called Schedule A, which allows agencies to give special considerations for people with disabilities to be selected for various types of positions. This is in no way a guarantee, and you do have to meet the qualifications of the job. But this definitely is something that should be strongly considered.
The Schedule A Hiring Authority program is especially designed for job seekers who want to obtain work with the federal government. It helps to level the playing field for people who feel they are unable to find work in the private sector-if you have a valid disability, you are eligible for special considerations when it comes to hiring. It can be a golden opportunity to move forward and open a door, which may have forever been locked. I've seen how others are looked at: whether they are deaf or in a wheelchair, we all have the right to find a job and feel productive. People who have disabilities are in fact some of the best employees out there.
It is because of Schedule A that I was able to be interviewed and get hired by the government. I currently work as a Human Resources Assistant for the National Institutes Of Health in Bethesda, Md. I relocated from Long Island and I absolutely love it here. Every day I get up and take the Metro to work, I know that I am making a real difference and am part of an organization that is truly making the world better for those who are struggling with their health. From AIDS to cancer, the NIH truly is on the forefront of everything. Dreams really do come true -- and if it weren't for my stuttering, maybe I wouldn't be here today. I work with other people who are similar to me, and there's one overriding theme: We're all equal. There are a few human resource assistants who are deaf, and we all have no problem communicating. Ever. Schedule A has truly been an integral asset in my job search, and it can be for you as well.
One of the biggest values I have learned is that how you look at things determines how far you go. On my second interview, one of the panelists who interviewed me made a statement that I think is the one of the most important lessons out there: "You can't teach attitude."
The next day, I was offered the job.
We are all extraordinary in many ways. I always believed I would end up in the Washington DC area. It's amazing how funny life works - but there is a plan. I now believe that more than ever.
Working for the US federal government, however, is one opportunity in which our stuttering can be an advantage. The federal government has been tasked with becoming a model employer, and federal agencies across the country are taking steps to increase their hiring of people with disabilities. Through initiatives to change manager perceptions and through special hiring fairs, they have increased their hiring of people with disabilities in the last few years. Steven benefitted from this hiring initiative and you can too.
The largest employer in the United States, the federal government has thousands of jobs throughout the country. Although you might think that most federal jobs are in Washington, DC, nearly 85% of federal jobs are located outside of Washington DC, and more than 44,000 are located outside the US, according to the Partnership for Public Service. The IRS, Social Security Administration, and US Postal Service serve the public in every city and county in the country. The Department of Defense has civilian jobs on and off every military installation, while the Veterans Administration serves veterans in VA hospitals and service centers. The US Park Service, Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Agriculture, and dozens of other agencies have regional offices and activities throughout the country.
Jobs in the federal government are as diverse as the country's workforce. There are positions in healthcare, law enforcement, fire protection, human resources, science, engineering, accounting, public affairs, program management, transportation, public policy, and law, just to name a few. Jobs are available from entry-level though senior executive service. If you are concerned that government budget cuts may reduce the number of jobs available, keep in mind that over 240,000 employees were expected to retire between 2010 and 2012, according to the Partnership for Public Service, and with even more Baby Boomers retiring in the next few decades, more jobs will become available.
To find and apply for federal jobs, most people use USA Jobs, a website that allows people to search for federal jobs by city, agency, or job category and submit their applications for open positions. This process, though it has recently been improved and streamlined, can be cumbersome and it often takes a long time for a position to be filled. Steven, however, was hired through the Schedule A Hiring Authority, a program that was developed to help level the playing field for people with severe physical or mental disabilities, and bring more people with disabilities into the federal workforce. It provides for the direct appointment of these applicants through a non-competitive process, and can make the application process quicker and easier for both applicant and manager. Candidates must have the knowledge, skills, and abilities for the job and must demonstrate proof of disability*. Given that people with disabilities face many barriers to employment, from employer misperceptions about ability to the difficulties that the application process can pose for people with particular disabilities (e.g., vision disabilities), this hiring authority helps to level the playing field and ensure that the federal workforce reflects our population and that diverse perspectives are represented throughout.
I used to train federal hiring managers and human resources managers on the use of Schedule A and have been a big proponent of it as a way to increase the hiring of people with disabilities in the federal workforce. The strategy that you need to use is to contact the Selective Placement Coordinator at the federal agency that you are interested in working for (see information below on how to contact these individuals). They can help you determine your eligibility for positions in their agency, let you know of positions available at your experience level, and provide your resume to agency hiring officials for their consideration.
At this point, some of you may be wondering why you would consider a program for people with "severe disabilities". Many people who stutter don't consider stuttering a disability or don't define themselves as being "disabled". This is a common debate among PWS. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a disability is a condition that "substantially limits one or more major life activities". The definition is vague, but speaking is definitely considered one of the many major life activities that are so important in our lives. However, the term "substantially limits" is one point of debate. Does your stuttering substantially limit your ability to speak? For some, the answer may be yes, and for some, the answer may be no. Beyond the technicalities, many PWS don't use the label of disability because of the stigma attached to the term "disabled". It invokes negative images that have been perpetuated through the media's emphasis on pity and struggle. However, many in the disability advocacy community embrace the term "disability" and take great pride in their accomplishments and the full lives they lead, just as we PWS do. We have to remember that almost 1 in 5 people have a disability, and it is a part of a diverse society and diverse workplaces. People with disabilities have a unique perspective and experiences that add to the diversity of our society and workplaces, making our lives and workplaces richer. We can learn a lot from the disability community and should look to the accomplishments of the disability rights movement and the improvements it has made in all of our lives.**
So whether or not you choose to use the Schedule A Hiring Authority to aid you in your job search, I encourage you to consider a job with the US federal government. Steven and I have both found meaningful and rewarding careers, and have the satisfaction of knowing that we serve the people of our country and help them live better lives.
* Proof of disability for using the Schedule A Hiring Authority can be satisfied with a simple letter stating that you have a severe disability. You can get this letter from your doctor, a licensed medical professional, a licensed rehabilitation professional, or any entity that issues or provides disability benefits. This can include speech therapists.
**If you would like to read more about stuttering as a disability or engage in a discussion about the topic, see the article posted in this ISAD conference by Nina Ghiselli and me.
US Office of Personnel Management (OPM): http://www.opm.gov
OPM disability resources: http://www.opm.gov/disability
USA Jobs (Federal job search tool and resources): http://www.usajobs.gov
Schedule A Hiring Authority information: http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/initiatives/lead/abc_applicants_with_disabilities.cfm
Information on finding agency Selective Placement Coordinators: http://www.opm.gov/disability/ (Note that not all agencies have a Selective Placement Coordinator, but you can also contact the agency's human resource office.)
Where the Jobs Are 2009: Mission-Critical Opportunities for America, by the Partnership for Public Service: http://ourpublicservice.org/OPS/publications/viewcontentdetails.php?id=137