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Remarks of Mary Lou Leary, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

OJP Disability Employment Awareness Month

Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Washington, DC

       Thank you, Carl [Lucas]. Let me start by saying I really appreciate the work that you and the entire Equal Employment Opportunity Office do to make OJP a great place to work - for everyone.

        Of course, that work goes hand in hand with the efforts of Jennifer McCarthy and everyone in the Office of Administration. They work tirelessly to make sure that OJP employees know they are our biggest asset. So, thank you all.

        A little over one week ago, Johnnie Tuitel was told he was "too disabled" to fly. A professional motivational speaker who has logged nearly half a million miles in flight, Mr. Tuitel was shocked. US Airways had decided that he would be unable to help himself in the event of an emergency - without consulting him. His only option was to fly with a companion - and purchase that companion's ticket.

       Mr. Tuitel missed his speaking engagement that day, but views this as an opportunity to educate people. He emphasized that his primary reaction wasn't outrage - which would be completely justified - but instead embarrassment because he was unable to do his job. Mr. Tuitel just wanted to do his job.

        For too many workers with physical or intellectual disabilities, there are still real barriers to doing their jobs - barriers that are erected by ignorance and reinforced by intolerance. Today, we celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month and acknowledge that "Talent Has No Boundaries."

        Significantly, this year is also the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a landmark piece of legislation that offers essential protections. Over the years, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division have used lawsuits and settlement agreements to achieve greater access for individuals with disabilities. Their work continues today. While we still have much to do, every hurdle that we overcome is cause for celebration.

       When I was the Director of the National Center for Victims of Crimes, I had the opportunity to work with some incredibly talented individuals on a national conference on responding to crime victims with disabilities.

       While working with victim service providers from around the country, we found that an alarming number of people with disabilities were vulnerable to victimization. Add to that the fact that services for victims were often inaccessible - because of physical barriers, non-existent resources, or a lack of training.

       We set out to create a conference to train service providers and raise awareness in the field. In organizing the conference, we worked directly with people with various disabilities to make sure we were serving their diverse needs.

       I learned so much from each and every one of them. They showed me firsthand that talent has no boundaries. From the topics we needed to address to selecting a conference and hotel site that offered true accessibility, they educated me and my staff. Ultimately, the conference attendees gained awareness about disability issues and how they intersect with the concerns of crime victims. It was tremendously rewarding to see them leave with new tools to meet the needs of an underserved population.

       In my current role, I have been proud to see this Administration's commitment to promoting the hiring, placement, and advancement of qualified individuals with disabilities. In July, President Obama issued an executive order compelling the federal government to increase the hiring of people with disabilities, including veterans with disabilities. Attorney General Eric Holder has also explicitly asked hiring officials to expand the number of people with disabilities working at DOJ.

       Human Resources professionals throughout the government are working to meet these goals. In fact, just yesterday, the Office of Personnel Management held a government-wide training on increasing federal employment of individuals with disabilities. As I mentioned earlier, our leadership in this area is exemplary, and we will continue to strive to ensure that talent has no boundaries at OJP.

       Now, it is my pleasure to introduce today's keynote speaker. Claudia Gordon is the Special Assistant to the Director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs at the Department of Labor. She also served as a Senior Policy Advisor for the Department of Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. If we need a reminder of how far the ADA and other efforts have brought us in protecting people with disabilities in America, we need only look to Ms. Gordon's biography.

       She grew up in Jamaica, where, at the age of 8, she was pulled from school after going deaf. It was believed that her disability prevented her from learning. Her mother courageously packed up her daughter and her life to seek new opportunities in America.

       Ms. Gordon's story highlights the importance of the government's efforts to recruit, hire, and retain individuals with disabilities. If we are not proactively seeking to employ people with disabilities, we are passively supporting flawed ideas that people with disabilities cannot excel in the workplace. We are, in essence, no better than those who thought Ms. Gordon couldn't learn.

       It is long past time that we understand - and demonstrate through our actions - that disabilities are merely conditions - conditions that do not define individuals.

       Following her move, Ms. Gordon excelled. After law school, she earned a Skadden Fellowship and has received several public service awards for her work on behalf of individuals with disabilities.

       Ms. Gordon is an advocate for all people with disabilities and an inspiration for us all.

       Please join me in welcoming, Claudia Gordon.


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