News: Disabled employees honored by Yongsan Garrison
Story by Staff Sgt. Cody Harding
YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea – U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan celebrated the strength and diversity of their workforce by recognizing their disabled employees at the National Disability Employment Awareness Month Program at Yongsan Theatre Oct. 27.
Since its beginnings in 1945, NDEAM has been observed by the U.S. Department of Labor and private employers every October to bring light to the subject of job disparity and equality between non-disabled workers and disabled employees. Originally a week long, it was changed in 1988 to span an entire month.
The ceremony began with the national anthems of Korea and the U.S. as sung by the Hanbit Blind School choir and the 8th Army Band. Thomas Bryan, the emcee for the event and an employee with the 65th Medical Brigade with cerebral palsy, then introduced Col. Terry Austin, the 8th Army command chaplain, for the invocation.
After the anthems, the presidential proclamation in support of NDEAM was read aloud by Linda Galimore, the 8th Army Equal Employment Opportunity director. The proclamation, signed by President Barack Obama, urged communities to embrace the abilities of the disabled when considering them for employment.
Lt. Col. Stephen Mefford, the 8th Army inspector general chief, took to the stage to talk about the ‘Day in my Shoes’ program held by the 8th Army EEO. The program let Mefford experience what life was like with the vision impairment his co-worker, Michael Loats, went through each day.
Col. William Huber, the USAG commander, then spoke about his views on employing the disabled, mentioning members of his family who have disabilities. He reassured community members, letting them know that the Garrison was hard at work at improving handicapped accessibility with new ramps, elevators and other improvements.
“By my count there are 95 U.S. Army Garrison employees who have identified disabilities,” Huber said. “Six of those employees have targeted disabilities. That means the individuals suffer from blindness, deafness, missing extremities or something of that nature. And I ask that you honor and recognize these individuals with disabilities as we remain committed in our effort to educate the public on the issues related with disabilities and employment.”
Huber then introduced Michael Loats, the inspector general team lead for 8th Army, as the guest speaker for the ceremony. Loats talked about his search for employment, the challenge of interviews and other issues.
“I think there is one invisible hurdle, and I think that is the position descriptions,” Loats said. “If you have a chance, if it meets your mission and when you’re doing a review of your descriptions, please make sure there aren’t things in the description that would not qualify some disabilities.”
When he took the stage again, Huber presented the winners of the Seoul American Middle/High School Essay and Art contests with prizes and certificates. He then asked the crowd to open their programs, offering those who had star stickers inside prizes that were donated to the Garrison.