*Story was first posted on DHS Connect Internal Server
My name is Taylor Price and I have been a member of the DHS Office of Intergovernmental Affairs (IGA) since October 2011. I work as a State Coordinator and serve as a primary day-to-day point of contact for governors' offices and governors' designated homeland security advisors for 15 states in the northeast. I communicate with these states on all DHS issues and have served as an integral part of the response to Hurricane Sandy and the Boston Marathon bombing attacks. In addition, I work closely with a number of DHS components and offices, including DNDO, USCG, I&A security office, and OPS, as well as work on a core team to expand the "If You See Something, Say Something™" campaign.
For background, in July 2004, I suffered a severe spinal cord injury during a diving accident in the ocean that instantly rendered me a quadriplegic. While a lot changed that day, life did not end and I still wanted to pursue the life goals that I had always envisioned, including graduating from school and finding a meaningful job.
In 2011, I had the opportunity to interview with IGA for my first post college, real world job. Throughout the interview process, I felt that the Assistant Secretary for IGA was always looking at me as a person and considering my qualifications first, not the fact that I happen to have a disability. This made me happy and even more motivated to get the position in IGA, but I didn't spend too much thinking about it because that is the standard that should exist. Unfortunately, that is not always the case when people with disabilities are interviewing for jobs.
I'll never forget the day that I received the call letting me know that IGA wanted to hire me. I knew that I could be a productive and influential member of that office, but now I would officially have that opportunity. IGA utilized the Schedule A hiring authority to quickly start me working and bypass some of the typical bureaucracy prevalent in the normal hiring process. The Schedule A authority didn't provide me any favoritism during my process, but only gave me the opportunity to prove myself and start my job quickly.
Once I accepted my offer, my office and I discussed what reasonable accommodations would be necessary, and it was ultimately decided that I needed the height of my desk raised so my motorized wheelchair could fit underneath and allow me to maintain appropriate posture my desk, as well as the purchasing of voice dictation software for my computer to allow me to be efficient in my work. Finally, we created a meaningful episodic telework plan that also included the ability to telework when emergencies arose. All of these accommodations allow me to be the most productive employee that I can be and create the greatest chance of me being successful in my daily responsibilities. Some people may view these as small accommodations (and they would be correct), but they make a huge difference to me.
Last week, as part of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, I had the privilege of attending a conversation hosted by CRCL about “Individuals with Disabilities and the Homeland Security Mission” for senior DHS leadership. I was thrilled that this conversation was occurring. What made me most proud was the fact that DHS Deputy Secretary Mayorkas chaired this meeting and was as engaged as you could hope your most senior leaders to be. He asked for direct input on what DHS leadership could do better and took his own notes on the suggestions that were made. While I have always been proud to be an employee of DHS, to see the deputy secretary and other leadership from across DHS participating in this conversation made me that much more proud.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the unemployment rate of people with disabilities is approximately 12.3 percent and only has a labor force participation rate of 20.1 percent compared to 5.5 percent and 68.5 percent of people without disabilities, respectively. Sadly, the employment figures for people with disabilities haven’t changed much since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. I know I speak for my peers in the disability community when I say that all we want is an opportunity to prove ourselves and be productive members of the workforce and society, while simultaneously breaking down preconceived attitudes that people with disabilities can only do “less”.
Thank you for allowing me to share my story and for joining me in raising awareness during National Disability Employment Awareness Month and in support of increasing the employment of people with disabilities at DHS.