AbilityOne is a federal program employing disabled workers to provide goods and services. It envisions a world where every person who has a disability is able to achieve his or her maximum employment potential by creating job opportunities and training. Because of AbilityOne, “today, more than 45,000 people who are blind or have significant disabilities are employed through the AbilityOne Program’s national network of more than 550 nonprofit agencies.” The program serves many federal customers and benefits the American taxpayer by decreasing community care costs and increasing tax revenue.

How does the program apply to the Defense Industry?

AbilityOne employees may work behind a desk in contracts or in custodial roles. At the inception of the program, AbilityOne employees were traditionally providing only custodial or service related work. Today, they can find work in programming, IT support, and technical services. When considering its options, contractors should keep in mind the AbilityOne program and the advantages of reaching out to employees with disabilities who may be able to fill roles it hadn’t considered in the past – from Help Desk and code testing positions or individuals with autism and asperger’s to administrative or human resources roles for individuals who are blind or have Down’s Syndrome.

Diversity is more than race or gender, and making adjustments or changes to the normal operating procedures in order to increase diversity will promote an environment that pushes all employees to achieve more than they thought possible.

AbilityOne benefits defense contractors in multiple ways. While AbilityOne offers many products and services to its federal customers, prime contractors can also get credit for subcontracting with qualified AbilityOne Program nonprofit agencies. Organizations can also develop solicitations with verbiage that encourages subcontracting with AbilityOne.

Hiring individuals with disabilities is not only a tax credit to organizations, but it’s also a benefit to the workforce and end-products. A prime example is Northrop Grumman, a contractor who supports the needs of the military, but also seeks to provide meaningful employment to individuals with disabilities, particularly disabled service members.

According to Kymberlee Dwinell, Director, Global Diversity & Inclusion, Northrop Grumman Corporation, “Northrop Grumman is committed to creating a work environment that values diversity and inclusion because it creates innovation, improves productivity and boosts profitability. People with disabilities are an important component of a diverse pool of talent and we are determined to draw from this valuable resource. We actively seek to hire disabled employees because of the tremendous value they bring to the workplace. In our continuing efforts to attract and retain employees with disabilities, we recently added new online accommodation tools for requests and case tracking; increased accessibility of our Internet website, including the Careers section; expanded accessibility at our locations; and we have adopted a more focused approach for posting job requisitions with disability-related job boards.”

According to the United Nations, individuals with disabilities are the largest minority in the world – around 10 percent of the world’s population. Unfortunately, the media doesn’t often portray people with disabilities. We need to see it more in everyday life. AbilityOne is one component in fighting the stigma against disabilities and acknowledging the worth and value that each person has. Instead of just talking about an issue, AbilityOne goes a long way in actually doing something.

It is always a good idea to check your internal practices, determine ways to make accommodations for those with disabilities, and check with AbilityOne for future workplace purchases and/or contracting opportunities. Whether it is your onboarding process, your physical setup at the office, or work from home policy, the changes are small and the technology is available. Chang simply requires people to make it happen.

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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.