At the recent DoDIIS (Department of Defense Intelligence Information System) Worldwide conference hosted by the DoD, the CIO of the DIA, Douglas Cossa, shared how his organization used their own ingenuity to transform how accommodation for those with hearing impairments was handled. His organization’s efforts did not stop at the door of the classified work environment. The solution included those whose work took them within Secure Classified Information Facilities (SCIF).


The DIA’s Equal Opportunity and Diversity Office has been working diligently to create and sustain “an ecosystem that embodies “Inclusive Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA).” The DIA created a strategic plan to “address barriers, increase transparency, promote accountability, foster a culture of inclusive diversity, and provide accessibility and safety for all DIA officers.” The intent is clearly stated: “To achieve our mission, DIA depends on attracting and retaining the right people in the right places with the right talent.”

Within their explainer, they outline what is and isn’t accommodation:

reasonable accommodation is a change or adjustment to a job, work environment, or in the way things are customarily done, that permits a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the job application process, perform essential functions of the job, and enjoy the full benefits and privileges of the workplace afforded to employees.

A reasonable accommodation may include making existing facilities accessible; job restructuring; leave; part-time or modified work schedules; acquiring or modifying equipment; changing tests, training materials, or policies; providing qualified readers or interpreters; and reassignment.

Reasonable accommodation does not include the elimination of an essential function of a position; placing an individual in a position they cannot perform; lowering the performance or production standards of a position; creating a new position; placing the individual in permanent light duty status; or providing personal use items when they are not specifically designed or required to meet job-related rather than personal needs (e.g. – wheelchair, eyeglasses, hearing aids).

Reasonable accommodation must be provided to qualified individuals with disabilities unless to do so would cause undue hardship and/or direct threat to the agency or create a direct threat to the individual or other employees.

When there is a need, there is a way

Cossa highlighted to ClearanceJobs, at the conference’s media-roundtable, the five priorities of his office. He included the “workforce experience” from onboarding, to include those with disabilities requiring accommodation, as part of the organization’s environment of inclusion and diversity. He shared an example of how DIA used their own ingenuity to solve an accessibility problem. A problem no one had previously recognized needed addressing until an unfortunate incident demonstrated the need for accommodation.

He told the story of an employee, working within the SCIF who would have to exit her work environment and go to the car in the parking lot to make simple everyday calls. The individual was deaf, but the vehicle was where the employee could make a call via an interpreter service using sign-language. The day the employee’s family reached out from hospital to communicate one last time with their parent, the employee missed the call. It was a call that others in the same workspace would have been able to accept.

DIA stepped up

The rules and regulations were in the way, yet they were not insurmountable. The organization looked at commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions. Since they didn’t find one that would work within the SCIF environment, they created their own. The device created is available across the intel community. It allows individuals to use ASL via a mobile tablet for speech translation and to address what Cossa described as, “normal life needs.”

For FSO’s, if your workforce and facility have such a need, reach out to DIA’s CIO’s office. They have the solution, ready to go.

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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of