Uncle Sam is not Stepping Up To The Plate!
By Wendy Ghannam
February 6, 2003
U.S. Federal agencies are hiding a serious circumstance from their employees and from the American taxpaying public, as well. Uncle Sam is not taking care of "his" disabled workforce.
This situation is an infringement, as well as a violation of law, on the federal worker's ability to keep and maintain viable federal employment. Most notably, a July 2000 Presidential Order was directed against US agencies to place specialized computer accessories needed for employees with disabilities. This has not occurred, especially inside one of America's premier foreign affairs agency, USAID. USAID has been too busy trying to downsize its workforce since 1995 to ever come to grips with the employment needs of its Workmen's Compensation-approved employees!
A senior attorney at the EEOC has noticed that she has personally witnessed a variety of EEOC cases coming from USAID employees regarding this matter. Sharon Rennart, senior advisor at the EEOC states: "In many agencies federal workers are facing confusing and lengthy procedures when requesting assistive technology." USAID is currently "leading the pack" with its refusal to assist its female employees with high-end computer technology, so that those women may continue onward in their professional careers.
Assistive technology may include specially designed keyboards and software that uses voice activation, in order to perform daily assignments, as well as specialized telephone headsets to offset the apparent neurological disorders obtained from repetitive stress.
As Renhart noted, many federal employees are filing discrimination complaints because requests for accommodations have gone unheeded. Under a July 2000 Executive Order all federal agencies must list who is responsible for responding to employee requests for assistive technology. This has never happened to date inside USAID.
Currently over four female employees at USAID have been driven out of their jobs because of their repetitive stress disabilities--all work related. Two of the four women, Kim Olds and Wendy Ghannam have been threatened for even bringing the matter to USAID management's attention since the mid- 1990s. In 1996, Ghannam was fired from her job after seeking legal redress at the EEOC, Merit Systems Protection Board, and the U.S. Federal Court System. Currently, Olds is sitting on an appeal with the EEOC regarding her own disability employment claims. Both women suffered job-related carpal tunnel and repetitive stress diseases from their job-function responsibilities while working at USAID! U.S. federal unions were of no help to either woman as a result of these matters.
Olds also believes that there should be a definite time limit on agencies responding to employees' requests for accommodation, and that this effort would have made a tremendous difference in her own working life. Her request for voice activation software and a specialized keyboard were approved a full 13 months after the onset of her injuries. By that time, her condition had deteriorated so far that she could no longer perform key essential elements of her job and she sought medical retirement. Her EEOC appeal is based on these claims.
USAID will not comment on either Ghannam or Olds. Ghannam won her EEOC case in 2000, but has not been paid as of the date of this article! Her story is now being undertaken by a reputable East Coast publisher for all of America to read in its entirety.
USAID's EEO Director, Jessalyn Pendarvis has stated that the agency is NOW taking action within five days of anyone's accommodation request. According to Renhart, in retrospect, federal agencies are finding that they are experiencing unparalleled numbers of EEOC claims from injured federal employees. USAID most definitely is on the top of the negligent agencies "list."
The EEOC is desparately seeking the inclusion of a "central agency fund" for all impacted federal agencies who have members in its disabled workforce at the present time. This central fund would be a tie-on factor to the Presidential Order previously mentioned. The average cost to an agency per injured employee is roughly $5,000, and should be considered a mandatory action in order to keep any employee productively working.
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