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Monday Jul 27, 2015

25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Guest Blog by Director of the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity Bismarck Myrick

At the United States Patent and Trademark Office, (USPTO) we derive our strength from the vast array of backgrounds and experiences of our employees, including those with disabilities. We are proud to be one of the most diverse workforces in the federal government, ranked the #2 best place to work in the federal government for employees with disabilities as well as the #2 place to work overall in the agency subcomponents class by the Partnership for Public Service in 2015. On the 25th Anniversary of the ADA, it is important to re-dedicate ourselves to providing equality of opportunity and to eradicating myths, fears, and stereotypes about people with disabilities.

The USPTO takes an innovative approach to accessibility in the workplace. In August 2014, we deployed an online, self-service system called Accommodation Point, which initiates and manages reasonable accommodation requests from employees and job applicants with disabilities. The system makes requesting, evaluating, and deploying requests for reasonable accommodations easier and more efficient. This is a unique system within the federal government, and the only system known to be in use by a federal agency that allows job applicants to easily and electronically request an accommodation needed for pre-hiring situations, such as a sign language interpreter or wheelchair escort during job interviews.

According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data, 1 in 5 Americans had a disability, and 1 in 10 had a severe disability that substantially limits one or more basic life activities. The most recent study on disability employment, the Kessler Foundation 2015 National Employment and Disability Survey, showed that the most requested accommodation for people with disabilities in the workplace is a flexible schedule or the ability to work from home. At the USPTO, our employees are able to take advantage of these benefits regardless of disability status.

The USPTO sees hiring disabled employees as a smart business decision. The USPTO relies on a highly trained, specialized workforce to carry out our mission to protect innovation in the United States and provide global leadership in intellectual property policy. The USPTO recognizes that people with disabilities are an incredibly important talent pool that goes underutilized.

Both in the private and public sectors, people with disabilities in the workplace tend to go underreported and under-accommodated. Oftentimes, employees with disabilities do not come forward with requests until their performance has been significantly affected and their jobs are in jeopardy. The reason for this hesitance is varied, from employee fear that an accommodation will negatively impact their organization to pre-existing negative attitudes in the workplace regarding disability. Sometimes, employees will not request an accommodation because they perceive the process to be a greater inconvenience than the lack of accommodation.

The key is to empower employees to understand how and when to request an accommodation so that they can continue to perform at an acceptable level before a major problem arises. Accommodation Point at the USPTO helps facilitate this, and provides employees and prospective employees with disabilities the tools and resources they need to excel in their positions and contribute to the agency’s mission. To learn more, visit the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity page of the USPTO website.

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