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Disability employment takes center stage at DIA

By Ally Rogers, DIA Public Affairs

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The Defense Intelligence Agency celebrated National Disability Employment Awareness Month with guest speaker Claiborne Haughton Oct. 10 in Leadership Hall at DIA Headquarters.

The DIA Disability Council and the Americas and Transregional Threats Center co-sponsored the event.

Claiborne Haughton, a retired senior executive service and former acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for equal opportunity, was born with cerebral palsy and blindness in one eye, and he wore leg braces until he was 10 years old. Aside from physical challenges, he also faced being a ward of the Blundon Orphanage Home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for 12 years, before reuniting with his family.

Despite these early childhood obstacles, Haughton achieved bachelor’s and master’s degrees, holds an honorary doctorate in humane letters and had a fruitful career that saw him rise in 12 years from a GS-5 to a GS-16. He later became one of the first African American charter members of the federal senior executive service. But, what he’s most proud of is his time working in the field of equal opportunity, diversity and inclusion.

“People with disabilities are the largest minority group in the U.S.,” he said. “DoD is still in the forefront of diversity and inclusion. Despite progress, we still have work to do because Americans with disabilities, including veterans, makes up 5% of our population. But we’re still unemployed at twice the rate of those who are abled-bodied.”

In his career, Haughton authored the first Department of Defense-wide employment program for people with disabilities. He wrote the first DoD Equal Employment Opportunity policy for civilians in 1980 and DoD-Directive 1020.1 for non-discrimination in DoD federally assisted programs in 1982. That same year, he created the first DoD Disability Awards Ceremony to honor employees with disabilities and DoD components for outstanding efforts to hire individuals with disabilities. He also established the department-wide 2% goal to double the number of employees with targeted disabilities.

“People with disabilities want to work and have the ability to do so,” said Haughton. “That we can’t is rooted in the age old thought that we need to be taken care of and that we can’t do certain things … with reasonable accommodation, we can.”

Haughton explained that generating new disability-related policies was for more than just people with disabilities, it was for those who may become disabled later.

“No one is immune to developing a disability,” he said. “No one will make it through life without a temporary or permanent mental or physical disability. We work in a particular Agency where you could become disabled doing your job. Serving the DoD.”

When asked how he was able to implement powerful, enduring programs and policies, Haughton advised to seek top-level support.

“We had top-leader approval, so you need that,” he said. “To get that you need the writing skills. If you can’t get your one-page memo to the top, you won’t be successful…And, don’t fear the mission. Tie everything you write to the mission.”

As he concluded his speech, Haughton challenged the audience to remember one thing: Don’t assume inabilities.

“People with disabilities have enriched all of our lives,” he said, listing President Franklin Roosevelt, Hellen Keller and Tony Award winner Ali Stroker. “Do not read a book by its cover when it comes to people with disabilities. We can do and want to do a whole lot.”