The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Commission Meeting on the Employment of Individuals with Disabilities in the Federal Government - June 28, 2006

Statement of Chad Fenton

Thank you for this opportunity to share an applicantís perspective on the issue of federal employment of people with disabilities. I was born at the Army's Tripler medical center in Honolulu, Hawaii, and lost my sight through medical complications at birth. My mother has told me that the doctor who relayed this fact to her said that although I was blind, he was confident that I would be a productive member of society. While I've got the first part down, I'm still working on the second part.

I was mainstreamed in both elementary and high school and began college at Winthrop University as the first totally blind student on campus. Hoping to pave the way for other blind students who would come after me, I offered recommendations of assistive technology that would be of aid to visually impaired students in the computer lab. I majored in History and, as a result of typing 90 words per minute, my class notes were thorough and concise. Classmates often offered monetary inducements for these notes. In the year I graduated, one of my professors asked me to not continue in this enterprise, as many students were no longer reading the textbook and were studying for exams directly from my notes.

I graduated in 1999 with a 3.0 cumulative GPA and a 3.5 in my major. A few years after graduation, after discussions with vocational rehabilitation counselors in South Carolina and Atlanta, I learned that the federal government was actively seeking to hire qualified people with disabilities. The counselors also brought the Schedule A hiring authority to my attention. As both my father and grandfather had careers in the Navy and Air Force, the government had always intrigued me. Since I possessed a college degree, met both criteria for the superior academic achievement provision, and was Schedule A qualified, I was confident in my ability to begin an entry-level professional position in a federal agency.

Over the last few years, beginning in 2003, I have sent over 40 applications for GS04 through GS07 administrative and clerical jobs with various agencies. Out of these many applications, I have only been interviewed for one position, a customer service representative. When applying for work, I have consistently sought employment in the D.C. metro area, as it offers a strong public transportation infrastructure and federal employment opportunities are plentiful here. Each time I have been informed that, while I am qualified for every position for which I've applied, I am not deemed best qualified and therefore will receive no further consideration.

My understanding of the Schedule A hiring authority is that if applicants with a disability possess a college degree and meet either criteria of the superior academic achievement provision, they possess the minimum qualifications for a GS07 position. Thus, it is my understanding that I qualify for every position for which I've applied. However, my experience seems to indicate that Schedule A is rarely utilized by hiring authorities, leaving me to wonder if it is a viable means by which to hire people with disabilities.

I should also point out that while my goal has always been professional employment with upward mobility, I have been willing to start in a lesser capacity in order to prove my value to a potential employer. I recognize that the greatest deficiency in my resume is the lack of tangible work experience, so I have been willing to start at the bottom and work my way up. However, from networking with people with and without disabilities in the government, I have been counseled to not apply to anything less than a GS07 position with a career track. The rationale is that a GS05 position offers little upward mobility, leaving you stuck working in a lesser capacity. This contrasts with working in private industry, where you can conceivably start out in the typing pool or the mail room and gradually work your way up the ladder.

In addition to sending numerous federal applications, I have written many of the selective placement coordinators with some of the larger federal agencies with very few replies. The selective placement coordinators appeared to me to be the ideal officials to contact, as their primary responsibility is to recruit and hire qualified people with disabilities into their respective agencies. On the occasions when I received a response, it would be along the lines of apply under the Schedule A hiring authority. In every application I have sent, I have included a Schedule A letter. However, I am speculating that most selective placement coordinators donít have the seniority or the upper level management support to actively recruit and hire qualified people into their agencies. I also found that the list of selective placement coordinators on the OPM web site is not up to date, in that many of the individuals listed were no longer in that capacity.

I also have written letters to various government officials in an effort to address this issue. In every correspondence to a selective placement coordinator or an elected official, I included a package containing my resume and a Schedule A letter. All replies were generic in nature, referring me to USAJOBS.com.

When I first began seeking federal employment, I concentrated on a broad range of entry-level careers. Realizing that sending out resumes wasn't yielding the results I had hoped, I decided to narrow my focus and acquire education that would distinguish me from other applicants. In the last two years, I have become interested in the field of equal employment opportunity as a result of meeting, a blind EEO investigator at the EEOC office in Richmond. I sought to acquire certifications that would be of value in that field. In order to show initiative, I paid for and took the certification course for new EEO investigators at my own expense in November of 2005, and followed this up with the certification for EEO counselors in February of this year. I speculated that these courses would be advantageous when applying for an entry-level EEO specialist position, as new hires would be unlikely to possess them. However, a recent application for a GS07 EEO specialist position was rejected, leaving me to scratch my head in puzzlement. I do have pending applications with a couple of agencies but have learned not to be too optimistic.

I have not filed any complaints of discrimination after being rejected from further consideration, as I felt it would be counterproductive to apply for a position and, after receiving a notice of rejection, immediately file a discrimination complaint against a potential employer. In truth, I questioned if I was indeed facing blatant discrimination, since all a hiring manager would need to say is that I had little or no work experience, and the candidate who was selected possessed such experience.

I hope my struggle in this area has helped you to understand some of the special difficulties that people with disabilities face in seeking federal employment. Like many others with disabilities, I strive to be creative and flexible in my job search and to enhance my competencies at every opportunity. When federal employers give more people with disabilities the chance to prove themselves, I think they'll find this untapped workforce ready, willing, and able to do so. Give us this chance, and we will give you results!


This page was last modified on June 28, 2006.

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