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 Heidi Burghardt
Vice Executive Director Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Ms. Commissioner and Colleagues:

Good morning everyone, my name is Heidi Burghardt and I am Vice Executive Director of Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Government. I am pleased to be invited today on behalf of Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Government. I am here to represent Mr. William Bowman who is the Executive Director of Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Government (DHHIG). He has a long-standing commitment that he couldn’t get out of. He asked me to discuss issues relating to employment, retention and promotion of deaf and hard of hearing employees in the federal workplace. We believe this is the first time that our organization has been asked to come to give a testimony before the commission. We thank you for that.


Please allow us to give you a brief history of this organization. Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Government (DHHIG) was founded more than ten years ago to address pressing issues that face our deaf and hard of hearing employees everyday in the federal workplace. DHHIG is a 501(c) 3 non profit organization serving approximately 5,100 federal deaf and hard of hearing employees throughout the country and overseas alike. The officers are elected every two years and they work for the organization as volunteers. Eventually, as part of our long term goal, DHHIG will have its own full time home office with paid positions. Unlike the other disability categories, we are disabled primarily not because of physical disability, but communication. Our population is often set apart from the rest of the population in the workplace because of different language and communication barriers, so therefore our issues are quite different from the general disability population. This testimony will reflect the actual experiences of only federal deaf or hard of hearing. The Federal government is the largest employer of the deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

DHHIG sponsors a National Training Conference that takes place every two years in Washington, D.C. along with an annual One-Day Seminar on current trends. Our current strategic goals call for greater collaboration with federal agencies in providing services that will enhance employment opportunities for our members and those who want to enter the federal workplace. DHHIG also serves as a clearinghouse for advocacy and referral service for those federal agencies who seek information and resources on deaf-related issues.

Unfortunately, as you probably know by now, there continues to be a sharp decline in the number of deaf and hard of hearing individuals entering the federal workforce. According to EEOC statistics, there was a 17.35% steady decline in hiring people with targeted disabilities in the federal government for the 10-year time period between fiscal years 1995 and 2004. Additionally, during this same time period, the number of targeted deaf and hard of hearing employees employed in the federal government has declined 22.51% from 6,123 to 4,745. This information can be found on the EEOC Website: Furthermore, some of the issues that affect deaf individuals affect all potential applicants with targeted disabilities:

  1. The goal of 5.95% employees with targeted disabilities, in place since at least 1983, was abandoned by EEOC in MD 715 for a floating goal of matching the “Federal high” which continues to drop. Agencies are not held accountable for poor results.
  2. Historically, EEOC is a complaint-centric agency. It would be more useful if EEOC could develop a program to devote resources and management support to affirmative employment. The disability issue in the Federal government is basically an affirmative employment issue, albeit a complex one.

Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals also face unique challenges and barriers to employment in the Federal government. The education system in the United States has not shown consistency in educating people with disabilities. The education of individuals with pre-lingual deafness is especially disreputable. Agencies report that they have deaf employees who are college graduates but can not compose an intelligible email. In today’s work environment, literacy is increasingly important, which renders these individuals virtually unemployable.

Additionally, there is an alarming lack of career advancement among deaf and hard of hearing Federal employees. Upward mobility in the Federal government has come to a standstill in spite of the many qualified deaf and hard of hearing employees and senior level candidates. In an attempt to bring attention to this matter, in October 2005, DHHIG teamed with other disability organizations and published an ad in the Washington Post to educate the public about this issue, see

To date, we have not been successful in our efforts to work with Federal agencies to encourage greater support for this important issue. Potential solutions include establishing special employment programs to recruit and successfully place deaf and hard of hearing individuals in Federal agencies.

We would also propose that Congress establish a specialized interagency council within the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to address the following, not necessarily in order:

  1. Identify the solutions to barriers of employment, retention, and promotion of deaf and hard of hearing in the Federal sector.
  2. Examine the reasons for the lack of retention and promotion efforts in Federal agencies for the deaf and hard of hearing.
  3. Establish an OPM directive or Congressional mandate for Federal agencies to set hiring goals and establish timelines for meeting with them. Report back hiring results to Congress.
  4. Identify interagency employment workgroups and include deaf and hard of hearing in leadership roles.
  5. Identify ways to prevent denial of the use of new technologies that will break down the communication barriers that face the deaf and hard of hearing Federal employees.
  6. Establish an annual system of rewards and recognition to agencies that hire and successfully retain a number of deaf/hard of hearing individuals in a single fiscal year.
  7. Allocate funding for training programs for management that will increase the upward mobility efforts of deaf and hard of hearing.
  8. Develop public-private sector partnerships to continue to provide outreach and education in the Federal sector.
  9. Establish a Senior Executive Series training program designed to admit qualified deaf and hard of hearing candidates for SES placements.
  10. Establish a full-time Office of Disability within OPM to promote, advocate and support the White House initiatives on hiring, retention and promotion. The expectation of this office will also ensure that deaf and hard of hearing employees be given opportunity to participate in the SES program, along with more training and employment opportunities for the employees with GS-13 or below.

EEOC reports in prior years showed that deaf and hard-of-hearing Federal employees had the lowest pay average of all groups except those with mental retardation. To our knowledge, the Federal government has done nothing to address this disparity. We also struggle with communication barriers; we are requesting improvements in accessibility of communication. Listed below are some suggestions:

  1. In addition to item #10 above, we provide communication services: oral and sign language interpreters, Video Relay Services, real time captioning, etc.
  2. For employees who have been identified as qualifying for communication accommodations, require that all requests be acknowledge by the agency within one business day and commitment within two business days that the requested service will be provided. Some agencies are not prompt in acknowledging these requests or confirming that an interpreter will be provided.
  3. Explore the creation of a special Federal-wide program to hire additional interpreters or train people to become interpreters. There is currently a shortage of qualified interpreters, especially in major cities.
  4. Positions for sign language interpreters should be reclassified. Create and document a model process for hiring sign language interpreters, including standard interview questions and a selection panel of interpreting service users. Currently, some agencies allow the selection to be made by officials who are not conversant in sign language; this results in the hiring of persons with insufficient interpreting skills.
  5. Promote an alternative process for hiring freelance interpreters directly under contract and paying them via credit card. This would eliminate the third party interpreter agency, realizing a saving of one third of the usual cost.
  6. Require agencies to allow the addition of TTY, Instant Messenger, or Video Relay Service software and other emerging assistive technologies on employee computers. (Currently, security restrictions sometimes prevent the installation of communication software.)
  7. Establish a hot line for reporting agencies that deny jobs to deaf individuals because of the interpreter expense or deny interpreter services. Include denials of training, details, advancement, etc due to the cost of accommodations.
  8. All videos, CD-ROMs, streaming video, video cams, and other electronic mediums of verbal communication must be open captioned. (No open captions = cannot be used.) Although closed captioning is allowed under Section 508, agency event hosts ask the audience “Does anyone here need captioning?” which inappropriately forces the deaf and hard of hearing to raise their hands and self-identify to the entire audience. Since in the Federal government it is mandatory that media be captioned, the preference is to make it open captioned.
  9. All contractors providing training must provide interpreters, large print, open captioned videos, and other accommodations as requested at no extra cost. (No accommodations = no contract.)
  10. Publicize and enforce the requirement to comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Several agencies, for example, are still purchasing videos that do not have captioning.
  11. Despite EEOC legal rulings, many agencies feel that last minute requests for interpreters are unreasonable. If a staff meeting is called at the last minute, the employee is often told an interpreter cannot be provided. The Federal government could alleviate the shortage by training individuals who wish to become interpreters, in return for X years of service. At the least, the government could provide reimbursement for approved sign language course tuition.
  12. On an annual basis, employees with targeted disabilities must be offered training of the same topics, cost, quality, and duration as employees without disabilities who perform similar duties at the same pay level. (The cost of accommodations may not be included when comparing costs.)
  13. When more than one employee from a unit is sent to training, the employee with a TD who performs similar duties must be given an invitation to attend the same training. At present, employees with TDs, especially those who are deaf, report that they are the only person in their office who is not sent to training.

We applaud you for recognizing the urgency of this issue and we appreciate any assistance that you can provide to help Congress provide Federal agencies the authority and resources to implement improvements to address the concerns raised in this letter. Implementation of these recommendations listed here will bring the Federal Government into more substantive compliance with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and help make it a model employer.

We also strongly believe it is also imperative to include people who are deaf and hard of hearing in this effort.

In closing, I want to express again my heartfelt thanks to you for making this hearing possible. As I said at the beginning of my testimony today, DHHIG is so thrilled to be able to participate in this event and we consider this an opportunity for partnership with federal agencies in addressing these significant issues. With your commitment and other federal agencies, OPM in particular to follow through, we all together can make the future of our members a better place to work and a bright future ahead of us.

This page was last modified on June 28, 2006.

Home Return to Home Page