- Speech by
Stephen M. Hahn, M.D.
Commissioner of Food and Drugs - Food and Drug Administration ( December 2019 - January 2021 )
Good morning. I’m pleased to join you for the 7th annual FDA-wide Disability Awareness Roundtable, part of the FDA’s celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
I want to thank the entire FDA Advisory Committee for Employees with Disabilities (ACED) for once again putting together this event. I also want to recognize their partner in this effort, the FDA’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity.
Organizing this roundtable is just one of many important roles ACED plays at the FDA.
Made up of committed representatives from each Center and ORA region throughout the country, ACED provides advice on policies, issues, and concerns impacting employees with disabilities within FDA, as well as those seeking employment by the agency.
These issues include, but are not limited to, reasonable accommodations, accessibility, succession, training, advancement, retention, and educating the FDA community on disability- related issues.
The underlying goal? To enable every employee to achieve the highest level of performance by providing opportunities to address their reasonable accommodations, advancement needs and other concerns.
Each year during National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we take some time to focus on this important goal. It gives us a chance to recognize America's workers with disabilities, past and present, for the work they do, and underscores the importance of policies that support inclusiveness in the work place.
It is something we should recognize and celebrate. But let me say, in no uncertain terms, that a discussion of these issues and our efforts to achieve these goals should not be relegated to one week or one month a year. We need to address them every single day.
We hear the word “inclusive” a great deal these days, and rightfully so. It’s an essential principle in employment. When properly applied, it can lead to advances for employees and businesses, alike.
In the context of disability, this means that we embrace practices designed to ensure that all Americans who want to work, can, and have access to services and supports to enable them to do so.
I’m pleased that at the FDA we have a diverse workforce, comprised of a population that includes people of many unique attributes, talents, and other qualities. I’m proud of our work to promote inclusiveness, and our efforts to help make sure that all of our employees have those opportunities.
We live today in a time of extraordinary technological and scientific developments, many of which create opportunities for all to participate and succeed in ways we could not previously have imagined.
With continued advances in such developments, including accessible technology, it is easier than ever for America's employers to hire people with disabilities in high-demand jobs – and to provide the opportunities they need to succeed.
We, at FDA, need to build on this foundation.
Today, we are living and working in the midst of a public health emergency, the likes of which most of us have never experienced before. Most of us are still working virtually, which, as we know all too well, offers both advantages and disadvantages.
We should keep in mind that while all of us have been forced to adopt this approach to work, we nonetheless can learn a great deal from it.
And, when we return to our regular workplace, we can apply what we have learned to make our workplace stronger and more accessible.
I’m sure that topic will be part of the upcoming panel discussion about “Overcoming the Challenges of Maximum Telework.”
Indeed, it is an extraordinary and stressful time. Not surprisingly, FDA employees are playing a key role in responding to this pandemic. They are exhibiting the same kind of leadership that we need to continue to demonstrate in our own workplace.
While we all have been working extremely hard during this emergency, the situation also offers us an opportunity to step back and to really think about what each of us can do – as employees, colleagues, and managers -- to improve our own awareness about disability, and to help foster a more supportive and positive workplace for all persons with disabilities.
We need to recognize every individual’s disability to ensure that they have the tools they need to successfully perform their duties. But it’s even more important to see that individual as a person first – and to acknowledge and appreciate what each of us bring to the table. Only in that way will we begin to break down barriers and build a truly inclusive workplace and world.
Remember that it will not always be “someone else” who has a disability. Whether through age, accident, or illness, anyone can become disabled at any time.
This year marks the nation’s 75th observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and also the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It provides an occasion for us -- individually and collectively -- to redouble our efforts to foster disability awareness and support.
There is an important principle that can be traced to the disability rights movement, and that has been adopted by many who have been marginalized throughout history.
It is that we should decide on no policy, take no action, until we have the engagement of the members of the particular group affected by that policy or action.
It’s a principle I hope we always embrace at the FDA. I also hope that each of us will continue to work to improve awareness of disabilities and to afford persons with disabilities the same opportunities as those without. Our goal is to have a totally inclusive work environment. We are well on our way.