IM this article to a friend!

October 16, 2002

DoD Mentorship Program May Expand Careers for Disabled College Students

Oct. 16, 2002

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 16, 2002 -- DoD today kicked off its first computer-accessed mentoring program primarily targeted at young disabled college students thinking of joining DoD's work force.

Charles S. Abell, assistant secretary of defense for force management policy, hosted the Pentagon ceremony, where the first two e-mails were sent to college- student participants of the mentoring program. A part of the Pentagon's student internship program, the mentoring initiative is co-sponsored by the department's Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs.

Besides kicking off the new program, Abell reminded the audience that the ceremony also commemorates National Disability Mentoring Day (Oct. 16) and National Disability Employment Awareness Month. DoD's new program for disabled persons liberates and empowers, he asserted.

The ceremony also featured a video-teleconference "visit" from President I. King Jordan of Washington's Gallaudet University for the hearing impaired. Abell noted 45 Gallaudet students have taken part in DoD work force recruitment programs this year and so far 11 have been hired and have signed up for the new mentoring program.

Abell called the mentorship program "win-win" for DoD and the disabled persons seeking DoD employment.

"We want to increase the number of persons with disabilities in our work force, and they want the jobs that we have to offer," he explained. "We have invested in our career development and they want significant and successful careers."

The mentoring program is slated to run one year, Abell said, adding the relationships formed between mentors and their charges will shape themselves to be as simple or as complex as participants' wish.

DoD, he noted, will provide participants background materials and an outline of suggested activities.

"Cyberspace is an equalizer. Geography is not a barrier and disabilities will disappear," Abell said. DoD's Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program, called the CAP, he added, provides any special equipment or software mentors may need to interact with the people they advise.

"We in the Department of Defense believe that the virtual world should be barrier-free," Abell said. He mentioned President Bush's tour of CAP's technology evaluation center June 19, 2001, as part of his first visit to the Pentagon after his inauguration.

Judy Gilliom, DoD disability program manager, noted the mentorship program enables students to learn about DoD "without having to hire a moving van and change residence." Computer access means mentors can participate more actively and students can more realistically make their plans, she said.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld wants to double the current ranks of DoD's 40,000 disabled civilian employees, DoD spokesperson Army Lt. Col. Jim Cassella said.

Each year in partnership with the Labor Department, Cassella noted, DoD's work force recruitment program signs up about 200 summer interns, mostly college students. About 50 disabled interns have registered for the new mentoring program, he added.

© 2002 DefenseLink News