Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP)
AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
2012 LEADERSHIP AWARDS GALA
REMARKS BY PATRICIA A. SHIU, DIRECTOR
Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs - U.S. Department Of Labor
International Trade Center - 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW - Washington, DC
Wednesday, March 21, 2012 7:15 PM [EDT]
Thank you Mark and thanks to all the leadership and staff of AAPD.
It's a great honor for me to speak with you this evening.
Here's what I know:
I know that disabled doesn't mean unable.
I know that there are qualified workers with disabilities all over this country who simply want a fair shot to find, compete for, secure and succeed in good jobs.
I know that too many of these workers are unemployed, underemployed and discouraged from seeking meaningful work. It's an issue we confront at the Department of Labor every day.
I know that we've "admired" the problem for too long. We've analyzed it and fretted over it enough.
I know that it is a persistent, intractable and insidious problem. But it is also an eminently solvable one.
In the 2 ½ years since President Obama appointed me to this job, I've come to know that this town can be – let's be honest – a little dysfunctional. But I know that where there is political will and civil discourse, we can close the disability employment gap.
I know that progress doesn't happen in a moment. It happens in a movement. And tackling the challenges of disability employment will require a full-scale movement that marshals the resources of government agencies like mine and engages the participation of employers, advocates, experts and individual workers like you.
We cannot do this alone.
I know that corporations are not the enemy any more than workers are all victims.
Looking around this atrium, it is clear that we have incredible business leaders who are committed to opening their doors of opportunity to this community.
We are grateful for your leadership.
As a point of privilege, I'd like to make a special note of Greg Babe, the President and CEO of Bayer Corporation. Last month, he sent my office a letter in response to a regulation we are proposing which seeks to improve employment opportunities for qualified workers with disabilities.
Greg wrote the following:
"I can tell you from experience that hiring, promoting, and retaining workers with disabilities is good for our business, good for our shareholders, and good for the communities in which we do business."
I know Greg could not be here tonight, but we want to thank him and to recognize the leadership team from Bayer who are here.
I know this sentiment is shared by so many of the sponsors of tonight's gala and by thousands of federal contractors who want to comply with the laws we enforce at the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.
I know we need more Greg Babes who will not only show this sort of leadership in their own companies, but who will also serve as models to other employers.
As someone who has hired many people in my career, I can tell you that when people with disabilities apply for jobs, when they come in for that interview, they are not there in spite of their challenges. They are there because they refuse to let those challenges define them. In my experience they are exactly the kind of motivated employees we should all want to have in our workplaces.
You see, I know that work is not just about a paycheck. It's about self worth, dignity and financial stability.
I know that workers want to be treated fairly. They want to be respected in their jobs. But above all, they want to work.
Thirty years after the passage of the Rehab Act and two decades after the ADA, we have made much progress, but we have more to do.
I know that both Republicans and Democrats have taken leadership in this area. After all, the Rehab Act was passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by a Republican President.
I'm a parent. My daughter Aviva is here with me tonight. And what I know is that Republican parents of children with disabilities share the same hopes and aspirations as Democratic parents and, really, all parents: that their children will grow up to be capable, self-reliant, working members of society – and that they will be recognized for their inherent worth and value.
That's why the regulatory and enforcement work of the OFCCP is so important.
We know that telling federal contractors what they could do and should do, without giving them a way to measure success, doesn't work.
I know that what gets measured gets done. And this administration is in the business of getting things done.
Good faith is how we come to the table, but accountability is going to be the way we define our enforcement.
I know that the only way to level the playing field for employers and for workers is to provide clarity about what is required under the law. And that is our commitment.
Finally, I know that reasonable people can see a problem and come up with different approaches to solving it. We won't always agree, but we must strive to be agreeable.
I know that civil discourse is vital to our success and those who seek to inflame public opinion through demeaning rhetoric only end up demeaning themselves.
Our economy is recovering. But in order for it to be a truly "American" recovery, it must benefit the many and not just the few.
So, let me tell you what I believe:
I believe the efforts we are undertaking at the Department of Labor – to strengthen the affirmative action for people with disabilities – those efforts are not just going to make history…
I believe we are going to make possibility for 33 million working-age Americans with disabilities who deserve the opportunity to find their good jobs.