America’s diversity and inclusion movement should prompt people to think about the skills and expertise individuals with disabilities bring to the workforce, enriching our workplace and benefiting our country. But even as a graduate of Gallaudet University – the premier university for the deaf and hard of hearing since 1864 – working at the Department of State, I only recently came to the startling realization, while talking to two deaf colleagues, that it appears that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing are not sufficiently represented in the Foreign Service. It got me wondering why, and how we can encourage more deaf and hard of hearing applicants to apply to the Foreign Service.
More than 430 million individuals are Deaf globally, more than 41 countries recognize sign language as an official language, and Deaf people travel to all corners of the world. So why doesn’t the U.S. diplomatic corps look more like America in this regard?
Secretary Antony Blinken has made clear that recruiting diverse talent is a priority at the Department of State. Shortly after taking office, Secretary Blinken said that, “We cannot do our job of advancing America’s interest, values, and commitment to democracy without a State Department that is truly representative of the American people.” We are committed to a diverse and inclusive Department, and we continue to make progress.
The Department has made its greatest strides hiring people with disabilities into the Civil Service through the Schedule A hiring authority, which permits Federal Agencies to hire qualified individuals with disabilities into positions non-competitively. In fact, the State Department has exceeded government-set hiring targets for employees with disabilities in the Civil Service. We also have made progress towards removing barriers to equity in the workplace through the provision of accommodations to job applicants and employees with disabilities around the world. Yet, Schedule A hiring authority does not apply to the Foreign Service. Joining the Foreign Service involves a multi-step process of examination, writing, and oral assessment. The Department seeks to effectively communicate available reasonable accommodations, including during the initial testing process with our vendors, for individuals applying to the Foreign Service and all through the application process to ensure equal opportunity.
When I read on the Department’s careers website that we look to recruit, “adventurous, adaptable, well-rounded strategic problem-solvers, from diverse educational, geographic and cultural backgrounds and perspectives, who want to make a contribution to our global society,” I instantly think of deaf and hard of hearing individuals, who have the backgrounds and skills that the Department seeks to recruit.
My fellow alumni from Gallaudet University and friends who graduated from similar prestigious universities carry advanced degrees, have technical expertise, and unique life experience. We are accustomed to communicating with people who don’t speak the same language on a daily basis. As world travelers, we adapt to foreign environments by relying on gestures, pictures, body language, facial expressions, and other forms of communication. We naturally accommodate ourselves in other countries and are resourceful and resilient. Due to advances in technology, we use mobile phones for text translation coupled with body gestures to communicate. The more deaf people travel, the greater the need to have not only resources and support at our embassies and consulates around the world, but also deaf and hard of hearing employees working in them.
The State Department has increased its outreach to the Deaf community to encourage people to apply. The Department hosted an event featuring a panel discussion at Gallaudet University. The panelists included Tanya Rogers, a career member of the Foreign Service who explained the Foreign Service application process; Doug Surette, a Deaf Foreign Service Technology Specialist who has served four overseas assignments; and Christopher Brown, a Reasonable Accommodation Analyst who explained how the Department provides reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities around the world. The event recording can be found here: .
The Department’s targeted outreach aspires to encourage more Deaf or hard of hearing applicants. Increasing the number of Deaf and hard of hearing individuals – and all individuals with disabilities – in the Foreign Service naturally advances our diplomatic goals while exemplifying America’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility. Opportunities are open and accessible to all. Like a puzzle missing a piece, the Department is incomplete without the insights, voices, and experiences of employees with disabilities. Together as Civil Service or Foreign Service employees we can make a contribution to our global society. Visit https://careers.state.gov/ to learn more.
About the Author: Angela Cannella works in the Office of Civil Rights as a Special Emphasis Program Manager.