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NUWC Division, Keyport Advances Mission by Accommodating Workforce

KEYPORT, Wash. (NNS) — John Tebo was beginning the disability retirement process when he learned the federal government’s reasonable accommodation program might enable him to remain working for years to come.

Tebo, the chief steward for the Bremerton Metals Trade Council (BMTC) union on board the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division, Keyport, was slowly losing his eyesight due to medical complications.

“I was a machinery technician in the Coast Guard,” Tebo said.  “After I retired, I came to Keyport.”

Tebo came to NUWC Division, Keyport as a technician maintaining torpedoes before becoming the union’s chief steward in 2016. As chief steward, his job is to represent the workforce to leadership in order to ensure NUWC Division, Keyport’s mission is successfully accomplished.  Over the past three years, Tebo found his eyesight steadily deteriorating.

“I’m a diabetic, and that’s one of the first things to go. In all actuality, I didn’t think anything could be done,” Tebo said. Although he was receiving medical treatment for the condition, his vision troubles prevented him from effectively doing his job, and he began tthe process for a disability retirement in March.

Tebo’s supervisor strongly encouraged him to look into the reasonable accommodation program before he terminated his professional career.

“Reasonable accommodation is about removing obstacles and allowing you the ability to do your job,” said Tebo. “This keeps good people working longer.”

The federal government established the reasonable accommodation program in order to maximize its efforts to keep qualified people employed, Tebo said.  The Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), of which NUWC Division, Keyport is a part, has even codified this philosophy of empowering and equipping talented and qualified people as one of the primary pillars of its Campaign Plan 2.0. If there is a way a worker with a special need can be reasonably accommodated and kept on the job, NAVSEA and its subordinate commands like NUWC Division, Keyport will do it.

Rob Hollander is NUWC Division, Keyport’s disability program manager. He described reasonable accommodation as a means by which talented people can be kept on the team.

“It’s a program to help people continue working,” Hollander said. “The program is for qualified individuals with disabilities. We work within their individual limitations. It’s an interactive process where we work with them and their supervisor to find the right solution.”

Hollander said there is a contingency in place if the individual’s needs would prevent from doing their original job. In that case, the program would look to find them comparable employment elsewhere in NUWC Division, Keyport, or even in an entirely different geographic location. Hollander said that would be a last resort, but if it kept a talented worker on the federal government’s team, it is a possibility that can be considered.

Tebo said his meeting with Hollander in March resulted in him finding a medical device online the same day. The device is a special camera and screen that can magnify his computer monitor and, through the use of a swivel arm, also magnify documents on his desk. Once the device was identified, a request was routed to Tebo’s supervisor for approval.

“I’m fine now,” Tebo said. “I can do my job.  It took a bit of getting used to, but I can read and I can work now.  The whole process took less than two weeks.”

In under 14 days, Tebo went from preparing for a disability retirement he did not want, to having a device that allows him to return to full productivity for the union and NUWC Division, Keyport.

Tebo said he believes the reasonable accommodation program is under-utilized because he sees many people fearing being stigmatized if they come forward for assistance.

“When you mention reasonable accommodation to people, I think people fear being ostracized. They fear their disability will be held against them,” Tebo said.  “The response I’ve gotten, however, has been positive.”

Tebo said it’s impossible to hide his disability since the device sits on his desk in plain view. Instead of being stigmatized, he has found that people are impressed he was given a tool that allows him to remain on the job.

“I’ve even recommended the reasonable accommodation program to a few people,” said Tebo. “I don’t know if they’ve looked into it or talked to Rob Hollander, but I hope so.”

Hollander and Tebo both said they want to get the word out about the program and remove the perceptions of stigma.  Disabilities are not a sign of weakness, Hollander said.  They are simply a fact of life for many people, but they are a fact of life that should not prevent those people from being able to contribute to the NAVSEA or federal mission. Reasonable accommodation exists to keep talented and qualified people in the NAVSEA and federal workforce, said Tebo.

“If you want to continue to work, reasonable accommodation is the way to go,” Tebo said.

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