Putting a Face on AbilityOne

I’ve been blogging a lot about the importance of GSA’s partnership with AbilityOne lately.  In April, I looked back and celebrated GSA’s 65-year history with the program, and in September, I explained how we plan to work together as partners over the next 65 years.

Elizabeth Sarmiento
Elizabeth Sarmiento

When I thought about National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and what I might say about it, it occurred to me that it’s perhaps more important to get to the heart of why we support AbilityOne by talking with participants about what the program means to them.  Sure, its important to talk about sales and supply chains, regulations and requirements, and other things that drive how this program is implemented, but NDEAM is the perfect time to reflect on the real-life, day-to-day outcomes we see when the folks employed through AbilityOne have jobs that they love and are important to them.

To ensure that I wasn’t repeating “inside the Beltway” wisdom, I went as far as I could geographically and interviewed three employees at GSA’s retail store in Guam who come to us through Pacific Ability Resources Inc, (PARI) a nonprofit affiliate of AbilityOne that is dedicated to maximizing the personal and economic potential of persons with disabilities. I talked with cashiers Elizabeth Sarmiento and Wanda Kraft and Supervisor Felix Babauta about NDEAM and what it means to them, and the rewarding and challenging aspects of the work they do for GSA.

Wanda Kraft
Wanda Kraft

GSA: What does NDEAM mean to you?

Sarmiento: It is very important to me because it recognizes workers with disabilities.

Kraft: It is a reminder of how fortunate I am as a multi-diagnosed individual with limitations, to be able to gain and retain employment.

Babauta: I think it is good…to tell others our stories of success and failure, to share as we all grow together in this world.

GSA: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

Sarmiento: Checking out customers without making errors.

Kraft: It’s important knowing customers are satisfied with the services I have provided.

Babauta: I use what I have learned in the last 14 years to help my staff and others I work with to see that being disabled doesn’t have to prevent us from leading productive lives in society and that we can contribute as much as nondisabled individuals.

GSA: What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Sarmiento: When we are busy with many customers coming in at one time.

Felix Babauta
Felix Babauta

Kraft: Having to entertain customers who are dissatisfied…by utilizing tact and maintaining a positive attitude.

Babauta: The most challenging part is discipline. I have had to learn to separate the disability from the personality of individuals and discipline with a lot of patience.

For Sarmiento, Kraft, and Babauta, the greatest challenge they face in the workplace has nothing to do with their disabilities. Everyday they work hard to provide outstanding customer service in what are sometimes stressful circumstances and to appropriately supervise and discipline a varied team of employees.  We all face those same challenges in the workplace and would do well to approach them with the same focus and determination as our colleagues in Guam.