If you read The Washington Post, you may already know the story of Mario Bonds, a recent graduate of Virginia's George Mason University, who happens also to be sightless. While reading the Post article, I seized on one sentence: "In addition to making good on his GMU dream, Mario is a program assistant in the civil rights office of the U.S. Department of Transportation."
Yes, it turns out that Mario, the driven young man whose grandmother told the Post, "He don't have a disability; he's blind," works right here at DOT.
He joined DOT through a job fair for disabled persons last August. "I already had one offer," he says, " but I really wanted to get into DOT."
Why? "First, because the Federal government is very good at accommodating disabled workers and making sure they have what they need to work effectively."
"And, second, because there are so many transportation issues for persons with disabilities. I want to be able to help with that, maybe affect policy to make things better in some way."
For right now, Mario is in our civil rights office working on assistive and adaptive technology issues, and helping manage things in our business operations and information technology division.
"I'm definitely busy," he asserts, " And I wouldn't have it otherwise. I can't stand a day that's not full; it seems like such a waste of valuable time. I want to spend my life doing something meaningful and substantive."
A few moments with Mario, and that becomes absolutely clear. "I love DOT," he says:
"It's been terrific. The investment they have made is really supportive, and--with the adaptive technology I need--it is an investment. And I'm extremely grateful they have stepped up like that.
"But, at the same time, I do have the skills, right? I can speak and write and synthesize information. So I'm not going to be one of those people who are content, you know, who are just happy to be here. I've got the same aspirations as everyone else; I'm here to achieve.
"Plus, I carry that extra ambition of wanting to show that there are qualified people with disabilities out there who deserve a taste of the American dream."
I think Mario is onto something important. As he told the Post, "Within the working-age blind community, 85% are unemployed. And that's up--not down--since 1970. I think that number is just a little too close to 100. It's 2010; we must be able to do better."
That's why DOT is doing what it can to make work tools more accessible for employees with disabilities. And that's why DOT is doing what it can to step up our hiring of people, particularly Veterans, with disabilities.
There's a long road ahead if America wants to lower that 85% unemployment rate for working-age blind persons. But I suspect that Mario Bonds is going to be a tireless advocate in moving us down that road, and DOT is happy to have him on our team.