October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and this year's theme is "Talent Has No Boundaries: Workforce Diversity Includes People with Disabilities." It's an opportunity for all of us to appreciate the contributions people with disabilities have made in the workplace.
I'm proud of the diverse group of employees we've brought together here at DOT. One of them is Barry Hyde--a man whose story exemplifies how much we benefit from having people with disabilities in the workforce.
Twelve years ago, Barry dreamed of becoming a pilot for a major airline. And he was well on his way, logging more than 1,600 hours in the air as a flight instructor in North Carolina.
Then, on June 1, 1998, he boarded a 1965 Piper Twin Comanche with a pilot who wanted to practice his instrument skills. A half hour after takeoff, the plane's engines stalled and the aircraft crashed into a patch of trees near Roanoke, Virginia.
At the hospital, Barry was pronounced dead on arrival, but a dedicated team of medical professionals continued working and saved his life. The accident's effects, however, were devastating. He was blinded in the crash and left without the ability to taste or smell.
Eventually, he was able to piece together a new life from the wreckage of that day. And while his career in the air may have been over, his career in aviation wasn't.
Through hard work and dedication, he became the first blind student to earn a master's degree in aviation science and aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He also became the first blind advanced ground and instrument instructor certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. Barry now works as an aviation safety analyst at the FAA and is a member of the FAA Safety Team (FAAST).
"I did not think I would be working here," he says. "This is a dream I never thought of achieving."
He hopes his new position will help him achieve another goal: protecting pilots from accidents like the one that injured him. He uses his story to emphasize the importance of conducting thorough pre-flight tests and other safety procedures.
As Barry says, "That's how I'll be able to contribute to safety. I want to be an example. Wherever I go, people are going to listen to me because of what happened to me and what I lived through."
Barry Hyde with FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt.
Stories like Barry's are evidence of the tremendous value we stand to gain by employing people with disabilities. And President Obama agrees--earlier this year, he called on all federal agencies to increase the number of people with disabilities who are hired.
Here at DOT, we're committed to ensuring all people have access to jobs so they can live independently and realize their dreams. And we're also intent on building the strongest team possible. Recruiting and retaining skilled professionals like Barry Hyde achieves both of those important goals.