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Accommodating individuals with disabilities at Fort Benning's many events and ceremonies is simpler than many people may think, post officials said.
"It's not only the law, it's the right thing to do," said Elva Shoemaker, Fort Benning Equal Employment Opportunity Manager.
Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Army must make sure that all group events, ceremonies and meetings are accessible to all. As a whole, Fort Benning has done a great job of doing just that, Shoemaker said.
"The installation's commitment to providing access is across the board," she said. "We want to make sure that no one is excluded from participating in any event that is held on Fort Benning due to a handicapping condition."
Some examples of common types of accommodation on the installation include wheelchair ramps and accessible seating; Braille signs and directions, which can be found in locations including Martin Army Community Hospital and McGinnis-Wickam Hall; the use of sign language interpreters upon request, when proper notification has been given; signalers, or flashing lights, which are currently being used in a some organizations to alert hearing impaired employees; and devices for people with vision impairment such as magnifiers, which have been attached to a large number of computers on the installation.
Accommodation must be provided as long as it does not cause undue hardship to the Army, Shoemaker said. For instance, it may not be possible to immediately modify a building to accommodate certain types of handicapping conditions, but the installation has always sought viable short-term solutions while the long-term changes have been taken into consideration and submitted through the proper channels for final deliberation. Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Tompkins, command sergeant major of the 194th Armored Brigade, said that all of the facilities the brigade uses for graduations and ceremonies are handicapped accessible. As family members and visitors arrive, brigade personnel ask if there is anyone who needs help or special seating, and they make sure those individuals are escorted to a handicapped accessible seat, Tompkins said.
Capt. Zach Knoebel, commander of F Company, 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment, said his company requests information about accommodation for family members through its Facebook page as well as in letters to family members of Soldiers in One Station Unit Training. The letters are sent at the beginning of the training cycle to welcome family members to the Army family and to provide information about OSUT.
"People are our Army's greatest natural resource, and we want to provide the support necessary to our trainees' and Soldiers' biggest source of support," Knoebel said. "The better we provide for them, the better we can help make them part of the Army family." Anyone on Fort Benning who is unsure of how to provide necessary accommodation can contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Office for assistance with finding resources, Shoemaker said. Resources are sometimes available free of charge.
The website of the DoD Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program at www.cap.mil also provides more details on resources and specific accommodation solutions.