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Disability Awareness Month

Diversity in action: Meet the team behind GSA’s AbilityOne Program

| GSA AbilityOne Representative Team
Post filed in: AbilityOne

With the Paralympic Games set to begin in two weeks, we are reminded that they have been a driving force in dismantling stigma and increasing visibility for those with disabilities. Sport is often used as a vehicle for change, uniting and inspiring communities, and the Paralympians do just that. Likewise, GSA’s John Bagwell is using his own disability to drive advocacy and increase visibility within the federal government as one of two advisors for GSA’s AbilityOne Program.

John’s Story

At 17 years old, John’s life dramatically changed. Walking to work early one morning, he was hit by a car. His injuries were severe: a traumatic brain injury, a ruptured spleen, and severe damage to his left leg and pelvis. Rushed into surgery, John was in a coma for six weeks. John eventually got back to his life, but not like the high school senior who loved to play tennis just six weeks earlier.

As an undergraduate, John worked with his university’s disability office to land interviews including one that led to a four-year internship at GSA before being hired full time. Little did he know that years later, during a monthly “Pep Talk Tuesday” meeting, he would not only share his story, but teach his colleagues about visible and non-visible disabilities. John used his disability as a vehicle for change, inspiring his colleagues to join his local disability group.

What is AbilityOne?

The AbilityOne Program is one of the largest sources of employment for people who are blind or have significant disabilities. These individuals provide quality products and services to federal agencies at fair market prices. AbilityOne’s primary goal is to reduce the high percentage of unemployed Americans with disabilities and create pathways to meaningful careers. The success of the AbilityOne Program relies much on people like John to advocate for those with disabilities.

John knows first hand how hard it is to get a job with a disability, which is why he has become such a strong advocate for people with disabilities. He worked with the Blind Enterprise Program, advocating that they manage food services in federal buildings. Like John, many AbilityOne advocates are those who are blind or have significant disabilities.

Leading the Way

In October 2020, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy directed federal agencies to each designate an AbilityOne Representative (ABOR) as well as commit to a pledge of at least 1% of their FY 2021 total spending to the AbilityOne Program.

GSA led the way with a base pledge of 2% of its FY 2021 spending. GSA’s major buying organizations, the Federal Acquisition Service and Public Buildings Service, have strategic alliance agreements with both AbilityOne’s central nonprofit agencies: National Industries for the Blind and SourceAmerica. Through these agreements, GSA has developed over 300 contracts worth greater than $500 million combined. GSA’s AbilityOne spending accounts for roughly 10% of AbilityOnes $4 billion in annual sales.

How can the GSA ABOR team help me?

GSA designated an agency-level ABOR, Millisa Gary and two service-level ABORs, Amanda Werb (FAS) and Andrew Tulli (PBS). They work to:

  • Advocate for purchasing in accordance with mandatory source contracting procedures
  • Build agency awareness and support for the AbilityOne Program mission
  • Monitor and capture agency AbilityOne spend 
  • Assist acquisition workforces to expand program use 
  • Provide feedback to the AbilityOne Commission

GSA’s ABOR Team can assist you with:

  • Understanding the AbilityOne Program
  • Tracking areas of spend 
  • Identifying items and services to add to the Procurement List and how to add them
  • Identifying best practices
  • Addressing performance issues with vendors
  • Curating  ideas/suggestions for program improvement that can be taken to the AbilityOne Commission

John Bagwell and Rachel Varsnik, who serve as advisors, are an integral part of the ABOR team as their lived experiences add a human-centered attribute to the ABOR Program. If you have questions, contact Millisa Gary at