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AbilityOne Conference 12.2023
Above left to right: Melwood President and Chief Executive Officer Larysa Kaut, General Services Administration AbilityOne Program Executive Millisa Gary, and Association of People Supporting Employment First Executive Director Julie Christensen participate in a Melwood conference discussion moderated by Federal Times journalist Molly Weisner to help increase employment for people with disabilities. The women are sitting in chairs positioned horizontally before an audience and are wearing cold-weather professional attire.

GSA promotes AbilityOne success at Melwood conference for inclusion

| Millisa Gary, GSA AbilityOne Program Executive
Post filed in: AbilityOne

To encourage people with disabilities to participate in the federal government’s AbilityOne program, I recently spoke at an annual conference promoting inclusion and innovation.

The Inclusion Through Policy Innovation conference in December 2022 was hosted by Melwood, a Washington D.C.-area non-profit that has helped the disabled find jobs and opportunities in greater Washington, D.C., for more than 50 years.

The U.S. AbilityOne Commission is an independent federal agency, established in 1938 during the New Deal era to employ blind and disabled people in the U.S. It frequently partners with nonprofits like Melwood to emphasize the importance and benefits of those employment opportunities.

I was excited to be a part of this panel because GSA is one of the largest federal agency supporters of the AbilityOne program. I also wanted to show that GSA values diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility for all people, including people with disabilities, in the workplace. This ethos is a huge part of who we are at GSA, and plays a role in the work we do on behalf of the nation.

This is the perfect time of year to examine where opportunities to grow the AbilityOne program might exist. There is room to achieve greater market penetration – meaning selling more of the same products and services, but to new customers, as they become more familiar with AbilityOne.

The real potential for growth is greatest in developing new markets – new lines of business – and selling those new services and products to both current and new AbilityOne customers. The AbilityOne program is only scratching the surface in providing services like IT help desk support, cyber security, contract management services, total facilities management, and financial management support.

GSA has made investments internally to support the AbilityOne program and contribute to its success such as:

  • Implementing strategic action plans for its Services: Public Buildings Service and Federal Acquisition Service.
  • Identifying potential AbilityOne opportunities during the market research and acquisition planning phases.
  • Conducting regular AbilityOne training sessions addressing program leakage where other vendors sell Essentially The Same (ETS) items that are provided by AbilityOne vendors.
  • Expanding subcontracting opportunities for AbilityOne vendors.

However, if there’s a single factor that’s been more effective than others, it's the investment GSA made in using AbilityOne Representatives (ABORs) throughout the agency. ABORs are program ambassadors who conduct outreach, promote program visibility and awareness and conduct useful, timely training to promote understanding about AbilityOne.

For example, ABORs educate agencies and vendors on AbilityOne Commission rules that prohibit subminimum wage contracts. They also educate parties on this particular mandatory Government source, AbilityOne products. ABORs provide an unparalleled ability to navigate the many government agencies by working closely with contracting officers to find innovative ways to create employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Identifying new opportunities for AbilityOne through ABORs is probably the single most important way to expand the program and ensure its longevity. Identifying new opportunities means having more ABORs who can engage new vendors and help them understand the government’s bottom line of customer satisfaction. At the end of the day, both the government and vendors want the best value for the best products and services.

More satisfied customers lead to more positive and varied AbilityOne experiences that can be built upon, entice greater innovation and ultimately create more opportunities for people with disabilities.

For more information please visit the GSA AbilityOne website.