Disability strategist leads Air Force in expertise

When you think of the cheerleaders you knew in high school, how many of them would you expect went through 11 years of speech therapy before they got out there on the field?

Rebecca Traynor is the Air Force Materiel Command Disability Program Strategist and uses her personal experience with a disability to help others achieve and succeed in government civilian service.

Traynor was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate. She was also born with a need to express herself. In grade school she was somewhat shy and self-conscious, but as her speech improved through surgery and therapy, so did her confidence. She participated in pageants and then, around ninth grade, she became involved in competitive speech and drama competitions.

“My mother was surprised and a little concerned when I announced I was going to try out for cheerleading, but she knew I went after what I wanted,” Traynor said. “I made the team and even cheered between surgeries when I was sporting scars and bandages!”

Traynor began her government career in 2009 as a student hire in office automation. She finished her degree and was soon picked up for a human resources staffing position via Schedule A, a special appointing authority that agencies can use to non-competitively appoint individuals, including eligible veterans, who have a severe physical, psychiatric, or intellectual disability.

As a staffing specialist, Schedule A appointments were just one of her collateral duties, but because of her expertise, Traynor’s coworkers often came to her with questions. Non-competitive appointments are notorious for the amount of paperwork and expertise they take to implement.

“Knowing what qualifies as a severe disability and what does not, keeping up with the myriad of changes, and learning what can be offered as reasonable accommodations is a challenge,” Traynor said. “Because of my own disability, the process was just a little less daunting.”

Before long, AFMC leadership realized the importance of the noncompetitive hiring program and hired full-time Disability Program managers for every installation. Traynor was one of the first DPMs in the command, further honing her proficiency.

DPMs perform as neutral parties between employers and prospective employees. They help the disabled to get the accommodations they need to work and employers to steer though a sometimes difficult system.

“DPMs need to be somewhat outgoing,” said Traynor. “They also have to be able to get out of their comfort zone, because they often need to talk about difficult subjects.”

In April, she became the program manager for the command. In her current position, she oversees DPMs at all AFMC installations, advising them on policy and how to work through issues they may encounter such as getting further advice from doctors or working with difficult supervisors.

“Becca is passionate about her role in representing the underserved,” said Keith Tickle, Headquarters Air Force Materiel Command Equal Opportunity, Diversity and Inclusion chief and Traynor’s supervisor. “She is leading the Air Force in hiring the disabled. The Air Force leans on her because of her extensive experience, and I fully expect that full-time DPMs will become an Air Force best practice in the future.”

Traynor’s position is an integral part of the recently rebranded Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Program at AFMC. The disabled are an untapped resource for employment. Her job helps to provide accessibility for those who may face misconceptions and prejudice.

Because of her work, the command is far above the targeted two percent hiring goal established by the Department of Defense

“The disabled make up the most diverse population of employees there is,” says Traynor. “Unlike race or ethnicity which you are born with, a disability can happen to anyone at any time of their life.”

Because of the new COVID vaccine requirement, Traynor has also been busy helping to form a policy for medical and religious exceptions. According to her, the pandemic has been a both a blessing and a curse for the disabled.

Telework is an aid for some people with mobility or social issues, and the option for non-traditional hours is an advantage for many. Unfortunately, telework is not ideal for many jobs, so it has also been a hindrance for some.

“In most cases, however; the pandemic has opened new doors,” says Traynor. “Employers are learning that virtual employment works, and the flexibility is helpful for those with and without disabilities.”

As her career has progressed and she has become more intertwined with the system, she has become adept at its implementation. Traynor’s disabilities have not hindered her career but rather have led her to push for enhanced opportunities for many others.

“What I’ve gone through in life has made me the person I am,” said Traynor. “I don’t know if I am perfect for the job or if the job is perfect for me, but I think that my experience has made me more insightful of the challenges others face.”

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