A Message to the Foreign Service
from the Director, Office of Civil Rights

This issue of The Civil Rights Connection serves as a good summary of some of the Office of Civil Rights' initiatives and accomplishments during the past six months. As the "Update" article on complaints demonstrates, OCR has continued to be successful in resolving the overwhelming majority of civil rights complaints we receive before they ever reach the formal stage of the complaints process. This success is due to the dedication of our collateral duty EEO Counselors, who voluntarily assist the Office of Civil Rights in bringing complaints to closure as expeditiously as possible, and to the hard work and dedication of the OCR Staff.

Since the publication of our second edition of The Civil Rights Connection last summer, the Office of Civil Rights has had the opportunity to conduct two "Conversations" about race in America. These dialogues, described in detail in the article entitled "One America in the 21st Century: Forging a new Future," marked the first time employees of USIA--both Civil and Foreign Service--have come together in large numbers to listen to what each other had to say about racial perceptions and misunderstandings in the workplace. Response to these two "Conversations" has been extremely positive, and OCR will be working in the coming months on ways to keep the spirit of these dialogues alive here at USIA.

You will also find in this issue of The Civil Rights Connection two articles highlighting Agency efforts involving persons with disabilities. The first of these gives the highlights of one of two OCR-organized panel on disabilities; the second was written by David Levin, who chairs the E Bureau's Diversity Working Group and coordinates USIA's activities for and about people with disabilities.

We are devoting considerable space in this issue to disability concerns because the Office of Civil Rights is committed to ensuring that the disabled, along with all other individuals at USIA, are entitled to fair and equal treatment. Their rights to fair and equal treatment are guaranteed under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and it is part of OCR's mandate to make sure that ADA is vigorously and conscientiously enforced at USIA. There is another reason, however, why USIA in particular should be sensitive to disabilities issues. Plainly stated, assisting those who have a disability to participate fully in the workplace through reasonable accommodation is not only a legal obligation which is good for the economy and good for American democracy; it is good public diplomacy as well. Every time a foreign person with a disability is accommodated on a USIA exchange program, that person carries back home with him or her a message about American democracy and about our commitment to making full participation possible for all American citizens. Every time a physically disabled person visits a U.S. facility overseas and finds a building which fully complies with Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards, he or she encounters a powerful lesson in democracy.

In 1999, the Office of Civil Rights remains committed to processing complaints expeditiously, to increasing awareness of the benefits of diversity in the workplace, to outreach to the community, and, through our mentoring program, to helping all employees of USIA realize their full potential. We enlist your help and welcome your comments and suggestions on how to make USIA an even more harmonious, diverse and productive workplace in 1999.

Hattie P. Baldwin, Esq. Director

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