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Vol. LXIV, No. 25
December 7, 2012
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Employment, Enjoying Life Are at Forefront of Disabilities Event

Army Capt. Dan Berschinski speaks at NIH.

Army Capt. Dan Berschinski speaks at NIH.

Don’t tell Dan Berschinski he isn’t capable. Or that he can’t compete. He’ll flex his muscles, maybe flash a broad, convincing smile, then prove you wrong.

Eight months after having lost both legs to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2009, Berschinki, an Army captain, platoon leader and Purple Heart recipient, was skiing in Vail. Surgeries, extended hospitalization and 2 years of grueling rehabilitation (including prosthetic leg training) at Walter Reed Army Medical Center enabled him to swim, lift weights and get healthy. In time he was participating in triathlons and the 2011 Marine Corps Marathon.

Any more doubts about his capability?

Berschinski’s accomplishments were featured during the 2012 Disability Employment Awareness Month Program, held recently in Masur Auditorium.

At NIH’s annual Disability Employment Awareness Month Program are (from l) keynote speaker Kirk M. Bauer; Kimberly Kirkpatrick, OEODM Disability Program manager; NIH principal deputy director Dr. Lawrence Tabak; NIDDK’s Dr. Anne Elizabeth Sumner; OEODM Director Debra Chew; Berschinski; and the Office of Intramural Research’s Larry Chloupek.

At NIH’s annual Disability Employment Awareness Month Program are (from l) keynote speaker Kirk M. Bauer; Kimberly Kirkpatrick, OEODM Disability Program manager; NIH principal deputy director Dr. Lawrence Tabak; NIDDK’s Dr. Anne Elizabeth Sumner; OEODM Director Debra Chew; Berschinski; and the Office of Intramural Research’s Larry Chloupek.

NIH principal deputy director Dr. Lawrence Tabak provided welcoming remarks for attendees at “A Strong Workforce Is an Inclusive Workforce: What Can You Do?” He said there are about 50 million employees with disabilities in the U.S. “The need is to focus on capability, not disability,” he said, imploring all persons to strive for diversity “that makes NIH [and all organizations] a stronger workforce.”

Bauer reported, “The disabled are the largest minority group, but also have the highest unemployment rate.”

Bauer reported, “The disabled are the largest minority group, but also have the highest unemployment rate.”

Photos: Ernie Branson

Keynote speaker Kirk M. Bauer, like Berschinski, is no stranger to arduous, life-changing experiences. He survived an enemy ambush in Vietnam in 1969, but lost a leg and suffered additional injuries.

Since then, his accomplishments have known few boundaries. For the past 30 years he has served as executive director of Disabled Sports USA, a non-profit organization that aids more than 60,000 people a year. He has also served on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and was also named by President George W. Bush to represent the U.S. at the Paralympic Games in Torino, Italy and Beijing, China. Further, he led establishment of the Warfighter Sports program, which provides sports rehabilitation for wounded warriors, in 2003.

While Bauer noted that recent progress has been made in hiring adults with disabilities, the job is not yet complete. “The disabled are the largest minority group, but also have the highest unemployment rate,” he noted, adding that about two-thirds of these individuals do not currently have work.

As an example of what can be accomplished by the physically challenged, Bauer showed a film in which five wounded warriors (from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars) climbed Alaska’s Mt. McKinley, carrying their equipment and battling freezing temperatures, heavy snow and the constant threat of avalanche. He compared their efforts and perseverance to qualities that should be showcased in the employment arena. Like these achievers, “always give your best on the job and in life. Understand the mission, the role and your skills. Give your very best so you can get back to living your dreams,” Bauer advised.

NIDDK’s Sumner addresses the audience.

NIDDK’s Sumner addresses the audience.

Berschinski, now an owner and CEO of his own company who has plans to hire adults with disabilities, also spoke. A supporter of Disabled Sports USA and an advocate for improved protective equipment for troops, he inspired the audience with his tale of how sports helped him get his life back in order following his injury. Along with technological advances in rehabilitative medicine, “it’s been the biggest factor [for me],” he explained, giving him the self-confidence to go forward.

Berschinski credited NIH and other organizations that have helped create advances in rehabilitation medicine and fostered policies leading to equal opportunities in the workforce for people with disabilities.

“Medicine always trickles down,” he said. “When I was lying in that Afghan dirt, I just knew that NIH would have a hand, somehow, in bringing me back here.”


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