On October 16, 2003, IBM was honored with a New Freedom Initiative Award by the U.S. Department of Labor at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. The award recognizes exemplary and innovative efforts to further the disability employment objectives of the President's New Freedom Initiative.
"President George W. Bush wants all Americans, including Americans with disabilities, to have the opportunity to learn and develop skills and engage in productive work," said Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. "The recipients of the 2003 Secretary's New Freedom Initiative Awards are organizations that recognize the value that persons with disabilities bring to the workplace and exemplify that philosophy in their daily operations."
The objectives of the New Freedom Initiative are to provide Americans with disabilities the freedom to develop skills, engage in productive work and participate fully in their communities. Ten organizations received the New Freedom Initiative Award this year.
Secretary Chao presented the award recognizing IBM for its training and mentoring programs for the disabled. The company was also recognized for its efforts in making technology products and services accessible to people of many abilities, as well as its research in this area through the IBM Accessibility Center. In addition to its equal opportunity hiring practices, IBM has long participated in many of the regulatory organizations that set accessibility standards.
Vice President of Compensation and Benefits Diane Gherson, who accepted the award on IBM's behalf, said, "The overriding reason for recruiting and hiring people with disabilities is that IBM wants the best talent possible in its labor force—and we believe we hire the very best across the board."
IBM hired its first disabled employee in 1914—76 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted. In 2000, IBM implemented a Corporate Instruction that all products and services are to be accessible, and in the same year established the Accessibility Center. The Department of Labor commended IBM for its recruiting and hiring programs and for establishing corporate financing for workplace accommodations.
As Gherson concluded in her acceptance speech, "For IBM, hiring the disabled is part of our heritage, our culture and most important, it's part of our business strategy."