Employee Highlight: Emily Harrison

Emily Harrison, Human Capital SpecialistEmily Harrison is the Human Capital Specialist in the Office of Human Capital & Services at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and, as she describes it, is a proud deaf woman.

Ms. Harrison joined USTR in 2020 from the U.S. Secret Service as their Recruitment Administrative Specialist/Disability Program Manager. She is responsible for assisting management in human capital and human resources-related areas including recruitment, staffing, non-recruitment actions, Pathways internship program, and security clearances.

“I was born and raised in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I have no shame to disclose my disability, which is deafness. I went to public schools and I was the only deaf student out of hundreds of hearing students. When I was growing up, I had a minimal knowledge of deaf history, culture, and its community. Early on, I would have never considered myself as a proud deaf woman and did not want to make a big deal about my deaf identify,” Ms. Harrison said.

But things changed for Ms. Harrison when she moved to Washington, D.C. to attend Gallaudet University, the only college in the world where students live and learn using American Sign Language (ASL) and English. At Gallaudet, she found a community where her experiences were not something to overcome, but to embrace.

“I never knew what my struggles were until I experienced a community where I was not out of place. I finally discovered my identity – I am a proud deaf woman, who values her deaf history, culture, language, and community.”

Today, Ms. Harrison carries this sense of pride to her work in the federal government, and uses her skills to expand opportunities for the deaf and disability community. She is proud to help the federal government develop inclusive workplaces by promoting disability awareness and help re-shape preconceived ideas about people with disabilities.

“It is important to shift and recognize what they can do at work with or without reasonable accommodations. Employers should educate and train all hiring managers and upper management to gain an understanding of the reasonable accommodations process.”

There have been improvements over the years, including Executive Order 14035, which President Biden signed earlier this year and that ensures federal government recruitment policies recruit and hire from all segments of society. It states that “all employees and applicants for employment should receive fair and equitable treatment in all aspects of personnel management.”

In addition, the Executive Office of the President hosted events throughout October promoting equitable hiring with a focus on disability/accessibility and inclusion. Ms. Harrison was an integral part of developing the schedule. She organized an event with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) to provide a presentation on the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP). They manage the WRP, a free recruitment and referral program that connects highly motivated college students and recent graduates with disabilities to employment opportunities in the federal government.

“It is critical for me to identify and change processes that add to unconscious bias in the workplace and to educate USTR and EOP-wide employees to understand the challenges that people with disabilities face and contribute to solutions. It is important to create a mutually supportive community.”

Ms. Harrison had great examples on how to keep advocating and challenging the status-quo from family. She credits her mom as her biggest advocate and inspiration: “My mother was the reason why my former middle and high schools established and recognized American Sign Language as foreign language to this day. When I was growing up, students could communicate with me without depending on a sign language interpreter. I am proud to say the schools still provide ASL classes as foreign language courses.

“She has taught me that hard times can be overcome and losing battles can be won. As an adult, I am not afraid to speak up and ask for my accommodations because of her.”

Further Disability/Accessibility Resources: