If you want to know how things really work on Capitol Hill, talk to Kathy Peery. A Legislative Affairs Specialist with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs, Kathy serves as a liaison to congressional offices and committees on matters ranging from climate change to contracts and procurement to budgets.
Kathy, who is blind, says what she likes most about her job is that every day is different. There are some cyclical rhythms to her work, however, with the busiest time of the year tending to be February through April, right after the President’s annual budget is released. The early summer months before Congress adjourns for its August recess are also eventful, she says.
If anyone knows these ebbs and flows, it’s Kathy. An attorney by training, she has been with the U.S. Department of Energy since its inception in 1977. Prior to that, she worked in substance abuse prevention and education while putting herself through law school at George Washington University.
Not surprisingly, Kathy’s work involves processing a lot of written information and correspondence. To accommodate this, she uses screen reader software as well as a Braille notetaker. She’s currently exploring options for an accessible smart phone, something increasingly necessary given that she’s often out of the office. Kathy, along with her service dog Bea, spends a lot of time meeting with members of Congress and their staff.
Another accommodation the U.S. Department of Energy provides Kathy is an assistant. This person helps Kathy with tasks such as reading printed or scanned documents and also provides general support to the office at large. In fact, over the years, the position has evolved into a training opportunity, and Kathy is proud that some of her former assistants have ascended to high ranks within the department.
Kathy hopes the federal government continues to provide supports to attract skilled people with disabilities. “Not everyone is aware of what people with disabilities can do. I have met many talented people with disabilities who have a lot to contribute to government agencies,” she said. “This is an area where we as a country have made a lot of progress, but there is more to do.”