'Game-Changer': Federal Agencies to Increase People with Disabilities in Workforce

By Frank Kineavy


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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) hasproposed a rulethat would require every federal agency to achieve a 12 percent workforce representation rate of people with disabilities. Additionally, they would have to attain 2 percent representation of people with severe and/or intellectual disabilities. These could include blindness, deafness, paralysis, epilepsy and dwarfism.

In the summer of 2010 President Obama issued an executive order, Increasing Federal Employment of Individuals with Disabilities, mandating that the federal government become a model for disability employment. The plan was for the government to hire 100,000 people with disabilities into government agencies over the course of five years.

From fiscal year 2011 to 2013, the federal government saw an unprecedented increase in its hiring people with disabilities rate, going from 14.65 percent to 16.31 percent.

The EEOC’s new potential quota, which would apply to employment at all levels, will continue promoting the engagement of this populous in the workforce.

Commissioner of the EEOC Chai R. Feldblum spearheaded the group that initiated the proposal:. “This rule can be a game-changer,” he said.“Since 2013, federal contractors have been required to meet goals for the employment of individuals with disabilities. EEOC’s proposed rule will hold the federal government to an even higher standard, particularly with regard to hiring people with targeted disabilities and providing personal assistance services.” Some of those services include help with eating and using restrooms while at work.

The higher standard is a much larger threshold than the 7 percent requirement set in 2013. The two agencies that have set the bar for the hiring rate of people with disabilities are the Department of Veterans Affairs, achieving 23.6 percent of new hires of people with disabilities in 2015, and the Social Security Administration, with people with disabilities representing 13.5 percent of the workforce hired the same year.

In 2014, Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act was updated, requiring affirmative action and prohibiting federal government contractors from employment discrimination against people with disabilities.

Mark Perriello, president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities, specifically called on the executive branch to bridge the gap between opportunities for people with disabilities to attain senior roles in the White House and the rest of the beltway. Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act promotes nondiscrimination in employment by federal agencies of the executive branch.

Despite being an available talent pool, people with disabilities are currently severely underrepresented in the workforce. According to theBureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014 only 17.1 percent of people living with a disability were employed, compared to 64.6 percent of people without a disability.

“This is the segment of the community whose talents have been most excluded,” Marca Bristo, president and CEO of Access Living in Chicago, said. “You never know who is going to be the next Stephen Hawking.”

According to the Office of Personnel Management Director Beth Cobert, since 2010, over 250,000 people with disabilities have been employed by federal agencies. President Obama’s original goal of 100,000 was exceeded as early as 2014. Cobert adds, “I’m proud of the work we have done with agencies across government to help make this happen, we are looking to improve on these totals.”

Section 501 also requires affirmative action plans for hiring people with disabilities, which will be reviewed by the EOCC. If agencies don’t meet the minimum 12 percent quota, the EOCC would require more vigorous strategies to achieve goals set by this new proposal.

Comments from the public regardingthis billare open until April 25.

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