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Revisiting the Rehabilitation Act

The revised law, signed in 2014, built upon the expanded, more inclusive definition of "disability" established by the ADA Amendments Act.

By Carol Glazer and Jesse Fryburg, National Organization on Disability

1973 was a momentous year in the United States. The Supreme Court overturned states' bans on abortion with Roe v. Wade. The Vietnam War ended. Secretariat became the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years. Homosexuality was removed as a disorder from the DSM-II.

Largely lost in the annals of 1973, however, is the poorly-named Rehabilitation Act, which – among other things – prevents the federal government and its contractors from discriminating against individuals with disabilities in hiring. The goal: put Americans with disabilities to work.

How did such a seemingly significant civil rights legislation become an historical footnote? It may not have been hair-raising like Secretariat, nor as controversial as Roe. But the bill had the potential to impact millions of people and should have created more than a few ripples on the horizon of social notice. Perhaps it has been overshadowed by the subsequent, more sweeping Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but that doesn't tell the whole story.

At its core, the Rehab Act was a sprinkler where a firehose was needed: well-intentioned but lacking power. It proffered a narrow, subjective definition of "disability," and despite making disability a protected class, did not prescribe mechanisms for enforcing those protections. As a result, the Act has not meaningfully impacted employment rates for Americans with disabilities.

But the foundation of the bill was strong. So disability organizations – including the National Organization on Disability – worked with the Obama Administration to shore it up.

The revised law, signed in 2014, built upon the expanded, more inclusive definition of "disability" established by the ADA Amendments Act (2008). It instituted a workforce disability goal of 7% for all federal contractors, and compelled them to invite job applicants to voluntarily disclose their disabilities. Additionally, the law required contractors to show progress in meeting the disability hiring goals, translating the law's aspirations into actual action.

There remain challenges, however, foremost among which: the new rules have gone largely unenforced due to a lack of compliance audits. According to the Government Accountability Office, 85% of required federal contractors do not have affirmative action plans (the basis for the audits).

Enter an unlikely enforcer, stage left: The Trump Administration. Craig Leen, Acting Director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), which enforces such regulations, recently announced that OFCCP is planning to conduct 500 "focused reviews" or audits of disability practices alone, in 2019, the largest effort of its type in recent memory. At long last, five years after the 503 rule change was signed, firms will be held accountable for living up to the letter and spirit of the law.

For generations, persons with disabilities have been an asset to American industry, and offered companies talent, creativity, and grit. They have helped companies tap the $500B+ disability consumer market and been drivers of innovation; from curb cuts in sidewalks to touch screens on iPhones.

If all of these carrots haven't compelled a closer look at candidates with disabilities, look out: the stick is coming.

Let's Stop Cheating the Disabled

Sheltered workshops are vestiges of the past and should be reformed or abolished.

By Carol Glazer, President of the National Organization on Disability

Consider this: Businesses in regions with the lowest unemployment rates employ disproportionate numbers of workers with disabilities [1].

The implication? People with disabilities are more than capable, they're just not companies' first, second, or even third choice. But when employers need talent, they give new people a chance. And when given the chance, people with disabilities succeed.

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The ADA: 28 Years of Opportunity Unrealized

"While the Americans with Disabilities Act has helped close many gaps, employment is not one of them."

By Carol Glazer, President of the National Organization on Disability and Jesse Fryburg, Program Manager, National Organization on Disability

On July 26, 1990, the president of the United States looked into a television camera on the South Lawn of the White House and proclaimed that the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) "signals the end to the unjustified segregation and exclusion of persons with disabilities from the mainstream of American life." Twenty-eight years later, it has not.

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Clinton Calls for More Employment for People with Disabilities

"Together we will make our economy and our country more welcoming to people with disabilities because we all win when everyone gets to share in the American dream."


In a speech Wednesday Hillary Clinton focused on one group of Americans that has not received too much attention during this election year: people with disabilities.

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Discrimination Against Job Applicants with Disabilities Exposed

A study conducted by Rutgers and Syracuse universities uncovered proof of employer discrimination against people with disabilities.

Photo by Shutterstock

A new study concluded that employers are still discriminating against job applicants who have a disclosed disability.

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ADA 25 Years Later: Definite Progress But Hiring Gaps Remain

As the Americans With Disabilities Act celebrates its 25th anniversary July 26, significant gaps remain in hiring the 19 percent of Americans with disabilities. New laws aim to improve the efforts of federal contractors and help people with disabilities save more.

Photo by Shutterstock

On July 26, 1990, when former President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans With Disabilities Act into law, it was heralded as the beginning of a new era of improved access and employment for people with disabilities.

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NOD Launches PWD Employment Advisory with $1 Million Prudential Grant

The corporate advisory services of the National Organization on Disability are now available to companies across the U.S.

Photo courtesy of the National Organization on Disability

By Sheryl Estrada

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Diversity Events: HACU's Annual Conference, Ernst & Young on Woman Directors [Slideshow]

DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti was part of a five-person panel that moderated a town-hall meeting during the Hispanic Association of Colleges & Universities' 26th Annual Conference.

Hispanic Association of Colleges & Universities

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