U.S. Government Disability Employment Hits Record High

Employment of people with disabilities by the U.S. federal government hit a record high last year, according to the Office of Personnel Management, which submitted its report to President Barack Obama last month.

The total number of permanent federal employees with disabilities increased from 234,395 in 2013, to 247,608 in 2014, representing an increase from 12.80 percent to 13.56 percent of the federal workforce. New hires with disabilities totaled 20,615, representing an increase from 18.18 percent in 2013 to 19.74 percent in 2014.

According to the Office of Personnel Management, the number of people with disabilities was the highest and represented a larger share of the federal workforce than at any other time since the department began keeping these records 34 years ago.

People with disabilities make up 20 percent of the U.S. population, according to the National Organization on Disability (NOD). Over the past year, the federal government has made progress in employing this community even at the senior level.

Five years ago, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), President Obama signed Executive Order 13548 Increasing Federal Employment of Individuals with Disabilities with the goal of enhancing opportunities for individuals with disabilities in the federal workforce. This order also reiterated a goal set in a 2000 executive order that sought to hire 100,000 people with disabilities into federal service over five years.

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While veteran-related agencies, such as the Department of Defense and the Department of Veteran Affairs, have a significant number of employees with disabilities when including veterans (111,399 and 57,450, respectively 6,152 and 8,335 of which were hired in 2014), other agencies are now seeing high numbers as well.

For instance, the Department of Homeland Security’s total number of employees with disabilities rose to 14,176 this year, while the Department of the Treasury’s leapt to 9,002. And the Social Security Administration made a significant jump in 2014 by adding 1,432 employees with disabilities, bringing their total to 7,106 in 2014.

“While we still have work to do, we are seeing success,” an Office of Personnel Management spokesperson told DiversityInc.

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As impressive as these hiring trends are for Uncle Sam, even more encouraging is that more than 20 percent of all employees with disabilities for the federal government are within the top three pay grades, which are top-level supervisory positions. 717 employees with disabilities were hired in these levels in 2014. This number is up from 2012, when 18.63 percent of people with disabilities were in these jobs a difference of almost 3,000 individuals.

“As a result of our efforts, people with disabilities are leaders in the federal government,” the spokesperson said. “In Fiscal Year 2014, 10.12 percent of all GS-14s and 8.77 percent of all GS-15s were people with disabilities, including 30 percent or more veterans with disabilities. 17.62 percent of all GS-14 and 14.05 percent of all GS-15 new hires were people with disabilities.”

GS-14 and GS-15 refer to the top two pay grades in the federal government defined as top-level supervisory positions. Positions above GS-15 are referred to as the Senior Executive Service (SES), which are key positions just below the top presidential appointees.

Long Term Goals

To ensure people with disabilities thrive once they’re hired into these positions, the federal government has developed online courses in consultation with partner agencies to provide their employees with resources and basic information to successfully advance their careers. One such course is called “A Roadmap to Success: Hiring, Retaining, and Including People with Disabilities,” while another, developed in partnership with the DOL Office of Disability Employment Policy and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, is titled “The Selective Placement Program Coordinators Online Training.”

“Special Placement Program Coordinators (SPPCs), and agency equivalents, strengthen federal agencies’ efforts to employ workers with disabilities through increased recruitment, hiring, advancement, and retention of these individuals,” the OPM spokesperson said. “The curriculum covers strengthening career development.”

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OPM’s long-term goals seek to further facilitate opportunities for people with disabilities to advance into high-level positions.

“OPM looks forward to continuing to partner with agencies to implement efforts to diversify the federal workforce and increase representation of people with disabilities in senior leadership positions throughout the federal government,” the spokesperson said.

As the first five years of this program have shown, the opportunities for employment for people with disabilities within the federal government is exponentially expanding and will continue to grow.

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“We also look forward to working with federal agencies to cultivate diverse leaders, which attract and reflect the broad diversity of society,” the OPM spokesperson says.

DiversityInc Top 50 Companies Employ People with Disabilities

Some companies have already made significant strides of their own in this area notably EY, which is No. 4 on DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity and the No. 1 company on DiversityInc’s Top 10 Companies for People with Disabilities.

According to Steve Howe, EY’s managing partner, other companies can recruit and retain employees with disabilities by emphasizing its importance to all levels. “Part of my job is to set the right tone from the top,” he said in an earlier interview with DiversityInc. “We are doing all of those things in terms of communication, awareness, changes to the workplace and educating our leaders to be inclusive.”

EY also takes a deliberate approach when recruiting potential candidates with disabilities and assigned certain people to specifically focus on finding potential employees disabilities (and veterans as well).

“Their focus is really strategic,” Lori Golden, EY’s abilities strategy leader, shared with DiversityInc. “It’s not that they are the individuals who interview people with disabilities that happen to come our way. They are the people who spend time thinking about new and creative ways for us to find partnerships with organizations, for us to continually educate our recruiters so that recruiters understand our commitment and themselves feel comfortable interacting with people who have differing abilities.”

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