Good morning! Thank you, Jeffrey, for that introduction. It is wonderful to be here today, with all of you. The conference is clearly a great event every year, based on how many attendees you have.
I’m excited to talk to you all today about LEAD and the work we’re doing at the EEOC to address the lack of employment and advancement opportunities in the federal government for people with targeted or severe disabilities (PWTD or PWSD).
LEAD Initiative Background
After joining the Commission a little more than a year ago, I was briefed by the heads of all of our offices, to get a ‘state of the employment union,’ if you will. During a briefing on the federal sector, I was made aware that the federal government is not the leader it should be when it comes to employing or advancing people with significant disabilities. This was both a surprise and a disappointment.
While I have always been aware of the high unemployment rate for people with significant disabilities, I have also always assumed that the federal government was doing a good job in this area, as compared to other employers. This was not the case. The federal government does not do a good job of hiring or advancing people with significant disabilities. In fact, the number of individuals with severe disabilities employed by the federal government has dropped every year since 1994. Today, the population of individuals with severe disabilities represents less than one percent of the total population of federal employees. (0.94% for FY06)
Although I’ll expound on this later, suffice it to say that we know from academics experts in this field that PWTD are far more than one percent of the population. It is, therefore, particularly disappointing to see such poor representation of PWTD among the ranks of America’s Model Employer. Frankly, disappointing isn’t a strong enough word. It’s unconscionable. It was clear to me then that I had to use my time with the Commission to address this issue.
Almost a year ago, in June of 2006, the EEOC held a Commission meeting to shine a light on this issue. Given the turn out – the largest meeting at our HQ facility, ever – it’s safe to assume I was not and am not the only person interested in this topic. We brought together experts and laymen for the meeting to discuss what has caused the sharp decline in the participation of PWTD and what can be done to reverse it. The discussion was frank and disturbing, but it was necessary. It served as a spring board for so much, which I want to share with you today.
From that meeting, the LEAD Initiative was born – Leadership for the Employment of Americans with Disabilities. The LEAD initiative has kept me busy! First, my office began conducting numerous focus group sessions to hear directly from the disability community. We wanted to make sure, first, that we fully understood the issue. Second, I felt it vital that the community have the opportunity to be a part of the process of addressing the problem. I had several meetings with advocates in the deaf community in particular, because I recognize that some of the accommodation needs facing you are unique and pose unique employment barriers. I also know from experience that there is a great deal of resistance to the accommodation needs of the deaf, on the employer side. These meetings yielded some great information that I added to my arsenal.
In addition to these focus group sessions, we also undertook the challenge of the first ever Schedule A training session. Most of you know well that agency personnel are woefully under-informed or mis-informed about this hiring authority for those with disabilities. Despite the fact that OPM recently updated the hiring authority with the goal of “improving it,” most federal hiring professionals still either don’t know what Schedule A is, don’t use it, or don’t use it appropriately. The training session was, like the Commission meeting, extremely well attended. Officials from OPM participated and did their best to explain the ‘new and improved’ hiring authority. Unfortunately, however, it was clear from all the questions that went unanswered during that session that more training was necessary. My staff and I are working to make that happen in the very near term.
Current LEAD Activities
In addition to all those activities, I have been out doing what I do best – talking!! I have spoken to dozens of groups about this issue, which I hope will start to have a positive impact soon. Since last June I have given more than twenty speeches across the country talking about LEAD and the need to improve employment and advancement opportunities for people with severe disabilities. The audiences have ranged from the choir – i.e., audiences like this one – to one that included the governor of West Virginia! Wherever I have the opportunity to go and talk about LEAD and the reasons behind the Initiative, I go.
There is one group in particular that I have spoken with that I want to tell you about. Some of you may know that I spoke to the Council of Chief Human Capital Officers – the HR directors of the biggest federal agencies – back in November. The director of OPM was gracious enough to allow me time to address this group and engage them on the subject of LEAD. I felt it was vital to make sure this group of people in particular – the very ones directing hiring programs at the biggest federal agencies, where most federal jobs can be found – knew about the problem and became part of the solution.
During my visit with the CHCO Council, I shared with them some of the statistics reflecting how people with significant disabilities fare in our federal government. For example:
These statistics underscore the fact that, year after year, the federal government as a whole experiences a net loss. Individuals with severe disabilities are leaving the federal workforce at a higher rate than they are being hired. We are not making progress.
Of the individual targeted disabilities, we know that –
Under the heading of advancement, which is a misnomer if ever there was one, we know that –
I think a lot of those statistics were a shock to members of the CHCO Council, but they all certainly needed to hear them.
I followed up that November CHCO visit with a memo to the Council members (a memo that I’ve been told is “all over town!”). I put them on alert that I plan to call on each one of them to join the LEAD effort. I plan to ask each member agency to host a LEAD training session at their agency, and I am going to request that the sessions be mandatory for all hiring managers, HR personnel, Selective Placement Coordinators, and Disability Program Managers. It’s a daunting task, but it is clearly necessary. Please look for me at your agency soon.
Endgame of LEAD
So where are we going with LEAD? All this work is obviously done with the ultimate goal of increasing our numbers foremost in my mind. I believe we can get there.
I continually remind employers that they are facing some daunting employment statistics, stats that actually work in our favor. For instance, we know that job growth is outpacing population growth nationally. The baby boomer generation is beginning what is predicted to be a retirement Tsunami. By 2010 there is expected to be a 10 million person shortfall in the traditional workforce. There will be approximately 168 million jobs here in the United States and only 158 million people available to fill those positions. A 10 million person shortfall makes clear that employers must continually search for talented and trained employees. Meeting the challenge posed by a 10 million person shortfall requires employers to look for employment candidates in traditional and non-traditional venues. Employers should be prepared to welcome all qualified candidates, which should include people with disabilities. Frankly, it would be foolish not to include people with disabilities.
Currently, it is estimated that roughly 54 – 60 million Americans have disabilities. An estimated 30 million of that 54 million are of working-age, and about half of that 30 million is made up of individuals with severe disabilities. So we’re talking about roughly 15 million working-age people with severe disabilities, or roughly 5% of the overall population.
Given this, you’d expect to see PWSDs employed at about a 5% rate, right? Well, they’re not. Not even close. We know, for instance, that in the federal government, only two agencies even reached 2% in FY06, let alone 5%! TWO AGENCIES (down from four agencies over the 2% level in FY05)!! Because statistics are not collected on the employment of people with disabilities in the private sector, I can’t give you our participation rate there. But given the astronomical unemployment rate for people with disabilities – estimated to be anywhere from 40-70% – I think we can safely say that the private sector is not doing much better.
Think about a 70% unemployment rate in comparison to the national unemployment rate of less than 5%. No other group is faced with such poor opportunity. We should not be either. Considering the consistent need for available talent, I’m shocked that employers would continue to overlook PWTD as a potential talent pool, but I know that they do.
I'll share with you the goal I want to see reached. For those of you who were able to attend the Perspectives Conference last December, you know that I have been pretty specific. EEOC is challenging each federal agency to improve their participation rate to 2% by 2010. And, OPM has publicly supported this goal! This goal is modest in some respects, gargantuan in others. Two percent in the next three years; imagine the impact!
The year 2010 will mark the 20th anniversary of the ADA. Twenty years, or 37 if you count from the signing of the Rehab Act, is plenty of time for us to become the model employer we're supposed to be, for all Americans and not just for those without a disability. By moving from our current position to 2%, we would double the number of PWSDs employed by the federal government. Double! If I can set that train in motion, then my time with the EEOC will have been very well spent. And the sooner I can get things moving for the federal sector, the sooner I can turn my attention to the private sector!
I want to share with you one final item before I close. Whenever I speak to employer groups about LEAD and the need to employ and advance PWTD, I like to remind them that the effort does not end with hiring. Hiring is a crucial step, but it is not the only step. I remind employers that we must all work to make sure our work places are inviting and welcoming to all groups, and that equal opportunity must be extended to all aspects of employment. This means assuring that all groups, including people with disabilities, are afforded the opportunity to advance, to become managers, to take on special projects, to receive awards, etc. It also means making sure that individuals with disabilities who need an accommodation are provided one.
I remind employers that they will be challenged by the EEOC, members of the bar, and disability rights groups where accommodations are unlawfully denied. As EEOC attorneys will tell you, although bringing ADA claims is tough business, we won’t stop.
Where employers have managers out there with attitudinal biases that are getting in the way, I say move those manager out of the way! If there are policies in place prohibiting a whole class of qualified individuals from being considered for a position, even where the individuals can otherwise do the job, change or eliminate that policy.
In closing, I want to thank those of you that have reached out to my office to offer support and suggestions to LEAD. I also want to thank Jeffrey Dallos and all the planners associated with this DHHIG’s National Training Conference. Thank you for inviting me to speak today. I’d be happy to take questions, as time permits. Thank you.
1 Senior Pay Level positions include the SES, Executive Schedule, Senior Foreign Service, and other employees earning salaries above grade 15 in the General Schedule.