Commission Meeting on the Employment of Individuals with Disabilities in the Federal Government - June 28, 2006
The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is a national membership organization founded in 1995 that advocates for political and economic empowerment for the more than 50 million children and adults living with disabilities in the United States, and is acknowledged as the country’s largest cross-disability membership organization with more than 110,000 members. ADPD promotes public policies that advance the goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency.
I want to begin my testimony today by sharing with you a letter from Andrew Imparato, the President and CEO of my organization the American Association of People with Disabilities, to our membership in October, 2004. This was included in our quarterly newsletter and was entitled “A Model Employer?”
On July 26, 2000, President Clinton used the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to issue an executive order calling on the federal government to hire 100,000 people with disabilities into the Executive Branch of the US government over a five-year period.
Each federal agency and department was required by this 2000 order to submit a blueprint detailing a “comprehensive strategy for recruiting and hiring people with disabilities.” All of this was with the goal of ensuring that the federal government was living up to its obligation to be a “model employer” for workers with disabilities.
In an era where people with significant disabilities continue to be disproportionately outside the labor force, many of us hoped that federal efforts could help lead the way toward greater employment opportunities for qualified workers with a variety of disabilities. We have also been encouraged by the leadership of people in the Bush Administration like Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, who has actively promoted affirmative recruiting of qualified employees with disabilities for his new cabinet agency.
That is why it was particularly disappointing to learn in a report on the state of equal employment opportunity in the federal government issued earlier this year by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that the number of federal employees with “targeted disabilities” (a team that refers to people with more significant disabilities like blindness, deafness, paralysis, intellectual disabilities psychiatric disabilities, etc.) has been steadily declining for the ten years from fiscal year 1994 to fiscal year 2003, resulting in a net loss of about 20 percent during that ten-year period The EEOC noted that by 2003, individuals with targeted disabilities were only one percent of the total federal workforce.
The overall decline in federal employment during that same ten year period was about 7.7 percent, so people with targeted disabilities have been leaving the federal government at a rate almost three times that of federal workers overall. The report also noted that this problem has been getting worse in recent years. Between 1999 and 2003, according to the EEOC, “the rate of decline for employees with targeted disabilities was more than eight and a half times greater than the rate of decline for the federal workforce as a whole.”
This disturbing trend is something that deserves high level attention from the Congress and the White House. The federal government is the largest employer in the country, and has many advantages in providing accommodations for employees with significant disabilities. Federal officials have consistently encouraged private section employers to do more in providing opportunities for qualified workers with disabilities, but these efforts will have much more credibility when the federal government demonstrates by example how to recruit and retain these workers.
If the federal government looked like America, about 20 percent of the workforce would be people with disabilities, and about 10 percent would be people with significant disabilities. For years, EEOC and the Office of Personnel Management promoted a government-wide goal of 5.95 percent employment for workers with targeted disabilities. Evidently, in its most recent management directive on affirmative programs of equal employment opportunity, the EEOC has backed away from that goal because of difficulties in obtaining reliable statistics on labor force participation for individuals with targeted disabilities in the private sector. Whaever these difficulties may be, we can certainly agree that one percent employment is way too low and the recent trends need to be addressed with a proactive strategy led by the President and implemented across the entire executive branch. Revisiting President Clinton’s executive order might be a good place to start.
I encourage all AAPD members to be in touch with your members of Congress about the serious problem reflected in these most recent federal statistics. We must redouble our efforts to create pipelines to federal employment for qualified students and job seekers with disabilities, and we must demand Presidential leadership to reverse this trend so that the federal government can truly lead the way as a model in providing equal employment opportunity for the more than 35 million working-age people with disabilities in the United States.
What has changed since October 2004? In January, 2005, the Office of Personnel Management published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that suggests changes to the Schedule A Hiring Authority as it pertains to people with severe disabilities. If and when implemented, these news rules would allow agencies to hire individuals with a physical or mental disability into the excepted service more easily. Agencies would be allowed perform the functions previously performed by vocational rehabilitation agencies or the Veterans Administration, which may speed up the certification process. After two years, the employees with disabilities may be noncompetitively transferred to competitive service positions. In addition, other more general hiring rules were made to help veterans with disabilities find civil service jobs. Under the old rules, applicants with disabilities had to receive certification from either a Veterans Affairs Department or state vocational rehabilitation agency indicating that they had either a severe physical disability, mental retardation, or a psychiatric ailment. The VA or state agency also had to certify that the person with the disability was likely to succeed in the job for which he/she was applying.
I remember as a former director of a center for independent living hearing veteran consumers from my center complaining about the old rules – and how disrespectful they found these rules. So this was a good change. Under the new rules, agencies did not have to request documentation of the candidate’s disability, but if they choose to do so, they could seek it from the Social Security Administration which provides benefits to Americans with disabilities, or from a doctor, as well as the VA or state agencies.
However, in a recent communication I had with a friend who has a psychiatric disability and who is a federal employee, he shared with me that people with psychiatric disabilities are rarely recruited or retained – often due to little provided accommodations – and yet it is a significant issue for many managers who do not know how to deal with them. He told me that he knew several people who had left the federal service due to the fact that the workplace could be a hostile environment in general and more so, for those who self-disclosed. He suggested that more training would be beneficial not only for managers but also for all staff. He believed that the issues of stigma and discrimination are still so rampant that by far the great majority of folks choose not to disclose.
He recommended that agency policies be created and monitored on creating a mentally healthy workplace for all employees and an accepting environment for all consumers. He suggested that opportunities for paid internship programs for people with disabilities be available. I might add here that AAPD does have a summer internship program for college students with disabilities to work both on Capitol Hill and in federal agencies. I have been involved with that program this summer for the first time and am very encouraged about the potential I see for these very qualified young people with disabilities in terms of federal employment. Other ideas from my friend were mentorship programs, encouragement of peer support activities for employees with psychiatric disabilities, and greater communication between employees with disabilities to share information on how to improve the workplace.
In conclusion, AAPD would offer the following recommendations.
Agency head holds senior officials accountable for hiring, promoting, and retaining individuals with targeted disabilities. Supportive actions and compliance are in position descriptions and performance evaluations of senior officials, with measures of success clearly defined.
General agency attitude toward individuals with targeted disabilities is welcoming and flexible. Create an environment where staff would never tell an applicant: “We don’t hire people with disabilities.”
Benchmarks for progress are required, set, and met.
Disability Program Manager (DPM) is experienced, proactive, and capable of analyzing data to identify possible barriers and undesirable trends. This may require a lead agency conducting periodic training for DPMs.
Sufficient funding and staff time is dedicated to making all buildings and programs accessible; progress is monitored.
Detailed information on changes that are needed:
Simplified hiring authorities that are well publicized.
(1) Schedule A:
Reduce the minimum time for eligibility to be converted from Schedule A excepted appointments to a career appointment. (The minimum time is currently 2 years, which renders the Schedule A appointment unappealing for qualified candidates.)
If person is not converted from the Schedule A excepted appointment to a career appointment after the minimum time, require the supervisor to write a Personal Improvement Plan (PIP) for the employee and follow up.
The Schedule A appointment authority is limited to individuals with severe disabilities, but USOPM currently does not specify what those disabilities are. We suggest that “severe disabilities” be defined as the nine targeted disability (TD) categories: Deafness, blindness, partial paralysis, total paralysis, missing limbs, distortion of limbs or spine, mental illness, mental retardation, and convulsive disorders.
Certification of ability to do the job should not be required for a Schedule A appointment if the individual has satisfactorily completed at least one year of college or work after the disability occurred.
Agencies should be prohibited from requesting medical documentation for obvious targeted disabilities.
It should be stressed that the Schedule A job offer/placement must be at a GS level appropriate for the person’s education level and experience.
Need to publicize that the individual can be hired after job announcement closed, up to time job offer is made.*
Need to publicize that the Schedule A appointment authority can be used unlimited times by the same individual.*
Need to publicize that persons in Schedule A appointments are eligible to apply for any other positions announced in the agency.*
Need to publicize that Schedule A may be used at any GS level – GS 1 to GS 15 and pay band equivalents.*
* Current procedures, but not publicized, resulting in confusion.
(2) Time Limited Appointment Authority: (Can currently be used in lieu of Schedule A. The advantage is that it requires less red tape.)
Drop the restriction that it can be used only for positions for which OPM has deemed no testing is necessary; it is too confusing and reduces usage of this option.
If person hired under the Time Limited Appointment Authority is not converted to Schedule A after three months, require the supervisor to follow up.
Expand explanation of this hiring authority and publicize aggressively. (At present, it is virtually unknown.)
Track and report Schedule A and time limited appointments by category, conversions, and length of time in Schedule A status.
Incentives for hiring and retaining people with targeted disabilities (PWTDs)
Create new Government-wide award ceremony or incorporate into existing award events an opportunity to recognize agencies and the managers who do the best at hiring and promoting PWTDs and for those agencies who made the most progress. Note – this should be for permanent hires, as tracked by EEOC, and not Schedule A excepted appointments or interns in temporary appointments.
Provide favorable publicity for the award winners annually.
Award the agency with the highest ratio of employees with TDs at the Senior Executive Service (SES) level. Studies have shown that having a peer with a disability is the best way to develop a favorable attitude toward people with disabilities.
Require agencies to create and implement methods for awarding their most supportive managers (as evidenced by data on hiring, promoting, and retaining PWTDs).
Require every component with 1,000 or more employees to submit a monthly report to the head of the Agency or Department, showing the number of new hires, the number of hires with TDs, and the current number/ratio of employees with TDs. (A “best practice” done by the Social Security Administration.)
The White House needs to hold agencies accountable for showing an annual increase of permanent employment (not hires) of PWTDs of one-half of one percent each year. Currently, separations of employees with targeted disabilities are higher than hires. (Permanent employment does not include Schedule A excepted appointments and internships.)
Outsource a study on why PWTD’s left the government at the rate of three times more than non-disabled employees. Publish the report within one year.
Add to the President’s Management Agenda/Human Capital Scorecard an item on employment of PWTDs in permanent positions.
Discontinue Disability Employment Awareness Month Observances because they are a drain on staff time and resources if they do not lead to improvements in hiring, promotion, or retention of individuals with disabilities. If these events are not discontinued, develop guidelines and strategies to guide agencies into holding Observance events that directly contribute to improvements.
Improved Opportunities for Promotions, Details, and Training
Agencies may only contract with companies/trainers who provide accommodations on request and do not charge additional fees for the accommodations. The contract must specify that all training media must be Section 508 compliant.
Agencies must track all promotions, details, and training provided to employees with TDs and report annually.
Improved Reasonable Accommodation process
Require each agency to have a centralized fund for accommodations that is large enough to cover all requests. Require agency reports on their methodology in establishing the fund and their experience regarding the sufficiency of funds set aside.
Require that all assistive technology and equipment come out of the same fund. I.e., do not require individual offices or components to provide the cost of certain equipment or services while centrally covering the cost of other accommodations – this system renders some disabilities preferable over others.
Require a line item in each agency’s budget to cover accommodation.
Establish a central (government wide) office or consider outsourcing a third party to review complaints on accommodation denials.
Provision of accommodation may not be delayed because of the need to contract out for services. (Note: This delay is in EEOC’s internal procedures, copied by many agencies, but is not allowed in the Guidance.)
Set a maximum time limit for agencies to allow themselves for routine requests for accommodation. (Two weeks is suggested.)
Require all agencies to have a Disability Program Manager (DPM) or other individual delegated the authority to oversee the provision of accommodations.
A review process for denials of requests for reasonable accommodations should be instituted by the agency. This needs to be reported annually.
Track and report in the Management Directive 715 accommodations provided and denied. (EEOC requires agencies to track this information, but does not request it.)
Improved interpreter/communication accessibility
Establish an office to manage Government-wide program, based on the Department of Defense’s Computer Assistance Program (CAP) model, to provide communication services: oral and sign language interpreters, Video Relay Services, real time captioning, etc.
For employees who have been identified as qualifying for communication accommodations, require that all requests be acknowledged by the agency within two business days and fulfilled within one week that the requested service will be provided.
Explore the creation of a special Federal-wide program to hire additional interpreters or train people to become interpreters.
Create and document a model process for hiring sign language interpreters, including standard interview questions and a selection panel of interpreting service users. Currently, some agencies allow the selection to be made by officials who are not conversant in sign language; this results in the hiring of persons with insufficient interpreting skills.
Promote an alternative process for hiring freelance interpreters directly under contract and paying them via credit card. This would eliminate the third party interpreter agency, realizing a saving of one third of the usual cost.
Require all videos, CD-Roms, streaming video, video cams, and other electronic mediums of verbal communication must be captioned.
Publicize and enforce the requirement to comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Several agencies, for example, are still purchasing videos that do not have captioning.
Require agencies to commit to a timetable for making all of their buildings accessible in ten years, and to report their progress. Appoint one lead agency to publish an annual report of Federal agency progress.
Require the GSA to train all of their (GSA) building inspectors so that they do not comply with agency (building manager) request that they waive the requirement to meet Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS), Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Standards (ABAAS), or Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG).
Require all agencies to make the front entrance of their buildings accessible (UFAS/ABAAS/ADAAG compliant) within two years.
Require all agencies to make at least one restroom in each building accessible (UFAS/ABAAS/ADAAG compliant) within two years. Require agencies to make scooters available when all restrooms are not accessible.
Set policy that agencies may not allow employees with TD to be adversely impacted by a Reduction in Force, Outsourcing, or other downsizing activity.
When reassignment is not possible, place these employees at the top of the Interagency Career Transition Assistance Plan (ICTAP) list for priority consideration at other agencies.
Track and report impact of downsizing and arrangements made to place employees with TDs in other positions.
Require agencies to track and report disciplinary separations of employees with TDs.
Monitor the data to determine if this is a widespread problem that needs to be addressed.
This page was last modified on June 28, 2006.
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