By Dan Gephart, June 21, 2022

Good news is at a premium these days, so pardon me for still regaling in last month’s announcement from the EEOC about Federal employees with targeted disabilities. Back in a previous life, I worked with then-EEOC Commissioner Christine Griffin on a series of columns she wrote about improving participation rates for employees with disabilities, particularly those with targeted disabilities. I kept a close eye on reports that showed participation numbers slowly ticking up. However, according to a recent EEOC report that looks at a longer span of time, those rates are improving at a much better pace.

Here’s the information straight out of the EEOC’s Annual Report on the Federal Workforce for 2019:

  • The overall participation rate of individuals with targeted disabilities increased from 1.05 percent in 2003 to 1.80 percent in 2019. This was driven by increases in the participation rates of individuals with serious difficulty hearing, serious difficulty seeing, and significant psychiatric disorders.
  • More agencies are meeting the 2 percent goal for the participation rate of individuals with targeted disabilities. Twelve of 28 independent agencies, 11 out of 17 cabinet departments, and 34 out of 98 subcomponents of cabinet departments meeting the 2 percent goal. In 2016, only 10 independent agencies and subcomponents reached that goal.

Targeted disabilities include blindness, deafness, partial and full paralysis, missing extremities, dwarfism, epilepsy, intellectual disabilities, and psychiatric disabilities. Individuals with these disabilities typically have the greatest difficulty finding employment, according to the EEOC.

There’s more good news: The percentage of Federal workers with disabilities (not just targeted) has increased more than 8 percent since 2014. Federal workers will disabilities now make up just under 9.5 percent of the workplace, according to the latest EEOC data.

Unfortunately, there is also bad news via the EEOC’s recent report Status of Workers with Disabilities in the Federal Workplace.

People with disabilities are still underrepresented in Federal sector leadership. Among persons with targeted disabilities, 10.7 percent are in leadership positions and 89.3 percent are in non-leadership positions. That compares to 16.4 of people without disabilities in leadership positions, and 85.6 percent of people without disabilities in non-leadership positions.

Also, employees with targeted disabilities are involuntarily leaving the Federal workplace at more than twice the rate of people without disabilities. Individuals with any disability were 53 percent more likely to involuntarily leave than those without disabilities.

The report also reveals that over a five-year period, Federal sector physical disability-based complaints increased by 22 percent. Mental disability-based complaints increased by a whopping 72 percent. These statistics outpaced the overall increase in Federal sector EEO complaints.

Kudos for those hiring, retaining, and accommodating employees with disabilities.   For everyone else, it’s beyond time to get on board.  Here are three suggestions to help you do that:

1 – Take advantage of Schedule A authority. Do you have a hiring need? Are you already dreading the long and complicated road to filling the open position? Consider Schedule A. It allows you hire a qualified individual with a disability without posting a job announcement or going through the certificate process.

And the process is simple. Contact the correct person at your agency who handles Schedule A. (It could be an HR professional, a disability program manager, an EEO specialist, or a special placement program coordinator.) Explain the competencies you’re looking for, along with the essential and non-essential functions of the job. You will soon receive several resumes of qualified individuals who have the prerequisite skills and are looking for an employment opportunity.

For more guidance, read through the EEOC publication The ABCs of Schedule A Tips for Hiring Managers on Using the Schedule A Appointing Authority.

2 – Prepare yourselves for a huge increase in reasonable accommodation requests. Yes, we know you have a reasonable accommodation process in place. But when is the last time you seriously reviewed its effectiveness, and how well your managers are following it? And are you ready to handle the huge influx of accommodation requests that has already started to happen and will only increase as more employees return to the physical workplace?

Before you can tackle your processes, you need to know the law. Join us for the five-part Reasonable Accommodation in the Federal Workplace webinar series, especially the first session on July 21 that takes a look at Reasonable Accommodation Framework: Disability Accommodation Overview and Analysis.

You’ll learn about important information such as:

  • Understanding what “qualified individual” means.
  • How to properly identify a reasonable accommodation request.
  • When to deny a reasonable accommodation request.
  • And much more.

3 – Make sure supervisors understand the interactive process. An employee does not have to specifically state “I want a reasonable accommodation” when making a request. Also, the RA request does not have to come from the employee. It could from a coworker, family member. Heck, it could even come from a customer. And this is only the first part of the “interactive process.”

You also need to know the essential functions of the job, hold discussions with the employee – that means listen to the employee – and then get creative. Just because a supervisor knows the “best way” to complete a job doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the only way. And, likewise, the employee isn’t guaranteed to get his/her/their accommodation of choice if there is another accommodation that is just as effective. The interactive process is a team effort, and one that requires supervisors to be on top of their game. We’ll tackle the Importance of the Interactive Process in the second part of the Reasonable Accommodation in the Federal Workplace webinar series on July 28. [email protected]

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