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The State of Federal Disability Hiring and Retention Still Lagging

On November 28, the Congressional Research Service published a paper entitled “Federal Hiring of Persons with Disabilities.” The findings of the paper are neither surprising nor controversial, and state, in part:

“Despite efforts to increase recruitment and hiring of persons with disabilities, retention of employees with disabilities is significantly lower than that of employees without disabilities. According to OPM, employees with disabilities leave the federal government at about three times the rate of those without disabilities. OPM outlines a number of strategies to improve retention of employees with disabilities, such as providing workplace flexibilities and reasonable accommodations.”

In short, the Federal Government can successfully hire people with disabilities, but is lagging in retention, especially because of challenges in the process of flexible work and reasonable accommodation.

With each administration since our founding, RespectAbility has made this a principal issue, and indeed, it was one of our key advocacy priorities for 2021. To quote RespectAbility Vice Chair Randall Duchesneau from our 2021 annual report:

One of the things I’m most proud of is getting the word “accessibility” added to the White House Executive Order on “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce.” Alongside our partners, we reached out to the Biden Administration and pushed forward key priorities related to employment policy, economic recovery, and federal opportunities for disabled workers.

In fact, we worked intimately on the provisions related to disability access in the Executive Order, which include specific measures relating to retention, such as that:

  • applicants and employees with disabilities have access to information about and understand their rights regarding disability self-identification;
  • applicants and employees with disabilities have access to information about, understand their rights to, and may easily request reasonable accommodations, workplace personal assistance services, and accessible information and communication technology;
  • the process of responding to reasonable accommodation requests and for appealing the denial of a reasonable accommodation request is timely and efficient;
  • all information and communication technology and products developed, procured, maintained, or used by Federal agencies are accessible and usable by employees with disabilities consistent with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973;
  • the Administrator of General Services, the Director of OPM, the Deputy Director for Management of OMB, and the Executive Director of the Access Board shall work with Federal agencies to ensure that Federal buildings and leased facilities comply with the accessibility standards of the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 and other standards; and
  • beyond the duties of the identified laws, the head of each agency shall maximize the accessibility of the physical environment of the agency’s workplaces, consistent with applicable law and the availability of appropriations reducing the need for reasonable accommodations and providing periodic notice to all employees that complaints concerning accessibility barriers in Federal buildings can be filed with the Access Board.

The Report notes that the real plan for compliance with these provisions had to be provided by each agency by March 2022, so it is not surprising that we do not yet have data on the effect of our recommendations. At the same time, the fact that Congressional Research Service is tracking this issue is encouraging. Now is the time for policymakers and advocates to monitor both implementation and effectiveness, and this report is an excellent way to start.

Meet the Author

Matan Koch

Matan A. Koch is the Senior Policy Advisor at RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. A longtime national leader in disability advocacy and a wheelchair user himself, he is a graduate of Yale College and Harvard Law School.

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