In July of 2010, President Obama ordered the government to hire at least 100,000 new employees with disabilities over the following five years. Two years into this executive order, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) announced on May 25, 2012 some rather disappointing statistics in a report criticizing the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Labor Department (DOL).
Under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, an employee is officially classified as disabled if he or she has “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” The United Nations reports that over 650 million people fall under this classification, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims that 47.5 million Americans have a disability. That’s nearly 21.8 percent of the population in the United States.
Unfortunately, disabled workers battle an unfair stigma of being unequal to non-disabled workers in regards to what they can contribute to the workplace. When you couple the social stigma with educational barriers to success, it paints a fairly grim picture. Students with disabilities are statistically more likely to drop out of high school, and less than 36.4 percent of high school students with disabilities earn a diploma. With this in mind, it’s obvious to see the effect this has on the number of disabled students pursuing a college degree, which impacts the employment statistics as well.
There are many advocates fighting the stigmas surrounding disabled employees. One of the champions of the cause is Rebecca Cokely, White House Director of Priority Placement.
“Equal employment means to me going beyond a functional shift and resulting in a philosophical shift in the expectations of young people with disabilities so that in elementary school, when students present what they want to be when they grow up, no one will say that a kid with a disability cannot be an astrophysicist, a lawyer, a chef, or whatever they may want to be,” Cokely said.
The OPM has failed to include all setbacks in its mandatory reports to the White House. That office has also failed to implement disability hiring training programs for agency officials. There is question as to the quality of the data being used to measure the OPM’s progress in meeting the goals set in July of 2010.
Some additional disturbing facts from the OPM include:
- Of the 66 agency plans for increasing the hiring of disabled employees, which represents more than 99 percent of the federal civilian executive branch workforce, only 7 met the OPM’s 13 criteria;
- More than half of all agency plans met eight or fewer of the 13 criteria;
- 29 of the plans had no numerical goals for hiring disabled employees;
- Nine did not identify an official person to oversee the hiring initiative.
“Although federal agencies have taken the first step by submitting action plans to OPM for review, many agency plans do not meet the criteria identified by OPM as essential to becoming a model employer of people with disabilities,” GAO said in its report.
The OPM acknowledges the government is behind schedule in regards to the 200,000 employee goal. In 2010 and 2011, the government has hired 20,000 of the required 200,000. To meet the goal, the government would need to hire 60,000 disabled workers per year, if it were to meet the 5 year plan.
Part of the challenge does rest with the employees. Many employees with disabilities choose not to disclose their disabilities on the voluntary disability disclosure, for fear it will cause workplace discrimination. The DOL plans to promote voluntary self-reporting by employees with a marketing campaign to get the word out and correct the underrepresented nubmers currently reported.