Last week, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management reported that the executive branch of our federal government hired a greater percentage of workers with disabilities in fiscal year 2012 than at any point in the past 32 years.
In a blog post, OPM director Katherine Archuleta noted that the federal government has made great progress, saying, “I applaud my fellow Federal employees for their hard work and dedication. … By including more people with disabilities in the Federal workforce, we are stronger and better able to serve America. Still, our work is not done.”
The increase in the number of people with disabilities in the federal workforce is a direct result of a mandate given to us by the president. He set goals for hiring workers with disabilities and called on leaders from across the executive branch to assess our performance in this area and to develop plans to achieve the goals he set.
In FY 2012, people with disabilities constituted 12.5 percent of the Labor Department workforce. And, I am proud to say that, at the department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, people with disabilities make up 17 percent of my staff.
None of this happened by accident. It didn’t happen simply because we believe in hiring people with disabilities – including veterans returning home from combat with service-related disabilities.
It happened because our commitment was backed up by actions.
It happened because we updated the way we list job vacancies to make sure that the language is more inviting, that they don’t unintentionally cause qualified candidates to self-select out of the process, and that our postings are widely distributed and 100 percent accessible.
It happened because we are using and promoting specific hiring authorities that increase recruitment and retention of these workers.
It happened because my colleagues and I are committed to creating cultures of diversity and inclusion within our agencies as well as to making sure that people with disabilities – and those who advocate for them – know about it.
And finally, we are seeing an increase in the number of people with disabilities in the federal workforce because we made it a priority. And that is exactly what companies that do business with the federal government are tasked with doing.
OFCCP’s new rule updating Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act was designed to put real metrics and accountability behind the long-standing requirement that federal contractors and subcontractors take affirmative action to improve employment opportunities for qualified workers with disabilities. The Section 503 rule establishes, for the first time ever, a 7 percent goal for the employment of people with disabilities by federal contractors and subcontractors.
We know goals work.
So I’d like to join Director Archuleta in applauding the accomplishments we’ve seen, and in encouraging federal employees – as well as federal contractors and subcontractors – to continue prioritizing the recruitment, hiring and retention of qualified workers with disabilities. Because when we take action to strengthen our workforce by harnessing the talents and ingenuity of all workers, everyone benefits.
Patricia Shiu is the director of the department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.