Our New Year’s Resolution

by Secretary Tom Perez on December 30, 2013 · 7 comments

For most of us − myself included − this is the time of year for an honest self-evaluation. Maybe your New Year’s resolutions are the same as mine: spend time with family, exercise more, eat healthy.

Similarly, it’s the time that businesses and government agencies review accomplishments and decide what areas need improvement. Among the many year-end reports that have been released, there is one in particular that shouldn’t be overlooked: the “2012 Employment of People with Disabilities in the Federal Executive Branch Report,” issued recently by the Office of Personnel Management.

It revealed a tremendous accomplishment: more people with disabilities are in federal service, both in real terms and by percentage, than at any time in the past 32 years. This includes more people in high-level positions, and a significant number of disabled veterans. And as OPM Director Katherine Archuleta noted, we’re well on our way to meeting the president’s goal of hiring 100,000 people with disabilities in five years.

The number of employees with disabilities in the federal workforce, 2010-2012.

The number of employees with disabilities in the federal workforce, including disabled veterans, 2010-2012.

While it’s good and important to set goals − both to improve ourselves and to make important changes in the federal workforce, such as hiring more people with disabilities − it’s not about reaching a magic number. It’s about changing attitudes and lives. It’s a moral and economic imperative. And for our country to remain competitive in the 21st-century global economy, we simply can’t afford to have so many people out of the workforce who can and want to work, pay taxes and contribute to our economy.

That’s why we can’t rest on our laurels. In fact, the good news in this report should only encourage us to do more this year and in the years to come.

Currently, only one in five people with disabilities are participating in the U.S. labor force at all. That’s not acceptable. What I hear from people with disabilities is that they want the feeling of pride and purpose that comes performing a job and earning a paycheck at the end of the week.

As the nation’s largest employer, the federal government has a responsibility to be a model in this area. Employers have recognized for some time that it’s smart business to have a diverse workforce − one in which many views are represented and everyone’s talents are valued. Well, disability is part of diversity. I agree wholeheartedly with Director Archuleta: “By including more people with disabilities in the federal workforce, we are stronger and better able to serve America.”

I’m aware of the challenges. But there are a lot of myths − and excuses − out there.

Take workplace accommodations. If you think about it, all workers require some kind of accommodation. Need lights to see in order to do your job? My colleague, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy Kathy Martinez, is blind − she doesn’t. Same goes for that office chair: a former colleague, Justice Department trial attorney Joy Welan, doesn’t need one because she uses a wheelchair. Accommodating workers with disabilities is generally easy and affordable. In fact, more than half of job accommodations for employees with disabilities cost nothing.

In 2014, we’ll continue to build on our efforts with state and local governments, business leaders, workforce professionals and others to tap the pool of talent represented by people with disabilities − because the progress we need will only happen when everyone is on board.

I hope that you will join me in my Near Year’s resolution as the secretary of labor − it’s a resolution I make every day: to protect, promote and expand opportunity for everyone willing to work hard, and that includes people with disabilities.

Follow Secretary Perez on Twitter as @LaborSec.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Diane Dennis January 2, 2014 at 10:05 pm

Thank you! My son has Autism (mid-functioning) and is desperate to work. But he needs long-term on-going support in order to do so. He would be an incredible worker if he’s doing what he likes, better than a neuro-typical because they (those with Autism) don’t give up on something that they really care about, they’ll make it perfect.

2 Anil Lewis January 3, 2014 at 8:45 am

There is indeed a moral and economic imperative that will serve to change attitudes and lives by eliminating the myths of incapacity and the excuses of inept service providers that prohibit over 400,000 people with disabilities from feeling the pride and purpose that comes from performing a mainstream job and earning a competitive paycheck at the end of the week. That imperative is to phase out the use of the Special “Subminimum” Wage Certificates authorized by Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and to finally repeal this discriminatory policy.

3 Donald M. Fitch,MS January 3, 2014 at 9:40 am

Mr.Secretary, it’s no myth that folks with disabilities,who receive SSI (about 10 million), if they do go back to work, have one-half of their gross earnings over $85.00/ month subtracted from their SSA checks. Add in taxes, transportation, meals, clothes,etc & 30% increase in HUDs sec. 8 housing subsidy and it doesn’t pay for them to return to work. Tkt. to Work offers a negative incentive ( no medical review) there is no added value. The laws need to change. At least try a pilot Prgm. There are numerous sad stories from folks that tried to work their way off SSI. According to SSAs stats, less than 1/2 oof one percent nationally ever do. However, folks who receive SSDI are able to earn up to $1010/ mo in NY. They are able to get off. Pls do the math, we need real solutions, not theater. Don Fitch,MS, Director, Center for Career Freedom

4 Michael Gogarty January 5, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Secretary Perez, may I wish you, your colleagues and all those important to you, young and not so young, a successful and happy 2014. As a disability activist in Ireland, I have learned so much from the US since the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, two months after I had to leave paid employment due to vision impairment. As Asst. Secretary Kathy Martinez can attest, vision requires vision and not simply sight. Both the US, DOL, ODEP and state agencies are key to creating local employment, enterprise and education opportunities of people with disabilities who are neighbours in every community. In Ireland we have learned from these actions and I must emphasise that the role of the US in promoting disability equality is a precious quality that should be appreciated by all Americans and not just some. Your efforts in supporting our inclusion in the world of work reduces the risk of individual, familial and community poverty. Your personal endeavours encompass our hopes. Thank You.

5 Mary Chella January 7, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Would you please email me websites that list current jobs available for people with disabilities. I have depression, but I am very functional and I am having trouble finding good full-time employment and I get discouraged.

6 Jaclyn January 10, 2014 at 11:19 am

Where is the best place to find more information about employment opportunities for the disabled, as well as instructions on how to apply? Anything specific to the visually impaired would be especially helpful.

7 Dennis Rawlins January 28, 2014 at 9:46 am

While this is good news to hear I am a bit baffled as to who are really getting these jobs. As someone who has been applying to federal vacancies for over four years (that was not a typo, 4 years) the greatest luck I’ve had has been s few times where I was forwarded to a hiring official but the announcements were eventually canceled due to lack of funding. The report appears to show ‘new hire’ targeted disabilities, of which I am included in, is around 1,100 employees and only increased 0.2 percent to 1.08 which is surprisingly a 17 year high. Are these ‘new hires’ entry level or are they already skilled workers? I have a BA and MA in Poli Sci, an honors society member, earned a grad cert in Intel Analysis and undetgrad cert in HR Management, yet all my attempts at competitive and Schedule A vacancies have been unsuccessful. Does anyone understand some of us are very capable to perform in the workplace but our disabilities have forced us to dedicate ourselves to academics, preventing us from having adult work experience?

I doubt anyone will read this so I don’t expect to ever hear an answer. In four years of writing dozens of agency hiring managers, people in OPM, my House and Senate representatives, and even the President himself, I have received no assistance. All I have wanted was to serve my country in some small way, and to think about all the time, effort, and money invested to do so with nothing to show for it makes this hiring report questionable.

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