New Executive Order Promotes Increase in Employment of Individuals with Disabilities


On the twentieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, yesterday President Obama issued an Executive Order requiring federal agencies to increase their efforts to recruit and retain individuals with disabilities. In doing so, he aims to increase the employment of disabled workers by 100,000 over the next five years.

“As the Nation’s largest employer, the Federal Government must become a model for the employment of individuals with disabilities,” said Obama. “Executive departments and agencies must improve their efforts to employ workers with disabilities through increased recruitment, hiring, and retention of these individuals.”

Today, approximately 1 in 6 Americans – 54 million people in all – are living with a disability. Yet in a federal workforce that is comprised of nearly 2.5 million workers, only five percent have a disability. Even more unsettling, individuals with targeted disabilities such as deafness, blindness, or paralysis constitute less than one percent of the total workforce. The outlook is similarly bleak in the private sector, where employment of disabled individuals is much lower than that of individuals without a disability.

By making the federal government a model employer for disabled individuals, the President hopes to remove some of the social and institutional barriers facing disabled job-seekers today:

“The Federal Government has an important interest in reducing discrimination against Americans living with a disability, in eliminating the stigma associated with disability, and encouraging Americans with disabilities to seek employment in the federal workforce,” said Obama.

To accomplish this, the order requires the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director to work in concert with the Secretary of Labor, Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to develop model recruitment and hiring strategies for agencies, and to develop mandatory training programs for agency humans resources personnel and hiring managers within 60 days of the order’s issuance.

Once OPM’s strategies are released, agencies will have 120 days to develop their plans for promoting employment opportunities for disabled individuals. The order mandates that these plans include performance targets and numerical goals for employment of individuals with disabilities, both targeted and otherwise. Each agency must also designate a senior-level agency official to oversee implementation of its hiring plan and to be accountable for meeting the goals set forth in their plan.

In addition to increasing the hiring of disabled workers, the order also calls on OPM to offer guidance to agencies on strategies for retaining those already employed in the government. Agencies are asked to provide reasonable accommodations, increased access to appropriate accessible technologies, and easier accessibility to physical and virtual work spaces.

Finally, the order compels agencies to improve, expand and increase successful return to work outcomes for employees who sustain work-related injuries and illness through increasing the availability of job accommodations and light or limited duty jobs.

To Linda Aase, Chair of the newly-formed NFFE National Forum on Individuals with Disabilities, the President’s order is a welcome change.

“This order is a step in the right direction,” said Aase. “I feel strongly that educating agencies on the issues facing disabled employees is essential to move us toward a more just and accommodating federal workplace.”

For more information on the Executive Order Increasing Federal Employment of Individuals with Disabilities, click here.