Federal Agencies Provide Advances in Workforce for Individuals with Disabilities

By: Nicholas Dalessio

According to 2014 numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the percentage of individuals with disabilities employed in the United States was 17.1 percent. When one compares that percentage with the percentage of employed individuals without a disability (64.4 percent) it is clear that individuals with disabilities are facing many challenges in a society where economic competitiveness is key. This issue is even more critical given that the disabled population continues to grow. Despite this disparaging gap, one employment sector is hiring a record number of individuals with disabilities. In a report from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the federal government hired more than 247,600 individuals with disabilities in the 2014 fiscal year in positions that were non-seasonal and full-time. The report stated this was the highest number at any time since the OPM started keeping records 34 years ago.

The federal government’s progress in hiring individuals with disabilities is a result of President Barak Obama’s 2010 initiative to hire 100,000 people with disabilities by 2015. The federal standard form for Self-Identification of Disability provides that a person with a disability is someone who: (1) has a physical impairment or mental impairment (psychiatric disability) that substantially limits one or more of such person’s major life activities, (2) has a record of such impairment, and (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. The disabilities outlined in the Self-Identification form include deafness, blindness, missing extremities, partial paralysis, complete paralysis, epilepsy, intellectual disabilities, psychiatric disabilities, and dwarfism.

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs is the agency that employed the highest percentage of individuals with disabilities in 2014, with 6,680 people who make up about 23.6 percent of its workforce. The Social Security Administration also had strong numbers, hiring 805 workers, equating to 13.5 percent of its employees. The OPM is focused on providing employment for individuals with disabilities in all agencies at every level of federal service, having each agency outline goals and strategies to increase hiring of accomplished and motivated employees and provide them the opportunity for advancement.

Although these statistics are encouraging, there is still a long way to go. The 2014 employment-population ratio for persons with a disability of 17.1 percent was a decline from 17.6 percent in 2013. The 2014 BLS data also produced other troublesome findings: persons with disabilities were three times more likely as those with no disabilities to be 65 or older, the employment-population ratio for all age groups was much lower than for those with no disability; rates of unemployment were higher among individuals with disabilities for all educational attainment groups; and 33 percent of workers with disabilities were employed only part-times as compared to only 18 percent of individuals with no disabilities. Other findings showed that women tend to have disabilities more often than men, partly due to greater life expectancy. Further, the number of individuals with disabilities was higher for blacks and whites than for Hispanics and Asians. However, with initiatives like those of the federal government, more individuals with disabilities are being placed in the workforce and employers are providing training, mentoring, and reasonable accommodations for these individuals to succeed in the job market.

Sources:

Meredith Somers, Record number of people with disabilities in federal workforce, Federal News Radio (Oct. 13, 2015), http://federalnewsradio.com/workforce/2015/10/record-number-people-disabilities-federal-workforce/.

Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics Summary, US Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, (June 16, 2015), http://www.bls.gov/news.release/disabl.nr0.htm.

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