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After months of anticipation, the U.S. Department of Labor today announced a final rule to improve the employment outlook for people with disabilities—setting a hiring goal for federal contractors and subcontractors that 7 percent of each job group in their workforce be qualified individuals with disabilities.

 

The Labor Dept. updated Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, introducing specific actions contractors must take in the areas of recruitment, training, record keeping and policy dissemination–similar to those that have long been required to promote workplace equality for women and minorities.

 

Simply put, the federal agency realizes more work needs to be done to ensure federal contractors’ hiring practices to reflect the growing number of Americans with disabilities, who represent nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population. Under Section 503, federal contractors must strengthen accountability and record-keeping requirements, including assessing the effectiveness of their recruitment efforts.

 

In a press release today, Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez says: “In a competitive job market, employers need access to the best possible employees. These rules make it easier for employers to tap into a large, diverse pool of qualified candidates.”

 

Health & Disability Advocates, the parent organization of Think Beyond the Label, a public-private partnership that connects businesses to jobs for people with disabilities across the U.S., strongly supports the Labor Dept.’s final rule.

 

In our comments to the Labor Dept. on the proposed ruling, we expressed belief that the agency should raise the hiring goal for qualified workers with disabilities to 10 percent, given that the 7 percent goal is based on the 2009 American Community Survey and captures a considerably narrower set of people with disabilities than is covered by Section 503 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

 

But 7 percent is still an improvement over nothing at all. For far too long, businesses have publicly stated their interest in hiring people with disabilities, but for a variety of reasons they have not acted on that interest. This ruling will provide further incentives for businesses to hire, and with proper guidance and enforcement, will facilitate the increased employment of qualified workers with disabilities.

 

This is a great day for those who worked hard to advocate for stronger employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

 

Businesses need not fear this ruling. With 57 million Americans disclosing a disability, the workforce is already comprised of millions of people with disabilities. Using disability friendly outreach, recruitment strategies and workplace initiatives—such as encouraging disclosure—employers can readily meet this diversity need.

 

It's actually not difficult; job seekers with disabilities apply for jobs just like anyone else — on the Internet, on job boards and with placement agencies. Companies can utilize job boards like ours to specifically recruit candidates with disabilities. They can also start to build their pipeline through the Think Beyond the Label Online Career Fair series, which are powered by our partner Brazen Careerist.

Our next career fair is in October, and you can register now as an employer or register as a job seeker.  

Even something as simple as fostering a disability-friendly environment can attract candidates. A company can include a disability statement on its website, host disability awareness training, or create an employee affinity group for people with disabilities. 

Finally, companies and contractors can work directly with Think Beyond the Label and likeminded organizations on recruitment and marketing initiatives. Give us a call to see how we can help.

In light of this new ruling, there's no better time to start evolving your workforce to include people who are ready, and willing and qualified— and who just happen to have a disability. 

   


 
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About the Author

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Barbara Otto is the CEO of Health & Disability Advocates, which manages Think Beyond the Label.

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