The U.S. government is taking steps to ensure that federal agencies and contractors that serve the government hire more individuals with disabilities.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) proposed the new rule applicable to federal agencies on February 24, 2016. The proposal calls for federal agencies to have 12 percent of their workforce comprised of people with disabilities of whom two percent are people with "targeted/severe disabilities," and to provide "personal assistance services" during work for employees whose disabilities present the need.
This policy is long overdue. It is big step forward in alleviating chronic unemployment and poverty. Current data show that approximately 80 percent of working-age people who are disabled are out of the workforce entirely, even though many are highly educated, skilled, and qualified for professional jobs.
Public comments about the proposed rule are open until April 25, 2016. Presumably, the EEOC will then vote on the rule and send it with any revisions for publication in the Federal Register.
This means federal agencies and government contractors will add more people with disabilities to their workforce. We work to empower every organization do the same.
The 12 percent goal
The EEOC's proposed rule follows a 2014 U.S. Department of Labor rule, known of as "Rule 503," that now requires federal contractors to have seven percent of their workforces comprised of people with disabilities – and to account for it.
The EEOC says the new 12 percent goal reflects the federal government's workforce overall, but not all levels of federal service. The new rule is based on past successes and belief that all federal employment can, over time, accomplish that goal.
The two percent goal
The two percent goal is a target for federal agencies to hire individuals with disabilities commonly referred to as "severely disabled," a term with many meanings for many people. For that reason, the Office of Personnel Management previously issued Standard Form 256, which lists a number of "targeted/severe disabilities" to include people with:
Most would agree that we are not able to completely generalize about who is severely disabled. This definition will hopefully include most of those who will need the help. The EEOC's new rule will likely adopt that definition or something similar.
The "Personal Assistance Services" Requirement
"Personal assistance" refers to people with disabilities who need help; for example, getting up in the morning, dressing, personal hygiene, eating, boarding vehicles, and doing the reverse before going to bed at night.
This new "personal assistance services" rule will require federal agencies to provide these services only when the eligible person is at work or on job-related travel. The agency will be relieved of that requirement if complying would an impose hardship.
This "personal assistance services" mandate is a departure from previous federal employment practices. In the past the EEOC has encouraged agencies to provide such services and some have. With the new rule in place, it will be required.
Personal assistance services are a major issue in making it possible for some people who are disabled to work and pay taxes. Many people requiring those services can gain them only through Medicaid. But Medicaid limits how much a person with a disability can earn.
This EEOC's proposed rule does not solve that problem. But if a federal agency pays the cost of those services during the working day, the cost to the individual will decline. For some, that may mean that they can earn more, give up Medicaid, and pay for their other attendants.
The Starkloff Disability Institute is closely watching this process. Much of our work helps employers effectively hire and retain disabled employees. With the EEOC proposing twelve percent and two percent goals, we hope more employers will vanquish barriers that keep them from successful hiring.
And with federal agencies paying some of the cost of personal assistance, we hope more people needing that assistance find opportunity to give up their subsidies and become productive tax paying citizens.
This EEOC's proposed new rule could help us all.