Reflections on a Decade of Disability Employment Policy

“Thanks to ODEP’s hard work, the conversation has shifted away from whether people with disabilities can work to what tools and supports are needed to assist them in doing so,” said Secretary Solis during ODEP's 10th anniversary celebration.

Today, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy celebrated its 10th anniversary.  In the decade since joining the DOL family, ODEP has been challenging outdated stereotypes and attitudes that keep people with disabilities out of the workplace, while aligning policy and practice to open the doors to employment opportunities.

At this juncture in ODEP’s history, it is important to reflect on the agency’s achievements and influence in developing disability employment-related policies and practices.

During the agency’s inaugural year, it instituted a number of initiatives that served as the foundation for programs that are ongoing today.  These include the Job Accommodation Network, Workforce Recruitment Program and grants to fund training and demonstration projects to assist adults and youth with disabilities.

In 2008, due to the joint efforts of ODEP and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for the very first time our nation started to collect statistical data about the employment rates of people with disabilities through the Current Population Survey. The addition of this data has allowed BLS to develop a Special Disability Tabulation similar to the information on the employment of women and minorities.

Last year, we launched the “Add Us In” Initiative to harness the enormous growth rate in the minority owned small business sector in order to improve employment opportunities for Americans with disabilities. Many of these businesses have shown a deep commitment to take care of their own, and working together, we are showing them how.

And just last week, DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs proposed a new rule to strengthen the affirmative action obligations of federal contractors and subcontractors to improve job opportunities for people with disabilities.   The proposal would revise and update Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, thereby giving millions of Americans with disabilities a better and fairer shot at competing for jobs. It would also create greater clarity for businesses on what is expected of them, leveling the playing field so that employers who play by the rules aren’t at a disadvantage against those who shirk their legal responsibilities. 

More than 200 stakeholders, staff members, and government leaders filled the department's Great Hall for the anniversary event.

Our proposed rule is historic; businesses with at least 50 employees and $50,000 or more in government contracts would be required to set a hiring goal of 7 percent for workers with disabilities. With Federal contractors and subcontractors accounting for nearly a quarter of the nation’s workforce,  this proposed rule is a concrete step to ensuring that discouraged workers in the disability community have access to additional meaningful employment opportunities. I urge each of you to read our proposal and to submit comments on how we can make it better.

In addition, ODEP’s reach and leadership has extended beyond the Labor Department through the strong support of its mission by this Administration. As a result of the President’s Executive Order 13548, more federal job opportunities are available to persons with disabilities, and more people who attain disabilities while working for the Federal government will be provided with the support they need to return to work successfully. The Administration has also supported inclusion and improved outcomes of students with disabilities and the preparedness of teachers to meet diverse learners’ needs. The “Year of Community Living”  was also launched to improve access to housing, community supports, and independent living opportunities. These are only a few examples.

Deputy Secretary of Labor Seth D. Harris; Kathleen Martinez, assistant secretary of labor for ODEP; past assistant secretaries for the office; Tony Coelho, chairman of the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities from 1994 to 2001; Becky Ogle, executive director of the Presidential Task Force on the Employment of Adults with Disabilities from 1998 to 2001; and individuals who have been the beneficiaries of ODEP’s work pose for a photo.

While policy development will always be the cornerstone to systems change, a more tangible way we can assess our success is by examining how the policies we are promoting have had real impact on real people including: 

  • Increasing federal employment of people with disabilities—like Joy Welan, a person with cerebral palsy and trial attorney at the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division who works every day to advance America’s promise of equal opportunity for all. 
  • Ensuring that federal contractors uphold their commitment to a workplace inclusive of people with disabilities—like Helen Chang, a person who is blind and a web developer who designs custom systems to help various components of our nation’s military run more efficiently from a technology perspective. 
  • Providing flexible work arrangements, such as customized employment, for people with disabilities—like Ricardo Thornton, a person with an intellectual disability and a library clerk who takes great pride in ensuring community residents are satisfied with his branch’s service and collection.
  • Ensuring that the nation’s civilian workplaces are welcoming to veterans with disabilities—like Matthew Staton, a veteran with visible and non-visible disabilities and a staff assistant to the Secretary of the Army, who helps ensure that military families get the support they need before, during and after deployment.

There is much to celebrate, but also much more to do.  With our recovery picking up steam, it is important to reiterate upon ODEP’s 10th anniversary that when I speak of “good jobs for everyone” that includes people with disabilities.  We know that there are many other folks out there like Mathew, Joy, Helen and Ricardo who want to work, and have unique insights, skills and talents that American employers need.  ODEP’s work over the past 10 years has laid a solid foundation and I wholeheartedly believe that with ODEP’s talented and dedicated staff leading our efforts into the future, we can and will succeed.

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Comments (12)

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  1. joe sangataldo says:

    I have ten years of employment counselor experience with people with disabilities.

    I was currently laid off with six other from the WIA funded job training unit of the Vineland NJ One Stop.

    Do you have any lead on work for me?
    Joe Sangataldo

  2. ria says:

    i was accepted by usa webs that pay jobs but got none how can i fight them i live in greece please reply

  3. Adam Kaplan says:

    As a recruiter who places professionals with disabilities in corporate jobs, I both applaud the ODEP’s work, as well as implore the Agency to work better and smarter for the college educated / ready to work segment of this population.

    I talk to talented, college educated people with disabilities (“candidates”) and the companies who are interested in hiring them every day. The candidates tell me that many companies are not prepared to interview them, let alone hire and integrate them into their organizations. The companies tell me that while they want to hire talented people with disabilities they are afraid to do so because they have not done so before to any large extent and don’t want to make mistakes that will subject them to increased scrutiny or worse, legal action.

    Here are my suggestions:

    – AskEarn is a great organization for accommodations. Not enough companies know about it / access it regularly. This should be promoted more aggressively through HR and across all industries. Also, state organizations who receive federal funding should be required raise awareness of this group as well.
    – State workforce / rehabilitation services organizations need to do a better job getting professionals with disabilities ready for work. This means really understanding the business marketplace and needed skills and helping candidates market their strengths in these areas.

    Hopefully the next 10 years will show significant progress in these areas.

  4. Cate Benish says:

    I am a disabled person and have actively been pursuing a job and one of the things I have ran into is, most if not all Federal agancies are not educated as to what a ‘Schedule A’ is.
    Another experience is with discrimination and the process it take for the government agencies takes to respond. It takes over 2 years for it to be addressed. Thank you.
    I look forward to the new statistics.

  5. Juan Sheng says:

    Dear Secretary Hilda, Kathleen and all friends,
    Thank you for sent this news to me. It is a help which let my heart’s pain out. I lost the time for came the celebration of its 10th anniversary, I still got some picture of your face from this Web. And read the news of Disability’s employment Policy to let me so excite. I very appreciate, Dear Secretary Hilda and Kathleen. I hope this policy which really acts to hire me. I will send letter to you.

  6. adela vazquez-costa says:

    Dear secretary,
    It is indeed a time to look back and assess what has occured in the past ten years. Many changes and challenges has resulted in the product that we have today. In the island of Puerto Rico, we need to strengthen Transition programs at bothe ends (toddlers and youth) one is the starting point and the other the finishing line. I trust the new agenda will help us to get our job done. Thank you for the opportunity to express my thoughts.

  7. Karla Porter says:

    We at The Arc of Luzerne County are currently developing a 2 year work readiness program for people with intellectual & developmental disabilities and autism. TRACE (TRAnsition to Community Employment) will ensure we set individuals up for success in the workplace by teaching the fundamentals of employment to include employer expectations, non-harassment training, soft skills, conflict & stress management, performance management, digital literacy, etc. year one and a community based apprenticeship and work life balance program year two to include employment placement assistance after graduation. We are delighted to have the state of PA Office of Developmental Programs as our partner as well as our county community college and community providers and stakeholders.

  8. Ledgz says:

    Thank you for sharing superb informations. Your web-site is so cool. I am impressed by the details that you have on this web site. It reveals how nicely you perceive this subject. Bookmarked this web page, will come back for extra articles.

  9. It’s obvious you’ve achieved a lot this last decade. Keep up the good work.

  10. Dr. Rosen says:

    Increasing federal employment of people with disabilities is a very important initiatives and challenging ODEP outdated stereotypes. Thank you for the update

  11. Michael Belk @workplace issues says:

    I think it has been very important to have this agency. Congrats on your anniversary. The disable has been one of the groups most discriminated against lately and one day we all will be there. I never make fun of how slow a person moves or their disability. I hope no one does.

  12. It’s obvious you’ve achieved a lot this last decade. Keep up the good work.

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