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ODEP at 20: Driving Change Through Employer Engagement

A keyboard with keys representing disabilities.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, and I believe I speak on behalf of many in my profession, human resource compliance, who are grateful for its establishment — because it helps us do our job better!

From my perspective, ODEP is a small agency that performs in a large way, due to engagement and alliances with several entities—including the National Industry Liaison Group (NILG), of which many federal contractors are members, including my employer. The NILG is a consortium of federal contractors and subcontractors that works with regulatory agencies to advance equal employment opportunities for all. While ODEP doesn’t enforce federal contractor EEO requirements, it helps us achieve our goals under them, specifically Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Section 503 prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating against applicants and employees with disabilities. It also requires us to take proactive steps to recruit, hire, retain and promote qualified people with disabilities. For more than 15 of ODEP’s 20 years, I’ve depended on its tools and resources to help me do just that on behalf of the companies where I’ve worked.

During this time, I’ve watched ODEP pivot with the changing workforce by developing toolkits, technical resources and other materials, as well as providing metrics to assist in managing workforce disability initiatives. In short, ODEP leads the conversation on disability inclusion. From the annual National Disability Employment Awareness Month campaign each October to year-round guidance and training, ODEP is always there to help and guide. It also highlights what works, and helps me learn new and different strategies to implement and share with colleagues, both within my organization and the larger federal contractor community. 

In 2014, essential updates to Section 503 went into effect. While navigating new regulations can be challenging, ODEP was ready to help. In fact, one of my favorite interactions with ODEP was at a NILG conference several years ago where representatives from two of its great resources, the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) and the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion, set up a booth offering federal contractors an accessibility review of their career websites so that they would comply with the pending regulatory changes.

As federal agencies go, ODEP is young at 20 years, but the value it brings to the conversation around disability employment has made a significant and lasting impact. Through policy development and compliance assistance, its guidance has helped America’s employers tap the skills of brilliant, talented individuals with disabilities. It has also helped advance the human resources and affirmative action fields by helping us understand disability as a critical part of workplace diversity and inclusion and how to deliver on it.

So, congratulations, ODEP, on your anniversary. Going forward, keep raising the bar when it comes to promoting employment of people with disabilities and teaching us that disability is key to an inclusive workforce, helping bring more innovation, more value and more diversity that ultimately benefits us all. 

Alicia Wallace, MBA, SHRM-CP, Sr. CAAP, is an HR consultant – affirmative action with Eli Lilly and Company.

 

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