Health & Disability Advocates Laud New Labor Dept. Proposal to Boost Hiring of Qualified Workers with Disabilities

HDA’s Think Beyond the Label provides tools and resources to help employers recruit prospective job seekers with disabilities.

REPRINT 2/22/12 from Think Beyond the Label

CHICAGO–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 a proposed Department of Labor rule to require federal contractors and subcontractors to set a goal for hiring qualified people with disabilities to 7 percent of their workforce.

“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,” said Barbara Otto, CEO of Health & Disability Advocates. “The proposed rule will provide further incentives for businesses to hire, and with proper guidance and enforcement, will facilitate the increased employment of qualified workers with disabilities.”

Such a move would amend regulations of Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act to bring employment of people with disabilities in line with federal contractors’ other obligations, which include hiring women and minorities.

While Otto calls the proposal a “step in the right direction,” she says more work needs to be done to improve federal contractors’ hiring practices to reflect the growing number of Americans with disabilities, who represent nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population. “We believe the Labor Department 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,” she says.

“Raising the hiring target should also come with more options for businesses to meet that goal, ensuring their ability to succeed,” Otto adds, “such as a phased-in hiring approach based on the number of employees and the size of the federal contract.”

Think Beyond the Label says businesses can readily meet their workplace diversity goals through a mix of disability-friendly outreach, recruitment strategies, and workplace initiatives. Otto provides the following tips to employers:

  • Conduct outreach to the entire population of job seekers who are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Employers who only recruit candidates that are using the publicly funded training system to find jobs, such as vocational rehabilitation, will miss out on an entire population of job seekers with disabilities who are not likely to use, or may not qualify for, publicly funded training and employment services, such as a recent college graduate with a learning disability.
  • Post open positions across multiple channels that target all types of qualified candidates with disabilities, including Gulf War Era II veterans with disabilities. Job seekers with disabilities apply for jobs just like anyone else – on the Internet, on job boards and with placement agencies. In fact, Think Beyond the Label recently launched an online jobs board that lets job seekers directly interact with employers who are looking to recruit people with disabilities. The portal tracks and reports job-seeker traffic to aid employers’ recruiting efforts.
  • Use social media and direct marketing to capture the interest of job seekers with disabilities. Not all private employers will fall under the Department of Labor’s proposed rule. Even if it’s not about compliance, when companies are looking for the best candidate they should always cast the widest net possible and include candidates with disabilities – and hiring managers can reach them on Facebook, LinkedIn, or through the websites they frequent like Think Beyond The Label.
  • Foster a disability-friendly environment. A company can demonstrate the ways in which they support people with disabilities by including a disability statement on its website, hosting disability awareness training, and creating an employee affinity group for people with disabilities. Companies also can partner with organizations that promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

HDA has submitted its response to the Department of Labor with comments now available at this link.