How the Public Sector Can Better Support Workers with Disabilities

The federal workforce has made strides in the participation rate of people with disabilities. Since 2014, the participation rate of employees with disabilities has increased by 8%. While these strides are fantastic, the public sector still has a long way to go. Today's article will outline the findings of the May 2022 U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) report on the EEO status of people with disabilities in the federal sector, and how public sector organizations can better support workers with disabilities.

The History of the Public Sector's Support of Workers with Disabilities

Since 1973, the federal government has been working to prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities (PWD.) While regulations have been on the books for a while, there weren't any actual obligations to support workers with disabilities aside from not actively discriminating against them. In 2017, the EEOC went a step further with a ruling called Affirmative Action for Individuals with Disabilities in the Federal Government. This ruling helped clarify what federal agencies needed to do to honor the spirit of the 1973 ruling.

Implications of the EEOC Survey

This EEOC survey, "The EEO Status of Workers with Disabilities in the Federal Sector," wanted to examine the impact of the 2017 decisions outlined in the ruling. Since fiscal year (FY) 2018 was the first year this ruling was in effect, it looked at FY2014-FY2018 to determine how this ruling impacted federal government hiring practices.

Overall, it aimed to look at the impact of the stricter regulations on federal agencies. Would these agencies meet or exceed expectations? Are there ways that federal agencies can better support PWDs? This survey helps federal agencies and the public sector determine how they can best support employees with disabilities.

What is the Public Sector Getting Right?

First, it's important to dive into what the public sector is getting right when it comes to supporting workers with disabilities:

Exceeded Expectations on Hiring People with Targeted Disabilities (PWTD)

Aside from wanting to increase participation rates from PWDs, the EEOC ruling worked to target disabilities to ensure that hiring increased in those areas too. The targeted disabilities included traumatic brain injuries, serious difficulty hearing or seeing, psychiatric disorders and more. The goal was to hire 2% PWTD employees, and overall, the federal government hired 2.36% in FY2018.

Promote PWD and PWTD Employees at a Rate Commiserate with Their Participation Rate

Another positive is that promotions with PWD and PWTD employees seemed to align with their participation rate during FY2018. While there is some room to work, especially in the perception of how promotions are given, this is a positive sign that the EEOC rulings are working.

How Can the Public Sector Improve?

Next, it's essential to consider how the public sector can improve:

Work to Improve Disability Disclosure Rates

A large portion of the federal workforce hasn't identified whether they have a disability or not. Since these individuals have chosen not to disclose, there could be far more individuals with disabilities. By improving the disability disclosure rate, federal agencies could have a more accurate picture of whether they are meeting or exceeding their hiring goals.

Recruit Employees with a Diverse Range of Disabilities

While the measures to recruit PWTDs have been helpful, there is still a diversity gap. The federal government has only recommended hiring 2% from this population and there is still a gap in how many agencies meet this standard. Increasing this number will encourage companies to recruit more people with targeted disabilities.

Focus on Improving the Number of Persons with Disabilities in Leadership

According to the report, "PWD (13.59%) and PWTD (10.70%) were less likely than persons with no disabilities (16.35%) to be in federal leadership positions." We know that the rate of PWD and PWTD leaders is commiserate with the participation rate, but that's not always enough.

PWD and PWTD employees deserve to feel they can get promoted based on merit. Unfortunately, only 31.7% of people with a disability in the federal government feel that way, compared with 39.4% of people without a disability. We know that diversity improves organizational performance and we should strive to seek that in leadership positions.

Improve the Experience of PWD and PWTD Employees

Lastly, there is a large discrepancy in the experience of PWD and PWTD employees. The survey asked, "How satisfied are you with the recognition you receive for doing a good job?" People who have a disability responded positively 46% of the time, whereas employees without a disability answered positively 53.9% of the time. Companies must ensure that employees with disabilities aren't just hired but feel positive about their experience in public sector workplaces as well.

Key Takeaways

There is a long way to go when it comes to the support of workers with disabilities in the public sector. The 2017 ruling helped put some helpful parameters and regulations in place and now it's time for a ruling to turn into a practice. FY2018 gave some promising results. As more years are analyzed, hopefully, there will be more positive news on the horizon for PWD and PWTD employees in the federal sector.

Jacques Whitfield

Mr. Whitfield is a seasoned Human Resources Executive with over 25 years of experience in human resources management and diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Whitfield is a Principal HR Consultant with CPS HR, where he serves as the DEI Learning and Education Team Lead.

About CPS HR Consulting

CPS HR Consulting is a self-supporting public agency providing a full range of integrated HR solutions to government and nonprofit clients across the country.  Our strategic approach to increasing the effectiveness of human resources results in improved organizational performance for our clients.  We have a deep expertise and unmatched perspective in guiding our clients in the areas of organizational strategy, recruitment and selection, classification and compensation, and training and development.