Obama orders agencies to increase employment of disabled workers

President Obama issued an executive order Monday instructing federal agencies to take steps to increase employment of people with disabilities.

The directive orders agencies to take steps to meet a goal of hiring an additional 100,000 disabled employees over five years that was originally laid out by President Clinton in a July 2000 executive order. "Few steps were taken to implement that executive order in subsequent years," Obama said.

"As the nation's largest employer, the federal government must become a model for the employment of individuals with disabilities," the president wrote in the order. "Executive departments and agencies must improve their efforts to employ workers with disabilities through increased recruitment, hiring and retention of these individuals."

According to the executive order, approximately 54 million Americans are living with disabilities. Obama said the federal government has an important interest in reducing discrimination against such Americans, in eliminating the stigma associated with disability and in encouraging Americans with disabilities to seek employment in the federal workforce.

An Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report also released Monday showed that individuals with targeted disabilities -- deafness, blindness, missing extremities, partial or complete paralysis, convulsive disorders, mental retardation, mental illness and distortion of the limbs and/or spine -- represent less than 1 percent of the federal workforce.

The order directs the head of the Office of Personnel Management, in consultation with the Labor secretary, the chair of the EEOC, and the director of the Office of Management and Budget, to design strategies for recruiting and hiring people with disabilities within 60 days. The OPM director also must develop mandatory training programs for agency human resources personnel and hiring managers on the employment of people with disabilities.

Agencies will then be required to develop their own plans for promoting employment opportunities for disabled individuals. The plans, to be spearheaded by senior-level officials, must include performance targets and numerical goals.

In implementing their plans, agencies are expected to increase their use of Schedule A excepted service hiring authority and to increase participation of people with disabilities in internships, fellowships and training and mentoring programs.

Agencies must report frequently on their progress in implementing their plans. Their reports will be published on OPM's website.

In addition to the hiring initiatives, the order requires agencies to take steps to improve retention of disabled workers. Among strategies available to them, according to the order, are improved training, the use of centralized funds to provide reasonable accommodations, increased access to accessible technologies, and ensuring the accessibility of physical and virtual workspaces.

Also, Obama ordered that "agencies shall make special efforts, to the extent permitted by law, to ensure the retention of those who are injured on the job. Agencies shall work to improve, expand, and increase successful return-to-work outcomes for those of their employees who sustain work-related injuries and illnesses, as defined under the Federal Employees' Compensation Act, by increasing the availability of job accommodations and light or limited duty jobs, removing disincentives for FECA claimants to return to work, and taking other appropriate measures."

Under the executive order, the Labor secretary must pursue "innovative re-employment strategies" that increase the likelihood of an injured employee returning to work, including by pursuing reform of the FECA system.

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