Dept. of Labor Sets 7% Employment Goal for People with Disabilities

By , December 8, 2011

Now there’s an even better reason to use the Think Beyond the Label jobs portal. The Department of Labor has proposed a rule that would require federal contractors and subcontractors to set a hiring goal of 7% for the employment of people with disabilities.

The move would strengthen Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that obligates federal contractors and subcontractors to ensure equal employment opportunities for qualified workers with disabilities. Up until now, there has not been a clearly defined rule in place, though companies that do business with the government have to show evidence of taking proactive steps to recruit workers with disabilities.

“Taxpayer dollars are given to businesses on the legal promise they would take affirmative action to build workforces,” says Patricia Shiu, director of the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. Federal contracts make up around $700 billion annually, she says.

That means employers looking to improve their initiatives to hire from this group, whether to meet compliance goals or simply to hire the most qualified candidate, would be well served by posting a job on the Think Beyond the Label portal. And job seekers will be more optimistic in their searches, knowing that there are more employers out there — around 200,000 — that do business with the government and will be actively seeking to employ them.

What make the Think Beyond the Label jobs portal unique is its custom interface for displaying available jobs for people with disabilities. The portal first lists results by those companies that are actively seeking to hire from this group, including the federal sector and companies that do business with the federal government. It lets candidates directly interact with employers, and employers are notified when a job seeker applies for a job from the Think Beyond the Label website. Try it here.

The 7% employment goal is, the Labor. Dept. says, “aspirational” in nature, and is intended to start a discussion on what the appropriate number should be, which Shiu believes should fall between 4% and 10%. The agency is seeking public comments on the proposed rule until February 7, 2012.

“The real compliance, the real opportunity is created by all the steps that lead to this goal,” Shiu says. That includes actions that these employers make to post their jobs with disability friendly job banks, recruit qualified candidates with disabilities at job fairs and events, provide outreach, collect data, keep records and make accommodation requires.

With four out of five workers with disabilities outside of the labor force, the Labor Department recognizes it has some serious work to do. The agency is hoping their rule, if passed, would have a “ripple effect on the entire labor force.”

Companies that do business with the government include Fortune 500s like Dell, IBM, Merck, Pfizer, FedEx, AOL, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Caterpillar, Pepsi and Procter & Gamble. A list of contractors and their contract amounts can be found at USAspending.gov

Author: Suzanne Robitaille

Suzanne Robitaille is the founder of abledbody.com, a website on disability issues. She is the former assistive technology columnist for BusinessWeek.com, giving rise to her fascination with technology that helps people with disabilities surmount barriers in the workplace and life space. She is also the author of The Illustrated Guide to Assistive Technology & Devices. As a writer and blogger, Suzanne is a trusted source of disability information for The Wall Street Journal, ABC News, HealthDay, Media Post, Ability Magazine, Disaboom and more. Suzanne lost her hearing at age four and grew up profoundly deaf. In 2002 she received a cochlear implant, which she credits as "the ultimate assistive technology."