HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, an observance tied to the Army’s commitment to a diverse and inclusive workforce. The theme, “Increasing Access and Opportunity,” promotes educating employees and hiring authorities about disability employment issues and celebrating the many and varied contributions of workers with disabilities.
“Emphasis should be on the point that people with disabilities are typically creative problem solvers; they must be able to navigate a world historically designed for people without disabilities,” noted Jennifer Sheehy, deputy assistant secretary, of the Army’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.
In 1945, Congress declared the first week of October “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word “physically” was dropped to include individuals with all types of disabilities. Congress expanded the week to a month in 1988 and changed the commemoration to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
This year marks not only the 75th observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, but also the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Both milestones are being commemorated with a range of events and activities centered on the theme "Increasing Access and Opportunity."
What can be done to promote increasing access and opportunity?
Army organizations can actively engage in activities demonstrating commitment to being a model employer of people with disabilities. The human capital/human resources staff can actively work to increase the population of those with disabilities in applicant pools, implement hiring authorities that take disability into account (such as Schedule A hiring authority), and use the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP) as a source for qualified interns for hire. The CIO/IT/G6 and Acquisitions/Contracting Office can ensure accessibility to all information and communication technology (ICT) in accordance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act: https://section508.gov/. A few additional ideas are described at https://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/ndeam/agencies.htm.
Hiring managers can use hiring authorities that expedite hiring and take disability into account , such as Schedule A for Title V employees, and excepted hiring authority inherent in the Defense Civilian Intelligence Personnel System (DCIPS) under Title 10. More info can be found at https://www.eeoc.gov/publications/abcs-schedule-tips-applicants-disabilities-getting-federal-jobs. The WRP and the WRP searchable database can be used to locate qualified individuals with disabilities for internships or for hire. Check out the WRP website at https://www.dol.gov/odep/wrp/.
Supervisors can ensure those with disabilities have equal advancement, professional development, and mentoring opportunities. Also, be sure to mark calendars to nominate deserving service members and civilian employees with disabilities for the annual Secretary of Defense award. Nominations are usually due to ASA (M&RA) by late April. The award recognizes exemplary contributions to the DoD mission or overseas contingency operations, and attributes that best epitomize the qualities and core values of the Army. Lastly, if employees with disabilities need a reasonable accommodation to perform their duties, contact the unit’s Disability Program manager for assistance. Check out no-cost-to-you resources and information offered by the Job Accommodations Network at https://askjan.org/, and the DoD Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program https://cap.mil/. An effective and robust reasonable accommodation program enables individuals with disabilities (IWD) to accomplish the mission, and demonstrates the Army’s commitment to inclusion.
Army employees can let the Army know how it is doing with regard to civilian employment of those with disabilities. The Federal government is the largest employer in the U.S. and the Army is the largest DoD component. The Army seeks to be a model employer and aims to exceed the DoD goals of 12 percent of the workforce employed are IWD and of that 2 percent are individuals with targeted/severe disabilities. Employees are encouraged to update their disability status in MyBiz or comparable update mechanism. The disability codes are defined in MyBiz and correspond to those on OPM SF256, https://www.opm.gov/Forms/pdf_fill/sf256.pdf.
To gain a historical perspective of the journey for equity, access, and inclusion, check out the American with Disabilities Act timeline at https://www.dol.gov/odep/ada30/timeline.htm.
Notable Historical Highlights
July 26, 1990: Americans with Disabilities Act
President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. Modeled on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the ADA is the most comprehensive disability rights legislation in history. Its employment provisions prohibit discrimination in job application procedures, hiring, advancement, termination, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.
Oct. 29, 1992: Rehabilitation Act Amendments
Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 emphasized employment as the primary goal of vocational rehabilitation.
Aug. 7, 1998: Section 508
Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 created requirements for federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, agencies must provide members of the public, as well as employees with disabilities, access to information comparable to that afforded those without disabilities. Later, in 2017, the U.S. Access Board updated the standards for information and communication technology covered by Section 508, as well as the guidelines for telecommunications equipment under Section 255 of the Communications Act of 1934.
July 26, 2000: Executive Order 13163, Increasing the Opportunity for Individuals With Disabilities To Be Employed in the Federal Government
To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13163, "Increasing the Opportunity for Individuals With Disabilities To Be Employed in the Federal Government," directing agencies and departments to increase recruitment of people with disabilities and strengthen efforts to provide reasonable accommodations. A second directive signed the same day, Executive Order 13164, required departments and agencies to develop written procedures for processing reasonable accommodation requests.
Sept. 25, 2008: Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008
The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 made important changes to the definition of the term “disability,” reversing previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions in favor of a broad and inclusive interpretation. These changes made it easier for a person seeking protection under the law to establish eligibility under it and required courts to focus more on assessing the extent of discriminatory practices than the technical definition of the term.
July 26, 2010: Executive Order 13548—Increasing Federal Employment of Individuals with Disabilities
On the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13548, “Increasing Federal Employment of Individuals with Disabilities,” directing federal departments and agencies to increase the recruitment, hiring, and retention of people with disabilities.
Jan. 3, 2017: Section 501 Updates
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a final rule amending the regulations implementing Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The rule updated the responsibilities of federal agencies to take proactive steps to employ qualified individuals with disabilities and set representation goals of 12 percent for individuals with disabilities and 2 percent for individuals with specific, targeted disabilities. The updates also require the provision of personal assistance services to certain employees who need them because of a disability.
Dec. 20, 2018: 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act
The 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA) was passed, requiring federal agencies to modernize their websites and digital services, according to eight specific criteria, including accessibility for people with disabilities. Federal agencies must already meet the accessibility standards of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; however, IDEA emphasizes those requirements and sets a deadline for compliance. It also requires federal chief information officers to coordinate with other executives and ensure adequate funding and resources to execute its requirements.
For more specific ideas about how you can support National Disability Employment Awareness Month, visit www.dol.gov/NDEAM and https://www.defenseculture.mil/Human-Relations-Toolkit/Special-Observances/. Regardless, all play an important part in fostering a more inclusive workforce, one where every person is recognized for his or her abilities — every day of every month.