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The Federal Coach

Improving the hiring process for federal workers with disabilities

An estimated 54 million Americans are living with a disability.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and this year also marks the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act--the landmark legislation that prohibits discrimination based on disability.

Although much progress has been made, individuals with disabilities are still underrepresented in the federal workplace--representing little more than five percent of the 2.5 million federal employees, including the U.S. Postal Service.

To help increase employment of these individuals, President Obama issued an executive order last July requiring federal agencies to design model recruitment and hiring strategies for people with disabilities and to implement programs to retain these public servants.

"As the nation's largest employer, the federal government can become a model employer by increasing employment across America of individuals with disabilities," the president said.

Hiring is a leadership responsibility, not just an HR task, so it's important that as a federal manager you take a lead role in helping your agency improve its recruitment, hiring and retention efforts of these individuals. However, as is the case with many reforms, this is easier said than done.

To help federal managers in this effort, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) convened a forum to identify the barriers to hiring individuals with disabilities and to establish best practices for overcoming these barriers.

The GAO found that the most significant barrier is attitudinal, which can include bias and low expectations for people with disabilities. Furthermore, participants said that for the attitudes of hiring managers, supervisors, coworkers and prospective employees to change, it is essential for agency leaders to be firmly committed and engaged.

So, how can you as a federal manager foster this culture change in your agency? Here is some helpful advice from the GAO to get you started:

Create a sense of accountability. Accountability is critical to success. Set goals to help guide and sustain efforts, make sure they are reflected in human capital and diversity strategy plans, determine measures to assess progress toward the goals, evaluate staff and agencies to hold them responsible and report results publicly.

Keep track of progress. Regular surveying of the workforce on disability issues provides agencies with important information. This involves surveying at all stages of the employment life cycle and including questions related to disability on employee feedback surveys, which will provide information on the effectiveness of the reasonable accommodations process and the extent to which employees with disabilities find the workplace environment friendly.

Train staff. Provide training and guidance: this gives agencies the opportunity to communicate their expectations for implementing policies and procedures that can improve employment of people with disabilities. Training should be provided to all individuals involved in and affected by the hiring process, including hiring managers, human capital staff, selective placement coordinators, disability hiring managers and job placement professionals.

Create a flexible work environment. Teleworking, flexible work times and job sharing can increase and enhance employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and lead to improved performance.

Finally, be on the lookout for guidance that will soon be issued by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in consultation with EEOC, the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Labor. This will give federal agencies recruitment and hiring strategies to help you fulfill the president's executive order. And on Tuesday, you can also tune into a live webcast from OPM on how to increase federal employment of individuals with disabilities.

Are you or is your agency involved in carrying out the president's executive order? Have you been making progress, or running into obstacles? Do you have any tips on how to successfully hire and retain people with disabilities? Please let me know by posting your comments online or sending an email to fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org.

And please check back on Wednesday, when I speak with the Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Randy Babbitt.

By Tom Fox

 |  October 25, 2010; 10:42 AM ET |  Category:  Getting Ahead Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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