Federal Government Policies and Practices Supporting Employment of People with Disabilities
Learn about efforts to recruit, hire, retain and advance federal employees with disabilities.
As the Nation's largest employer, the Federal Government has a special responsibility to lead by example in supporting diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility for individuals with disabilities in the workforce. This webpage contains important policy guidance and additional resources for federal agencies to use in recruiting, hiring, advancing and retaining individuals with disabilities, including:
- Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and implementing rule;
- The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) Management Directive 715 (MD-715);
- Executive Orders; and
- Other resources.
Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act and Implementing Rule
Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (Section 501), imposes two distinct obligations on federal agencies. First, it prohibits federal agencies from discriminating against individuals with disabilities, using the same standards that are applied under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Second, it requires each federal agency to maintain, update annually and summit to the EEOC an affirmative action program plan for the hiring, placement and advancement of individuals with disabilities.
On January 3, 2017, EEOC issued a final rule implementing Section 501. The Rule clarifies the affirmative action obligations on federal agencies as employers and codifies a variety of obligations placed on federal agencies by management directives and Executive Orders. It also adds two substantive affirmative action requirements. First, the Rule requires federal agencies to take specific steps that are reasonably designed to gradually increase the number of employees who have a disability and the number of employees who have a targeted disability until they meet specific goals set by the EEOC. Second, the Rule requires federal agencies to provide personal assistance services to employees, who because of targeted disabilities require assistance in, for example, removing and putting on clothing, eating and using the restroom.
EEOC Management Directive 715 (MD-715)
MD-715 is the policy guidance that the EEOC provides to federal agencies for their use in establishing and maintaining effective programs of equal employment opportunity under Section 717 of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehabilitation Act), as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 791 et seq. MD-715 provides a roadmap for creating effective equal employment opportunity (EEO) programs for all federal employees.
Part J of MD-715 provides instructions for developing and implementing a Special Program Plan for the Recruitment, Hiring, Advancement and Retention of Persons with Disabilities.
To ensure transparency and accountability, each agency must post a copy of the affirmative action plan submitted to EEOC on its public website and provide a means by which member of the public may request copies in accessible formats.
On June 25, 2021, President Biden issued Executive Order (EO) 14035 on Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) in the Federal Workforce. The EO specified that the federal government must be a model for DEIA and must strengthen its ability to recruit, hire, develop, promote and retain talent and remove barriers to equal opportunity. The EO establishes that DEIA are priorities and establishes procedures to advance these priorities across the federal workforce.
More specifically, the EO provides for the development and issuance of government-wide DEIA initiative and strategic plan and agency-specific preliminary assessments, DEIA strategic plans and annual progress reports. Topic areas of focus include:
- Data collection
- Promoting paid internships
- Partnerships and recruitment
- Professional development and advancement
- Training and learning
- Achieving equity for employees with disabilities
- Advancing equity for LGBTQ+ employees
- Pay equity
- Expanding employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals.
EO 14035 defines the terms of DEIA as follows:
- Diversity means the practice of including the many communities, identities, races, ethnicities, backgrounds, abilities, cultures and beliefs of the American people, including underserved communities.
- Equity means the consistent and systematic fair, just and impartial treatment of all individuals, including individuals who belong to underserved communities that have been denied such treatment.
- Inclusion means the recognition, appreciation and use of the talents and skills of employees of all backgrounds.
- Accessibility means the design, construction, development and maintenance of facilities, information and communication technology, programs and services so that all people, including people with disabilities, can fully and independently use them. Accessibility includes the provision of accommodations and modifications to ensure equal access to employment and participation in activities for people with disabilities, the reduction or elimination of physical and attitudinal barriers to equitable opportunities, a commitment to ensuring that people with disabilities can independently access every outward-facing and internal activity or electronic space, and the pursuit of best practices such as universal design.
Achieving equity for employees with disabilities includes the following:
- The Federal Government must become a model for the employment of individuals with disabilities.
- In order for federal employees and applicants with disabilities to be assessed on their merits, accessible information and communication technologies must be provided and, where needed, reasonable accommodations must be available.
- The Department of Labor (Labor), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), EEOC, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and U. S. Access Board, in consultation with General Services Administration (GSA), as appropriate, shall coordinate with agencies to:
- Support the Federal Government’s effort to provide people with disabilities equal employment opportunities and take affirmative action to ensure that agencies fully comply with applicable laws including Section 501, 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
- Assess current practices in using the Schedule A hiring authority to employ people with disabilities in the Federal Government and evaluate opportunities to enhance equity in employment and financial security for employees with disabilities through different practices or guidance on the use of Schedule A hiring authority; and
- Ensure that:
- Applicants and employees with disabilities have access to information about and understand their rights regarding disability self-identification;
- Applicants and employees with disabilities have access to information on Schedule A hiring authority for individuals with disabilities;
- Applicants and employees with disabilities have access to information about, understand their rights to and may easily request reasonable accommodations, workplace personal assistance services and accessible information and communication technology; and
- The process of responding to reasonable accommodation requests is timely and efficient and the processes and procedures for appealing the denial of reasonable accommodation requests are timely and efficient.
- GSA, OPM, OMB and the Access Board shall work with federal agencies to ensure that all federal office buildings and workplaces and leased buildings are accessible to employees with disabilities in compliance with the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 (ABA) and related standards.
- Beyond existing duties to comply with the ABA and related standards, the head of each agency shall maximize the accessibility of the physical environment so as to reduce the need for reasonable accommodations and provide periodic notice to all employees that complaints can be filed with the Access Board.
- The Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Labor (DOL) shall review the use of the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP) for college students and recent graduates and take steps to expand WRP, consistent with applicable laws. DoD and DOL shall submit a report to the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy (APDP) describing any steps taken and providing recommendations for any Presidential, administrative or congressional actions to further expand and strengthen the program and expand job opportunities.
For more information about EO 14035, read:
- Disability-Related Provisions of Executive Order 14035
- Disability-Related Themes Embedded in Executive Order 14035
Links to executive orders concerning diversity, inclusion, equity and accessibility applicable to individuals with disabilities issued by other presidents include:
- Executive Order 13583 Establishing a Coordinated Government-Wide Initiative to Promote Diversity and Inclusion in the Federal Workforce [August 18, 2011]
- Executive Order 13548 Increasing Federal Employment of Individuals with Disabilities [July 26, 2010]