Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal civil rights law prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities in Federal Government employment. It also establishes regulations related to the inclusion of people with disabilities in federal employment.
As the nation’s largest employer, the Federal Government has committed itself to modeling effective employment policies and practices that advance America’s ideal of opportunity for all. This is the spirit underpinning Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits federal agencies from discriminating against qualified people with disabilities in employment and requires them to take proactive steps to recruit and retain them.
Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal civil rights law. Section 501 imposes two distinct obligations on Federal Government agencies. First, it prohibits agencies from discriminating against people with disabilities, using the same standards that apply to private sector employers under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Second, Section 501 requires each federal agency to maintain an affirmative action plan for the hiring, placement and advancement of people with disabilities, update it annually, and submit to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
On January 3, 2017, EEOC issued a final rule to amend the regulations that require federal agencies to engage in affirmative action for and become model employers of people with disabilities. The rule codifies a variety of obligations currently placed on federal agencies by Management Directives and Executive Orders. The final rule also adds two substantive affirmative action requirements: first, it adds specific goals for people with reportable disabilities and those with targeted disabilities; second, it requires agencies to provide personal assistance services (PAS) to employees with targeted disabilities who require such assistance in order to be at work or participate in work-related travel.
An affirmative action plan (AAP) is a management tool designed to ensure equal employment opportunity, including for people with disabilities. A central premise underlying affirmative action is that absent discrimination, over time a federal agency’s workforce will generally reflect the profile of the labor pools from which the federal agency recruits and selects. Federal agency affirmative action plans include:
Barrier analyses and workforce analyses, and
Action-oriented strategies to address barriers and underutilization.
An affirmative action plan for people with disabilities must include adoption and implementation of specific steps that include the following actions:
Efforts to reach regulatory goals;
Plan to provide sufficient and competent staff;
Plan to ensure sufficient funding for the disability program;
Plan to recruit and hire people with disabilities;
Plan to establish contacts with disability employment organizations;
Progression towards goals;
Plan to ensure advancement opportunities for employees with disabilities;
Plan to improve retention of employees with disabilities; and
EEO complaint and findings data.
The rule requires federal agencies to establish specific numerical goals for increasing the participation of people with reportable disabilities (12%) and targeted (significant) disabilities (2%) in the Federal Government. The goals apply separately for higher levels (e.g., at or above GS-11) and lower levels (e.g., GS-10 and below).
The final rule specifies that affirmative action includes the provision of personal assistance services (PAS) for people with targeted disabilities who require such assistance in order to be at work or participate in work-related travel. PAS includes assistance in activities of daily living that a person would typically perform if they did not have a disability (and that is not otherwise required as a reasonable accommodation under the nondiscrimination mandate). PAS includes assistance with removing and putting on clothing, eating and using the restroom. Reasonable accommodations include, for example, interpreters for people who are deaf and readers for people who are blind.
EARN developed the following guides to provide information to federal agencies on three strategies that can help them achieve their DEIA goals: self-identification, partnerships and centralized accommodation funds.