Federal Exchange on Employment & Disability (FEED) Meeting
April 4, 2019
1:00- 3:00 p.m.
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
I. Welcoming Remarks
Dexter Brooks, Director of Federal Sector Programs for the Office of Federal Operations at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), welcomed attendees. He then introduced Patrick Mannix, Chief of Staff for the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), who provided introductory remarks. Anupa Iyer, Policy Advisor for the Office of Federal Operations at EEOC then provided updates from EEOC and Natalie Veeney, Diversity Program Manager of Outreach, Diversity and Inclusion at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), provided updates on the work that OPM is doing related to federal employment of people with disabilities, including a new project aimed at increasing the use of Schedule A across the Federal Government.
II. Introduction to “Federal Agency Employment Strategies: A Framework for Disability Inclusion”
Robert “Bobby” Silverstein, Principal at Powers Pyles Sutter & Verville PC and a consultant for the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN), introduced EARN’s Federal Agency Employment Strategies: A Framework for Disability Inclusion. Mr. Silverstein explained that the Framework provides an overview of Section 501, and is divided into six topic areas, with examples from the regulations, federal colleagues and the private sector. He encouraged all of the meeting attendees to keep a copy of the Framework on their desks for easy reference. He stated that the Framework is meant to be modified based on agency culture and to be a model for agencies to use so they do not have to “start from scratch.”
Mr. Silverstein then outlined the six topic areas of the Framework:
- Lead the Way: Model Employer of Individuals with Disabilities
- Build the Pipeline: Outreach & Recruitment
- Hire (Advance & Keep) The Best: Personnel Processes
- Ensure Productivity: Reasonable Accommodation & Personal Assistance Services Policies & Procedures
- Be Tech Savvy: Accessible Information & Communication Technology
- Grow Success: Continuous Assessment & Improvement & Accountability
He continued by providing an outline of the document. He stated that the Framework isn’t “legally sufficient,” but that it aims to give users the context of the law and examples of promising practices used by federal agencies. Mr. Silverstein also noted that there is resources section at the end of the Framework that includes legal statutes, regulations, executive orders, federal agency toolkits, EEOC guidance and more. He reiterated that the purpose of the Framework is, “To make your lives easier, to allow you the opportunity to pick each other’s brains without necessarily trying to get somebody else on the phone.”
III. Promising Practices in Federal Disability Inclusion
Mr. Brooks then stated that representatives from six federal agencies whose promising practices were included in the Framework would be discussing these practices, beginning with the first section of the Framework, “Lead the Way: Model Employer of Individuals with Disabilities.”
A. Lead the Way: Model Employer of Individuals with Disabilities
Mr. Brooks emphasized the important roles internal and external communications play in being a model employer of people with disabilities, and highlighted the need to provide training for staff, including specialized training for disability program managers (DPMs), selective placement program coordinators (SPPCs) and EEO staff. Other examples of communication tactics provided by Mr. Brooks included attending job fairs and career days, holding monthly meetings with applicable staff members, developing communities of practice around federal disability inclusion and creating a “one-stop shop” where people within the agency can find information on disability employment policy.
Mr. Brooks then introduced Laura Davis, Disability Employment Program Manager in the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Ms. Davis thanked FEED and the U.S. Department of Labor for recognizing DHS as an important resource for sharing employment strategies for people with disabilities in the federal workspace. She mentioned that DHS was recognized for its promising practices as a model employer of people with disabilities for their Disability Employment Advisory Council (DAC) and selective placement training.
Ms. Davis explained that in her role as the departmental disability employment program manager, she provides training, resources and technical guidance on an ongoing basis regarding employment matters through a variety of forums, including the DAC. Ms. Davis mentioned that in 2017, then-Deputy Secretary Elaine Duke announced a Unity of Effort strategy that continues today. This Unity of Effort framework is used for the DAC, and membership across DHS has expanded to include departmental- and component-level participants.
Ms. Davis stated that as the leader of the DAC, she implemented a strategy that created the opportunity for at least two components to brief members on best practices and/or challenges during each meeting. She explained that these briefs can cover any topic, and include promising practices, new initiatives, areas of opportunity and challenges that members can work together to address.
She mentioned that she believes that it is important for the components to share and contribute their strategies to resolve problems, and “Engage and involve other federal agencies, to hear and share their best practices so we’re not just taking it from within DHS.” Ms. Davis thanked Ms. Iyer for the support of the EEOC in particular, and noted that guests from the National Disability Mentoring Coalition (NDMC) have also attended DAC meetings to share their expertise.
Ms. Davis continued that the DAC meetings also include topics such as updates and guidance on the final rule implementing Section 501, personal assistance services, Schedule A, strategies for establishing a mentoring program for employees with disabilities, training and demonstrations on DHS’s in-house accessibility compliance management system and more. In addition to having guest speakers, Ms. Davis said the DAC spends time reviewing and sharing disability workforce demographics. “I think it’s important for all of our stakeholders to understand the makeup of our workforce, where we are, the progress that we’ve made, and where we still need to go,” she said.
Ms. Davis acknowledged that, as a predominantly law enforcement and security agency, many DHS positions have statutory physical and medical requirements. She stated that it would be easy for DHS to “rest on their laurels,” but instead the agency continues to make progress, such as recruiting people with disabilities for Management, Administrative and Professional (MAP) positions across the agency, and training managers, supervisor and human capital professionals on the benefits of Schedule A and the use of reasonable accommodations. She noted that for the first quarter of FY19, DHS had an almost 11 percent representation of individuals with disabilities; and that when law enforcement and security positions were excluded, the rate rose to 16 percent. She said for people with targeted disabilities, when law enforcement security were filtered out, the workforce participation rate rose from one percent to 3.2 percent.
Ms. Davis then explained that DHS also shares disability new hires by component so that all of the components can see how the agency is doing across the board and consider what they might do differently. She said that DHS also tracks its Schedule A conversion rate, which last year was just over 50 percent, and that the agency hopes to increase the rate in the future.
Finally, Ms. Davis shared that DAC members also volunteer on working groups. She said that currently there is a group through the DAC that supports DHS’s efforts to develop a standard operating procedure for handling and addressing Section 508 complaints.
B. Build the Pipeline: Outreach & Recruitment
Mr. Brooks and Mr. Silverstein then introduced the next topic: “Build the Pipeline: Outreach & Recruitment.” Mr. Silverstein stated that he often hears, “We want to hire people with disabilities, but we don’t know where to find them.” He stated that the Framework discusses how to build pipelines, with the focus on regulatory provisions dealing with outreach and recruitment. He mentioned that it also highlights steps specified in the regulation for special hiring authorities.
Mr. Brooks then introduced the next speaker, Maurice White, the Associate Director for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Operations at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Mr. White began by acknowledging the impact that the deputy commissioner of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion has had on ensuring that IRS’s employees who are veterans and people with disabilities understand their rights. He stated that the deputy commissioner holds webinars on a regular basis to make sure that veterans and individuals with disabilities within the Internal Revenue Service understand their rights and responsibilities, and the commitment of the IRS commissioner (who the deputy commission reports to) to inclusion of veterans and people with disabilities at the IRS. Mr. White credited the strong message of commitment from leadership that the training managers receive with an increased participation rate of people with disabilities, as well as people with targeted disabilities, in IRS’s workforce.
Mr. White then outlined the efforts the IRS has made to increase participation rates of people with disabilities and people with targeted disabilities, including strong partnerships with other agencies, such as the Administration for Community Living’s Human Capital Office. He stated that he discusses with colleagues at ACL ways to sustain workforce participation numbers for people with targeted disabilities, and that the relationship between his office and ACL has been very helpful in terms of outreach and recruitment. He then mentioned that managers also receive Section 508 training from reasonable accommodation coordinators and the disability program manager and her staff so they understand the importance of providing accommodations that employees need to perform their jobs.
Mr. White noted that the deputy commissioner “leads from the front” in terms of what IRS does to recruit people with disabilities, and mentioned the webinars IRS hosts again, which he stated are held quarterly.
He also discussed the IRS’s efforts to recruit more people with disabilities into IRS’s Criminal Investigations Section. He stated that since criminal investigators often have physical requirements, the IRS brought more administrative staff personnel, for which there is no physical requirement, into the criminal investigations environment. He said this has helped the agency maintain workforce inclusion numbers of 12 percent for people with disabilities and three percent for people with targeted disabilities for almost five years.
Mr. White then highlighted IRS’s partnership with Gallaudet University and other organizations that help bring in qualified job applicants and employees with disabilities. He stated that he felt that what the IRS was leveraging the most in relation to increasing the workforce participation rate for both people with disabilities and people with targeted disabilities was special hiring authorities, including Schedule A and those for veterans.
Mr. White said that the commissioner’s message of support for the recruitment of people with disabilities, leadership buy-in and outreach efforts convey the importance of hiring people with disabilities. He stated that the IRS is committed to ensuring that people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to not only be hired into the IRS’s workforce, but also to advance within the organization.
Mr. Brooks then thanked Mr. White, and Mr. Silverstein moved on to explaining the next section of the Framework, “Hire (Advance & Keep) The Best: Personnel Processes.”
C. Hire (Advance & Keep) The Best: Personnel Processes
Mr. Brooks stated that the developers of the Framework wanted to look at promising practices not only for hiring, but also for advancement of people with disabilities. He noted that the developers wanted to look at retention as a separate topic with its own set of promising practices. “It’s one thing to open the door,” he said, “but… are folks being promoted, are they leaving for various reasons?” he asked. He stated these reasons could include attitudinal or institutional biases, or failures to provide accessible technology or accommodations.
Jenese Portee, Acting Disability Program Manager at the Peace Corps, was then introduced. Ms. Portee thanked the Framework developers for including promising practices from a small agency, and provided a brief background on the Peace Corps. She called attention to the fact that, although the Peace Corps has just over 900 employees, it has 7,000 volunteers. She stated that since many of these volunteers become employees, the Peace Corps seeks to ensure that the diversity of the volunteer corps reflects the diversity of the staff.
Ms. Portee provided an overview of the Office of Civil Rights and Diversity at the Peace Corps. She explained that the Peace Corps don’t have Schedule A, but it does have an equivalent, and that it also works to ensure that needed reasonable accommodations are provided. Ms. Portee shared that she is a certificated American Sign Language interpreter, which allows her office to avoid the wait to schedule an interpreter when one is needed. Ms. Portee also stated that her office had recently identified a need for, requested and established a new, stand-alone role for a Section 508 coordinator.
She stated that the Peace Corps recently developed a Volunteers with Disabilities working group to ensure that members of the volunteer corps with disabilities are supported and able to complete their service. At the end of service, volunteers receive noncompetitive eligibility – and those who have Schedule A may also have noncompetitive eligibility if they are returning volunteers.
Ms. Portee shared that Peace Corps hosted an agency-wide workshop for hiring entities and managers on working with people with disabilities and the particulars of the agency’s Schedule A equivalent list. This presentation was given to small audiences, to make sure that all are on the same page about addressing the person, not the disability.
Ms. Portee concluded by discussing the Peace Corps’s approach to reasonable accommodations, with a specific focus on personal assistance services.
Mr. Silverstein then thanked Ms. Portee for her comments and moved on to the next section of the Framework, “Ensure Productivity: Reasonable Accommodation & Personal Assistance Services Policies & Procedures.”
D. Ensure Productivity: Reasonable Accommodation & Personal Assistance Services Policies & Procedures
Mr. Silverstein explained that while reasonable accommodations have been a core requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), personal assistance services (PAS) are a new requirement. He said that since PAS were deemed critical for some individuals with targeted disabilities, this section of the Framework includes promising practices in this area. He then introduced Katherine Slye-Griffin, Accessibility Team Manager for the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).
Ms. Slye-Griffin stated that she has found that agency reasonable accommodation programs must be strong to keep the workforce going – otherwise, she warned, there will be a revolving door of employees. She said that over the years, she has revised and revamped HRSA’s accommodations program and determined that policy, process and funding are three critical points. She said that one of the things she loves about reasonable accommodations is that they, “aren’t just legalese – they make people’s lives better by taking the law and making it a reality.” Ms. Slye-Griffin said that centralized accommodation funding is critical to operations, that it is one less barrier to deal with and that it contributes to a strong program.
She also pointed to training, specifically staff training and training for managers and supervisors, as an important component of a strong accommodations program. She said her approach is to gather her team for trainings to review reasonable accommodations and the variety of laws that are involved, from the Rehabilitation Act to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and beyond.
Ms. Slye-Griffin stated that she instituted a multi-tiered process for reasonable accommodations. She explained that the first tier simply involves equipment, while the top tier includes complex issues like reassignment. As part of the training, staffers learn about reasonable accommodations at the basic level and work their way up the tiers. She also stressed the importance of training supervisors, managers and clients in a meaningful way so they understand and enjoy reasonable accommodations.
Mr. Brooks thanked Ms. Slye-Griffin, and Mr. Silverstein then discussed the next section of the Framework, “Be Tech Savvy: Accessible Information & Communication Technology.”
E. Be Tech Savvy: Accessible Information & Communication Technology
Mr. Silverstein stated that this section deals with accessible information and communication technology, which he said is becoming a civil rights issue for people with disabilities. He then introduced John Sullivan, Director of the Government-wide IT Accessibility Program in the Office of Government-wide Policy at the General Services Administration (GSA).
Mr. Sullivan thanked FEED for the invitation and agreed with Mr. Silverstein that accessibility is becoming a civil rights issue, particularly for companies and organizations where their website is their place of business. He advised that it is a lost opportunity if an inaccessible website means missing some of the possible market share.
Mr. Sullivan then provided background information on his office within GSA and explained that his goal is to provide technical assistance, along with the Access Board, to all federal agencies.
He noted the importance of accessibility when developing software and creating documents. He emphasized that includes the environment, saying it does not do any good to hire people with disabilities who get into the office and discover that the technology does not work for them. He stated that while sometimes security and accessibility are at crossroads with each other, the answer should not be that a user is denied accessible technology because of security concerns.
Mr. Sullivan discussed GSA’s current focus on the acquisition implementation stream and the developer stream. He explained that for the acquisition stream, GSA’s efforts are focused on monitoring federal contracts for accessibility and including those requirements in their contracts. He pointed to new legislation that brings policies together and includes accessibility. He concluded by explaining that one of his goals is to build a credentialed accessibility professional track, and that he is currently working with OPM to pursue this goal. [Note: all of the resources that Mr. Sullivan discussed during the meeting, including the Accessibility Requirements Tool, can be found at: www.section508.gov/].
Mr. Brooks and Mr. Silverstein then thanked Mr. Sullivan for his presentation. Mr. Silverstein said that his main takeaway was the importance of communication amongst team members. He then introduced the final section of the Framework, “Grow Success: Continuous Assessment & Improvement & Accountability.”
F. Grow Success: Continuous Assessment & Improvement & Accountability
Mr. Silverstein noted that this section of the Framework highlights the requirements for workforce analysis, agency-wide goals, barrier analysis, taking specific steps to facilitate progression towards achieving those goals, and more.
Mr. Brooks introduced the next speaker, Monica Flint, Disability Program Manager at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), who joined the meeting remotely.
Ms. Flint began by explaining her duties at the FDIC, which involve the agency’s reasonable accommodation process and implementing the Disability Employment Program Strategic Plan. She then discussed FDIC’s efforts to update the data from the previous version of the SF-256 after OPM released the updated version of the form. She stated that she and her colleagues appropriately coded all the data to match the updated form, then established a goal to resurvey the FDIC twice per year – once in September to gather the year-end data, and once in March to gather the mid-year data.
Ms. Flint detailed the process of promoting the resurvey, beginning with local emails and outreach campaigns to promotional posters in area, regional and field offices. She stated that the promotional language for this effort has also evolved, from explaining the FDIC’s desire to update its data to its desire to show the diversity of the agency. Ms. Flint explained that the desired outcome was to impress upon FDIC employees that more accurate information will help the diversity and inclusion of people with disabilities and promote the goals for representation in the workforce. Ms. Flint highlighted that from 2016 – 2019, FDIC increased its workforce participation rate from 5.6 percent to 11.6 percent for people with disabilities (for people with targeted disabilities, the rate is currently 2.3 percent).
Ms. Flint said she constantly reminds people, especially executives, that diversity and inclusion also means people with disabilities.
She concluded her presentation by noting the importance of including a performance rating factor in manager and supervisor performance plans that evaluates steps taken to promote diversity and inclusion amongst staff.
IV. Question and Answer Session
Mr. Brooks then opened the floor to questions from meeting attendees. Allison Levy, Manager of the Disability Resource Center at the U.S. Department of Transportation, asked Mr. Sullivan for suggestions on addressing the inaccessibility of certain software and e-learning systems that are used in the Federal Government. Mr. Sullivan replied that accessibility requirements have been included in contracts, and software updates and migrations will move towards that. He also noted that large software companies like Microsoft are doing more to focus on accessibility, particularly in new versions of their products. He acknowledged the need for more awareness about accessibility.
Amanda Tempel, Government Information Specialist in the Privacy and Diversity Office at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, sent an online question regarding the idea of an accommodation career tract and asked if anyone knew of any continuing education opportunities, such as mentoring programs, job shadowing, details to other agencies, etc. that are offered related to this. Ms. Slye-Griffin responded with information about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Coordinator Training Certification Program, a training program offered by the Great Plains ADA Center (a technical assistance center that is part of the ADA National Network) in conjunction with the University of Missouri. She added that the ADA Network’s other regional centers, including the Mid-Atlantic ADA Center, also offer training opportunities.
David Rice, Disability Program Manager at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), asked Ms. Flint about the FDIC’s resurvey efforts, specifically how the survey took into account individuals who prefer not to disclose the nature of their disability (the “01” code on the SF-256). He stated that his agency did a resurvey and many people who indicated that they had a disability chose not to provide information about what type of disability they had. He asked Ms. Flint for recommendations for how to address this, since so many people at his agency were selecting a code that the agency couldn’t report on.
Ms. Flint acknowledged that participants might not be comfortable with disclosing this information, but that the FDIC’s promotional efforts around the resurvey were geared toward reassuring employees that the information on the form is confidential and managers only see the code, with no identifying information, and only for data collection purposes. She also stated the efforts to include disability related information in agency communications, such as posting information about different disability-related topics on internal websites each month, and working through the agency’s disability employee resource group (ERG), help create a more inclusive culture which encourages employees to self-identify.
Mr. Silverstein again encouraged FEED members to utilize the Framework and mentioned that the document includes information about the potential benefits of self-identification in order to try to encourage employees to self-identify. He added that the document includes a list of ten practices related to self-identification adopted by various federal agencies, and working with ERGs is one of them.
Mr. Brooks closed the question and answer session and then invited Brett Sheats, National Project Director for EARN, to discuss future meetings and current EARN projects.
V. FEED Updates and Closing Remarks
Mr. Sheats thanked the meeting participants attending in person and remotely, and encouraged them to continue the conversation, share best practices and ask questions in the FEED Community of Practice (CoP) on OPM’s MAX.gov portal. He noted that further information about the CoP will be included in a follow-up email to all attendees. He then thanked all the people that made the Framework possible and reminded attendees that they can find an online version of the document on the EARN website. He reiterated Bobby’s suggestion to review the resources section of the Framework to find links to helpful information and online tools. He also encouraged participants to visit the EARN website, AskEARN.org, and explore the other resources available there.
Mr. Sheats then brought up Paul Lloyd, Program Manager for the Technology and Accessible Resources Give Employment Today (TARGET) Center at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Mr. Lloyd announced that a USDA-hosted technology showcase will take place on May 15, 2019 and invited attendees to save the date. He stated that an invitation will be sent out in the coming weeks.
Mr. Brooks then provided brief closing remarks and thanked all the attendees for coming, as well as FEED’s partner agencies (OPM, EEOC and DOL/ODEP).