This article is Part 3 of a three-part series addressing individuals with disabilities in the federal workplace. Part 1, published in March, dealt with the philosophy of the quest for talented individuals with disabilities. Individuals with disabilities, like everyone else, harbor the need to be productive, self-reliant and actively involved in mainstream society. Part 2, published in June 2010, dealt with applicable laws, regulatory guidance and definitions associated with the disability program.

In Part 3, I want to highlight avenues used to recruit and hire individuals with disabilities and the importance of retention. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to review their hiring practices and take specific actions to ensure they do not deny equal employment opportunities to qualified persons with disabilities.

First, employers need to be committed to employing, hiring and retaining individuals' with disabilities. We must eliminate old stereotypes associated with hiring persons with disabilities and further recognize the need to eliminate barriers to employment for qualified individuals. Even though the laws have improved, people with disabilities are still less likely to be employed than people with no disabilities.

Second, employers must aggressively seek job candidates with disabilities. Partnering with and sharing our vacancy announcements with disability advocacy groups and disability-related community organizations, as well as colleges and universities, are avenues to spread the word.

Third, employers and employees must be educated and trained to understand the need for improving opportunities for individuals with disabilities. We are all on the front lines of the battle trying to improve hiring opportunities for individuals with disabilities. An educated and informed workforce will be better able to ensure success of recruiting, hiring and retaining employees with disabilities.

There are several programs that can be used to hire persons with disabilities. Managers and supervisors should be aware of the flexibility available through the use of special appointing authorities. These appointing authorities were developed to provide an opportunity to people with disabilities to show they can do the job. There are various ways an individual with a disability can be hired non-competitively (while adhering to the command policy 690-19).

Aca,!Ac People with disabilities can be certified as eligible by the state vocational rehabilitation agency and the Department of Veterans Affairs and then hired using Schedule A hiring authority found in 5 CFR 213.3102.
Aca,!Ac Section 213.3102(u) authorizes hiring people with mental retardation and people who are severely physically disabled. These appointments can be made without prior approval of the Office of Personnel Management, have no time limits, and after successful performance for two consecutive years in a permanent position and upon recommendation by the supervisor, be converted non-competitively into the competitive service.
Aca,!Ac People who are severely disabled can also be hired non-competitively after successful completion of a 700-hour appointment. The 700-hour trial appointment is used for hiring people who are mentally retarded or severely physically disabled. It allows people with disabilities to demonstrate their ability to do the job. Employers make no commitment for permanent employment; however, the temporary appointment is usually long enough to evaluate the person's ability to do the job.

People hired under the above provisions must be able to perform the essential functions of the position, with or without reasonable accommodation(s). Steps identical to those used to terminate anyone serving under an excepted appointment can be taken to terminate employment.

To retain employees with disabilities, they should feel a part of the organization. Co-workers, managers, and supervisors should become aware of communication, architectural, attitudinal and other barriers that may exist during the work day, and should also be sensitive to language used in the workplace. Some words are not only inaccurate, but hurtful, derogatory and demeaning. Managers should set good examples.

Once recruited and hired, sometimes reasonable accommodations are necessary to retain an individual with a disability. Reasonable accommodations can only be determined on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration the employee, his specific disability and the functional limitations, the essential duties of the position in question, the work environment and the reasonableness of the proposed accommodation. One misconception is that most accommodations are expensive. Records show that most employees with disabilities do not need accommodations, and that when they do, most accommodations cost very little or are cost-free. The disability program manager can assist in efforts to determine reasonable accommodation issues and where best to acquire them if necessary.

For more information, contact Johnetta Graves in the Equal Employment Opportunity Office.