Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Disclosing Disability to Access Opportunities through the Workforce Development System

Friday, November 13, 2015 : 10:15 AM
Stanford (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Linda Toms Barker, Kay Magill and Anne Camberlain, IMPAQ International
New Federal regulations require that Federal contractors take affirmative action to employ qualified individuals with disabilities (IWD).  These regulations establish, for the first time, a 7% utilization goal, which represents a major milestone in the government’s efforts to improve employment opportunities for IWD. In conjunction with the requirement to document IWD application and hiring rates, this policy change shows promise as a catalyst for employer awareness of the underutilized talent pool of IWD.  

 The success of this policy depends not only on sensitizing employers to its benefits, but also on bringing along the partners in the publicly-funded workforce development system that encompasses national, state, and local organizations that assist individuals and employers with career education, training, and job placement. The workforce system and its customers with disabilities can most effectively take advantage of the new affirmative action requirements to gain access for IWD to an estimated half a million jobs by understanding the industries and occupations in which federal contractors already employ a significant percentage of IWD, and in which they are currently well below the 7 percent goal. 

 The success of this policy also depends on IWD “disclosing” their disabilities to both service providers and employers. However, even when it is known that the policy’s employment benefits are available only to IWDs, from the individual’s perspective, acknowledging a disability can be fraught with uncertainty and even fear. IWDs may ask themselves: “Will telling these people I have a disability affect my chances of being considered for a job? Being promoted? Will people think differently about me? What might happen to me if I request reasonable accommodations on the job?” Or even: “What is a disability? Do I have one?” 

 If an IWD’s employment journey begins at an American Job Center (AJC), there are several U. S. Department of Labor initiatives that may encourage disclosure of a disability. These include the Disability Employment Initiative, the Add Us In Initiative, and workforce system participation in SSA’s Ticket to Work program, with opportunities to disclose disability put forward by AJC staff verbally, through signage, or as part of a standard registration form or counseling process. Unfortunately, in many AJCs, individuals will neither see nor hear the word disability, or worse, will hear it only in voices hushed by outdated stereotypes and stigma. 

 In this paper, we examine various junctures at which individuals might be presented with an opportunity to disclose: a) whether they have a disability, and b) the type of disability. These junctures include entering the workforce system, applying for employment, and obtaining/maintaining employment. We also describe different approaches to encouraging IWD to disclose their disabilities to take advantage of affirmative action targets. In particular, we will describe an approach being adopted in Arizona to empower IWD to choose how to disclose disability information to take advantage of affirmative action while protecting privacy and confidentiality.  Finally, this paper will discuss how thoughtful implementation of the new regulations has the potential for substantial impact on employment opportunities for IWD.