By Claire Theriot Mestepey

I was very interested to learn that in a recent news conference in Washington D.C., the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) shared a new proposal requiring that persons with disabilities have at least seven percent of jobs with federal contractors and subcontractors. Patricia A. Shiu, director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), called Dec. 8, 2011, a historic day for both the DOL and OFCCP. In the proposal contractors will take an active role in recruiting qualified applicant people with disabilities and training them. Contractors will be held accountable for their new employees and will be required to submit scheduled reports to the OFCCP. The OFCCP would assists contractors by showing them how to recruit qualified individuals by recommending different recruitment strategies, and encouraging them to expand their searches further than their usual employees pools contractors usually rely on for new hires.

“In theory, I think it’s a positive step forward as a way to get more people with disabilities into the workforce.”

The hopes of this new proposal are to continue and strengthen both the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The Americans with Disabilities Act told contractors to “merely have to show good faith efforts to comply…but without a particular goal in mind.” This new proposal will hold the contractors accountable through reports and accounting. This proposal comes after years of not seeing significant increases in the workforce of people with disabilities. The government estimates that the unemployment rate for working-age individuals with disabilities is 14.8 percent whereas the general unemployment rate is 9.4 percent, which is significantly lower for those without disabilities.

I graduated from college in 1994 when the Americans With Disabilities Act was still fresh in everyone’s minds. I had high hopes that this single act would level the employment fields and by the time I reached my early 40s, I’d be at least halfway up of the imaginary ladder reaching for the glass ceiling. I recently turned 41 and even though I see an occasional glimmer of hope, I have yet to make any headway at the doors of corporate America.

As a side note I have to say the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was wonderful in terms of Transportation and Communications, but in my humble opinion the ADA, in terms of employment, may have accidentally thrown a wrench in the hiring process. I think many employers were put off by the term “reasonable accommodations” when hiring people with disabilities and maybe shied away from hiring otherwise qualified individuals.

I am cautiously intrigued and optimistic about this new proposed rule. This morning I sent an email to the OFCCP asking for more information and offering my help in whatever positions they might need or have. In theory, I think it’s a positive step forward as a way to get more people with disabilities into the workforce. I’m a little leery whether employees will like being required to hire a certain number of minorities. I’m a true believer that in a perfect world, everyone, disabled or not, should be hired based solely on their qualifications. But since we do not live in the perfect world, I do hope this proposal is a positive step forward and I am anxious to see where it leads.

This article has been sponsored by:
Springboard Consulting

Claire Theriot Mestepey is a writer, teacher of disability etiquette, and motivational speaker.