Experiences of Blind and Low Vision Individuals at Different Stages of the Employment Cycle as These Relate to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act

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Project Overview

Since the enactment of Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the federal government has generally been regarded as a reliable employer for individuals with disabilities. Even so, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management has indicated the federal government in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 employed only 22,221 individuals with targeted disabilities including blind and visually impaired (BVI) individuals. The implementation of revised Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 503) regulations from the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) in 2014 had the potential to expand individuals with disabilities’ employment horizons outside of the federal government as federal contractors employ roughly one out of every four U.S. workers. Four years later, it is unclear what effect these alterations have had on federal contractors’ policies and procedures for specifically recruiting and retaining BVI individuals. Using statistical analysis of responses from employers and BVI individuals, this research will look to measure the progress that has been made to improve employment outcomes for the BVI community since the Section 503 regulations update. Results will inform HR professionals and policymakers on how to proceed in developing effective HR policies and procedures.

In FY 2015 the federal government employed approximately 264,844 individuals with disabilities. However, less than 9% are hired using special appointing authority for having a targeted disability such as blindness. Low turnover among federal employees, budget cuts, and a lengthy hiring process each possibly contribute to the lack of BVI employees in the federal government. Meanwhile, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), regarded as the hallmark legislation for advancing the rights of individuals with disabilities, has not moved the needle for disability employment outcomes since it was enacted. The individualized focus of Title I of the ADA has caused employers to deem employment discrimination litigation as just one of the many costs of doing business.

The OFCCP enacted new regulations pertaining to Section 503 in 2014 to confront the continued lack of employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities since the passage of the ADA. Section 503 not only prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating against individuals with disabilities, but also generally requires them to establish company-wide affirmative action programs to monitor the hiring and retention of individuals with disabilities. Nevertheless, prior to 2014, the standards used by OFCCP to measure the success of these efforts were vague. Three major changes to the Section 503 regulations were meant to provide OFCCP more discretion.

To advance this understudied area, we will examine the HR policies and procedures of federal contractors and subcontractors to diversify to meet the new utilization goals, the depth of their affirmative action programs, and the extent of their position description reviews. This will be accomplished by interviewing HR departments and individuals who are BVI and analyzing the data, qualititatively and statistically, to reach a conclusion regarding national trends in HR practices and policies as they relate to federal contractors and subcontractors. Results will inform HR practices by aiding to differentiate between those outreach and accommodation policies that are indeed effective for recruiting and retaining BVI individuals, and those that perpetuate a lack of professional opportunity for BVI individuals.


Team Members

Marco Tarantino, JD (Alumni)
NIB Policy and Employment Research Fellow Michael Stein, PhD, JD
Visiting Professor of Law

References & Publications

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. (1990). Pub. L. No. 101-336, 104 Stat. 328.

Rehabilitation Act of 1973. (1973). Pub. L. No. 93-112, 87 Stat. 355.

Rudstam, H., Golden, T.P., Gower, W.S., Switzer, E., Bruyere, S., Van Looy, S. (2014).  Leveraging New Rules to Advance New Opportunities: Implications of the Rehabilitation Act Section 503 New Rules for Employment Service Providers.  Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 41(3), 193-208.

Schall, C.M. (1998). The Americans with Disabilities Act – Are We Keeping Our Promise? An Analysis of the Effect of the ADA on the Employment of Persons with Disabilities. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 10(3), pp. 191-203.

Sherman, P. (2015). Dismantling Social Perceptions and Employment Barriers: Imposing Regulation on Federal Contractors – A Backdoor Approach to Changing America’s Hiring Practices for Individuals with Disabilities. Hofstra Labor & Employment Law Journal, 33, pp. 71-99.

U.S. Department of Labor/Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. (2014). Regulations Implementing 503 of the Rehabilitation Act.  Retrieved from https://www.dol.gov/ofccp/regs/compliance/section503.htm

U.S. Office of Personnel Manage/Office of Diversity & Inclusion. (2016). Report on the Employment of Individuals with Disabilities in the Federal Executive Branch: Fiscal year 2015. Washington, DC: Author.

Von Schrader, S., Xu, X., Bruyere, S.M. (2014). Accommodation Requests: Who is Asking for What? Rehabilitation Research, Policy, and Education, 28(4), pp. 329-344.