Federal contractors’ workforces must consist of 7 percent of people with disabilities when new Department of Labor rules take effect in March. This change could result in 600,000 workers with disabilities being hired within the first year.
“This rule provides aspirational metrics for hiring qualified people with disabilities — metrics that are similar to those that have long been used to promote equal opportunities for women and minorities,” says Patricia Shiu, director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.
The move by the DOL signals progress, but contractors won’t be sanctioned for non-compliance. If a contractor fails to meet the requirements, they must implement a corrective plan.
According to Barb Otto, the CEO of Health and Disability Advocates, 22 percent of Americans work under a federal contract. She sees people with disabilities as an untapped resource. “People with disabilities are uniquely skilled at looking at several different ways to tackle a task,” she says. “If you want someone who thinks outside the box then you should hire someone who lives outside the box.”
The change isn’t enforceable but Otto says the move is still historic. “For the first time, we’re requiring company’s affirmative action plans to include concrete strategies on how to diversify their recruitment pool to include workers with disabilities,” she says.