EEOC’s Jenny Yang aims to teach agencies the ABCs of hiring individuals with disabilities

Jenny Yang has been the EEOC's new chairwoman only for two months, but she's already outlined her overarching goal: to make it easier for agencies to hire emplo...

By Matt Wingfield
Federal News Radio

It’s been a busy two months on the job for Jenny Yang, the new chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), who wasted no time establishing three main goals for her time at the helm.

Jenny R. Yang, EEOC chairwoman
Specifically, Yang said she intends to focus on ensuring that qualified people are getting work, expanding the agency’s reach to cover more (and more diverse) populations, and creating more equal employment opportunities with the help of federal employers.

“I want to ensure people’s abilities are what we’re focusing on,” Yang said in a recent interview with Federal News Radio’s Emily Kopp.

To help reach that ideal, Yang said it’s important to better educate agencies on matters such as how to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. Specifically, Yang said, there are a number of misconceptions about the cost of such measures.

“The fact is that 80 percent of accommodations cost less than $1,000,” Yang said. “Fifty percent cost less than $500 and many cost nothing.”

Yang said the EEOC is working to share exisiting resources, such as the Deaprtment of Labor’s Job Accommodation Network, “to show employers that there are many ways to build inclusive workplaces.”

Another measure Yang said agencies can take is establishing actual hiring goals. “We’ve seen that what we measure is what happens,” she said. “Measuring things really helps to drive progress.”

It’s also important, Yang said, “to have a commitment from the top. You really need your highest levels talking about these issues.”

October was a busy month for the EEOC, according to Yang, as the agency celebrated National Disability Employment Awareness Month in several ways.

Yang said the agency started by hosting “a Twitter town hall” on Oct. 28 dealing with federal hiring of individuals with disabilities, which resulted in “a lot of active questions and answers on important issues.”

The agency also recently issued “The ABCs of Schedule A hiring,” Yang said, which outlines how individuals with disabilities can go about acquiring federal employment. Schedule A is a hiring authority that allows agencies to hire and/or to promote individuals with disabilities without competing the job.

“We really want to get [the ABCs] out to federal applicants around the country,” Yang said, “so they know about the opportunities in the federal government.”

The EEOC is also involved in the Curb Cuts to the Middle Class Initiative, which Yang said is designed to increase equal employment opportunites in federal agencies.

The Curb Initiative, in conjunction with Executive Order 13548, which calls for the government to hire 100,000 individuals with disabilities by July 2015, has spurred the agency to set about acquiring “good data on how we’re doing in hiring people with disabilities.”

Yang said the agency is measuring what kinds of disabilities applicants have, “so we know, as a baseline, how we’re doing on hiring compared to the applicant pool.”

According to a 2012 report from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), individuals with disabilities account for nearly 12 percent of the government’s workforce, Yang said, which is a higher percentage than at any other time in the last 30 years.

Though Yang acknowledged there are still many issues to address, including better educating employees within the EEOC itself, she said she was optimistic about the future.

“We certainly strive to be a model employer,” Yang said. “The Rehabilitation Act [of 1973] … requires that the federal government be a model employer, and we take that responsibility seriously.”

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