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Bringing employees with disabilities into the federal workforce is one thing, but getting them to stay remains a challenge.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in a recent report, found that agencies are meeting some narrower hiring targets, but falling short of hiring employees with a broad set of disabilities.
The EEOC report also found federal employees with disabilities were less likely to hold leadership positions at their agency, and more likely to leave government service, both on a voluntary and involuntary basis.
In fiscal 2018, EEOC found that about 2.36% of employees hired by federal agencies had a “targeted disability,” which exceeds an annual 2% target.
“Those are more serious disabilities that may cause people to have problems in obtaining employment,” EEOC research analyst Karen Brummond said in a recent interview.
Targeted disabilities include developmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy or autism spectrum disorder, traumatic brain injuries, deafness or serious difficulty hearing, blindness or serious difficulty, missing extremities, mobility impairments, paralysis, epilepsy, intellectual or psychiatric disabilities, dwarfism, and significant disfigurement.
For the same year, about 11.2% of the federal workforce more broadly said they had a disability, which falls below the 12% target for federal hiring.
The report found that federal employees with targeted disabilities involuntarily left government service at more than twice the rate of individuals without disabilities. Meanwhile, EEOC found that federal employees with any disability were 53% more likely to involuntarily leave the government, compared to individuals without disabilities.
Brummond said the data shows federal employees with disabilities also left the federal workforce at a higher rate through voluntary separations, including resignations and retirements.
“We’re definitely seeing a challenge there,” Brummond.
To reverse these trends, Brummond said agencies must ensure they’re providing a respectful workplace for employees with disabilities, and that employees with disabilities are getting the same opportunities as everyone else when it comes to promotions and pay.
Carlton Hadden, director of the EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations, said in a statement that the report’s findings show that individuals with disabilities remain an “underutilized and underappreciated segment of our population.”
“There’s something wrong with this picture when so many more people with disabilities leave the government than those without,” Hadden said. “Our government needs to be the best workplace it can be for everyone. Federal managers and policymakers need to take a good look at this situation and figure out ways to improve this picture.”
The report found that federal employees with disabilities were less likely than peers without disabilities to hold leadership positions. EEOC, however, found that employees with disabilities were promoted at a rate similar to what would be expected based on their governmentwide participation rate.
“If a person is hired into a General Schedule Grade 6 [position], it’s going to take them longer to get into a leadership position than if they’re hired at a GS Grade 11,” Brummond said.
The EEOC report underscores some challenges with the data available and notes that a large percentage of the federal workforce did not identify their disability status.
Brummond said that without this data, the federal workforce may not be providing a full picture of the challenges that employees with disabilities face.
“To make sure that they are getting full reporting of persons with disability and having them be willing to disclose, it’s important that agencies deliver the message that this information is confidential, will not be used to make employment decisions unless someone is specifically applying for a Schedule A special appointment,” Brummond said.
Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey data shows that federal employees with disabilities had a lower opinion of their agencies on questions related to performance appraisals, promotions, and employment discrimination .
Brummond said agencies should include disability and demographic questions as part of the exit interview process for departing employees.
“They should look into whether the persons who are exhibiting feel that they get the same opportunities and the same respect as others in their workplace, to make sure that they’re leaving on their own terms, as opposed to being feeling like they’re being forced out,” Brummond said.