Federal Workforce:

Practices to Increase the Employment of Individuals with Disabilities

GAO-11-351T: Published: Feb 16, 2011. Publicly Released: Feb 16, 2011.

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This testimony discusses possible strategies for improving the rate of federal employment of individuals with disabilities. This testimony is based on our October 2010 report that discussed barriers to the employment of people with disabilities in the federal workforce and leading practices that could be used to overcome these barriers. To identify these barriers and leading practices, we solicited the views of a wide range of knowledgeable individuals through a survey and forum held at GAO on July 20, 2010. Participants in the forum concluded (1) Top leadership commitment is key to implementing and sustaining improvements in the employment of individuals with disabilities. (2) Accountability is critical to success. (3) Regularly surveying the workforce on disability issues provides agencies with important information on potential barriers. (4) Better coordination within and across agencies could improve employment outcomes for employees with disabilities. (5) Training for staff at all levels can disseminate leading practices throughout the agency. (6) Career development opportunities inclusive of people with disabilities can facilitate advancement and increase retention. (7) A flexible work environment can increase and enhance employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. (8) Centralizing funding within an agency can help ensure that reasonable accommodations are provided.

In brief, participants at the forum said that the most significant barrier keeping people with disabilities from the workplace is attitudinal. Attitudinal barriers can include bias against and low expectations for people with disabilities--a focus on disabilities rather than abilities. According to participants, there is a fundamental need to change the attitudes of hiring managers, supervisors, coworkers, and prospective employees, and that cultural change within agencies is critical to this effort. Participants also discussed other barriers, including physical barriers and lack of knowledge regarding policies and procedures. For example, some participants said that there could be an erroneous belief that reasonable accommodations cannot be easily provided. Participants acknowledged that there are many existing federal programs and policies to protect the employment rights of people with disabilities, but stated that efforts to protect these rights will only make piecemeal progress until agencies change their workplace cultures. Participants identified eight leading practices generated by the survey that agencies could implement to mitigate these barriers and help the federal government become a model employer for people with disabilities. Participants emphasized that these practices would not work in isolation but instead need to reinforce each other.

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