NCD Welcomes Efforts to Restore Section 503 as a Meaningful Requirement for Federal Contractors

August 29, 2013

WASHINGTON– The National Council on Disability – an independent federal agency that advises the President and Congress on policy matters affecting the lives of Americans with disabilities – welcomes the issuance of the final Section 503 rule by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance (OFCCP).

NCD applauds the leadership of Secretary Tom Perez, OFCCP Director Patricia Shiu, and other members of President Obama’s Administration in shepherding the rule through to its issuance after actively seeking and considering the views of diverse stakeholders, including those within the disability community. The rule is set to take effect 180 days after its publication in the Federal Register.

Under the new rule, which seeks to reaffirm and strengthen the long languishing affirmative action requirements established under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, federal contractors and subcontractors must set an aspirational goal of 7% representation of people with disabilities within each job group within its workforce or within its overall workforce. The 7% is to serve as a benchmark against which government contractors and subcontractors can measure their efforts at ensuring equal employment opportunities for people with disabilities within their workforce.

The rule details actions contractors must take in the areas of recruitment, policy dissemination, training, and record-keeping, bringing parity regarding the promotion of workplace equality on the basis of disability, as has long been the case for gender and race. NCD urges OFCCP to closely monitor the data monitoring and record keeping requirements in particular to improve employer accountability.

NCD agrees with the Administration that being a federal contractor is a privilege that comes with expectations to provide equal employment opportunities to all workers. Towards that end, NCD will work in support of making the Section 503 hiring benchmark a concrete goal that entities must either meet or exceed to be eligible for federal contracts.

“As we approach the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2015, we’re ever mindful of the unfinished business we have in the area of employment,” said Lynnae Ruttledge, Chair of NCD’s Employment Committee. “We’re thankful for the efforts of the Obama Administration to pursue policies that encourage forward momentum in improving the participation rate of people with disabilities in the nation’s workforce.”

As of July 2013, the unemployment rate of people with disabilities remains nearly twice that of those without disabilities (14.7 percent vs. 7.4 percent), and the labor participation rate remains unacceptably low, at 20.3 percent – less than one third the participation rate of those without disabilities.

NCD stands ready to offer its assistance in making Section 503 a functioning tool in providing people with disabilities real opportunities for competitive employment. NCD notes that there are some regulatory issues which will require working through, for example, ensuring that the new regulation does not perpetuate sheltered workshops which offer non-integrated and non-competitive employment. In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has issued proposed language for public comment regarding website accessibility and compatibility with assistive technologies. It is important that DOL regulations are not implemented inconsistent with the DOJ rulemaking process by suggesting to employers that they are not required to make their online applications fully accessible.

NCD reiterates its commendation of the Department of Labor’s leadership in finalizing and issuing this important regulation and looks forward to closely working with them to realize the promise of Section 503 for people with disabilities.

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