At WeCo we seek a wide variety of individuals representing all types of disabilities and computer expertise to work on our test teams and help us deliver the most comprehensive user experience testing results for our clients. WeCo trains people living with disabilities to work as Certified Test Consultants, not just to deliver these powerful testing services, but to help them develop as confident, effective professionals. That is why we would like to highlight the recent amendments to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, amendments that we hope will help–not just government agencies, but all employers–hire more individuals with disabilities and see for themselves what great assets such people can be for any organization.
Section 503 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of disability by Federal government contractors and subcontractors and requires that such contractors take affirmative action to employ and advance in those positions qualified individuals with disabilities. It was hoped such a provision would increase the employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Unfortunately, the unemployment rate of individuals with disabilities is still significantly higher than those who are not disabled.
According to government figures:
- Only 31.6% of working age people with disabilities participated in the workforce in 2012, compared with 76.5% of working age individuals without such disabilities.
- The unemployment rate for working age people with disabilities in 2012 was 15%, compared with an unemployment rate of 8% for working age individuals without disabilities.
- The median household income for “householders” with a disability in 2011, aged 18 to 64, was $25,420, compared with a median income of $59,411 for households with a householder who did not report a disability.
- The poverty rate for individuals with disabilities in 2011, age 18 to 64, was 28.8 percent, compared to 12.5 percent for individuals without a disability.
The amendments to Section 503 are meant to address these statistics by strengthening employers’ recruitment and hiring efforts of people with disabilities, as well as increasing accountability for meeting their Affirmative Action requirements.
Among the provisions of the revised Section 503 is a new 7% “utilization goal for individuals with disabilities.” The goal for federal contractors is to have 7% of positions of any job level filled by people with disabilities. This number is not a quota, nor a requirement subject to sanctions. Rather it is a tool intended to improve a company’s hiring practices, as are the other provisions of the revision. The requirement that contractors invite applicants to self-identify as disabled in the hiring process–and at regular intervals after they are hired–are meant to gauge the effectiveness of reaching out to and retaining such employees. Employers are not only held to greater levels of accountability, but they can also use such measurements to examine and improve their hiring efforts and provide more opportunities to people living with disabilities. 
We at WeCo are encouraged by the federal government’s continuing attempts to not only increase the employment opportunities of people with disabilities, but to have a measurable goal for their actual employment numbers. Given the chance, people living with disabilities often prove to be both highly motivated and highly dedicated employees. For them, successfully facing challenges is a day-to-day occurrence. By tapping into this underused resource, businesses and organizations can make use of that mindset to further their goals.
For more information on the Section 503 revision please visit the OFCCP’s Final Rule: Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act website.
For information and resources on employing people with disabilities please visit the Job Accommodation Network.
- U.S. Dept. of Labor – Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. 2013–09–18. The New Final Rule: Changes to Section 503 Regulations [webinar]. Accessed from http://www.dol.gov/ofccp/ ↩
- FACT SHEET: Final Rule on Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (PDF) ↩
- Final Rule: Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act ↩