The federal government needs to do a better job of ensuring that people with disabilities can contribute to their missions. The government should also revise its classifications of disabilities, and ensure that people on the autism spectrum are given fair opportunities for employment in the government.
Most federal agencies have virtually ignored the Schedule A hiring authority, a federal program used to “hire people who have a severe disadvantage in getting employment.” Schedule A was developed by the government to help reduce the more than 70% unemployment rate of people with disabilities. These are people who want to work and are more than capable of working. Several years after federal agencies were made aware of their lack of action on the Schedule A issue, there has been little if any action taken.
I submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to all federal agencies asking how many times the Schedule A was used to hire people with disabilities.
According to my survey at http://www.coachmike.net/special_report.php, most federal agencies underutilized the Schedule A program or did not use it at all. In almost all cases in which the hiring authority was used, hires of people with physical disabilities outnumbered those with cognitive and psychiatric disabilities by a very wide margin. Here are a few examples:
- HHS reported that it hired 213 people with disabilities through Schedule A from 2000 to 2008. 198 had physical disabilities; 15 had cognitive disabilities, and not one had a psychiatric disability.
- The Department of the Interior, which has 75,000 employees, used the Schedule A to hire exactly three people with disabilities.
- From 2003 to 2008 the Department of Commerce hired 36 employees with disabilities under Schedule A. All were in the physical category except for one in the psychiatric category (none were hired with cognitive disabilities). Commerce has 36,000 employees.
The government needs to be proactive in hiring people with disabilities, including those with developmental disabilities. In the hundreds of pages of responses I received from government agencies, not once was there a mention of someone hired who had autism.
In the descriptions of disabilities listed by agencies in their responses, the term “autism” never came up, though many agencies did not go into detail.
The classification of disabilities under Schedule A excludes most people on the autism spectrum. The government lists people with disabilities in three categories. The first, “severe physical disability,” would only sometimes apply to a person with autism.
The second category, “mental retardation,” may apply to a percentage of people on the spectrum, but it is now believed by many experts that far fewer people with autism than previously believed have mental retardation. By the way, this term still used by the government is being phased out in favor of “intellectual disability” or “cognitive disability.”
Finally, the third category, “psychiatric disability” does not cover all those with autism, which should be classified as a “developmental disability,” a term that would be much more accurate and inclusive.
The government should ensure that people with autism and other disabilities are adequately represented in federal agencies.
Please spend one minute of your time and go to www.coachmike.net, click on the special report, and look for yourselves.
You may say that it costs too much to include people with disabilities in the workforce. But in fact, it costs too much not to do it.