This year, the Office of Federal Contractor Compliance Programs (OFCCP) is increasing emphasis on compliance with Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act. As the first disability civil rights law in the United States, the Rehabilitation Act not only requires federal contractors and subcontractors to treat all qualified job applicants and workers equally and fairly, regardless of disability, but also requires them to take proactive steps to recruit, hire, retain, and advance qualified individuals with disabilities.
OFCCP has chosen to make Section 503 a focus of our enforcement due to the challenges individuals with disabilities face in both obtaining and keeping employment. At the same time that their unemployment rate is at the lowest level ever recorded, individuals with disabilities have a significantly lower labor participation rate and an unemployment rate persistently higher than the overall unemployment rate – which is now at a 50-year low. Individuals with disabilities also frequently receive lower pay and face difficulties in receiving reasonable accommodations to perform their jobs effectively. These statistics demonstrate the need to place a greater emphasis on disability inclusion in the workplace.
To that end, OFCCP has announced the commencement of Section 503 Focused Reviews, which I am intent on making a lasting priority of the agency. I am personally aware of the hardships that many individuals with disabilities endure on a daily basis. We must all do more to create a society that includes and accepts individuals with disabilities. For federal contractors, that starts with ensuring that all individuals who self-identify as disabled are afforded equal opportunities for employment and advancement in their career.
To assist contractors with the review process, OFCCP has launched a Section 503 Focused Review landing page that provides easy access to best practices, answers to frequently asked questions, sample disability and inclusion programs, and other resources. In the coming months, we plan to expand these resources with additional best practices and by highlighting members of the contracting community who excel in meeting their responsibilities under Section 503 and exemplify the spirit of disability inclusion.
Creating a workplace that is inclusive and welcoming to individuals with disabilities is not only good for workers but also smart for business. I look forward to working with the contracting community to achieve this goal.