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The President's New Freedom Initiative: The 2007 Progress Report


Integrating Americans with Disabilities into the Workforce

Because the unemployment rate among people with disabilities remains stubbornly high, the President and his Administration continue to work actively to establish and implement comprehensive approaches to enable persons with disabilities to enter or re-enter the workforce.  The Administration has enhanced its own employment practices while providing support for employment solutions derived from the private and nonprofit sectors.

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Addressing Causes for High Unemployment among People with Disabilities


  • Under the President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, the Department of Labor has assembled a working group to address the employment of those with psychiatric disabilities.  In addition, it initiated a collaborative effort with the other departments to assist ex-offenders with psychiatric disabilities to reintegrate themselves into society and the workforce.
  • The Department of Labor has launched an initiative to assist individuals with disabilities as they transition from segregated environments into the community, including the workforce. 
  • The Department of Labor and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have joined forces to support employment of homeless individuals with disabilities.  Through a series of grants totaling $13.5 million, this nation’s Workforce Investment System is being used to reach and serve these individuals.
  • The National Science Foundation’s Research in Disabilities Education Program provides over $5.3 million dollars per year in grants to institutions across the nation working to prepare people with disabilities for sustainable employment in the science and engineering workforce. 

Next Steps:

  • The Department of Labor will:
    • Provide on- and off-site training and technical assistance to the State Mental Health Transformation Grants Collaborating Councils for increasing employment.
    • Extract policy-related information from the Transformation States activities and other national workforce investment efforts, and develop a policy handbook to focus on employment of people with mental health disabilities.

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Removing the Physical, Programmatic, and Attitudinal Barriers to Employment

Recognizing that most of the barriers to employment of people with disabilities are physical, programmatic, or attitudinal, the Administration has focused on overcoming those barriers by appropriate educational and enforcement efforts.  These efforts to assist public and private employers and individuals are paying off, and more people with disabilities are able to enter the workforce every day.


  • The Department of Labor created the Workforce Excellence Initiative to raise awareness among employers that hiring people with disabilities is good for business. 

  • The Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Commerce has generated a disability newsletter that is distributed via e-mail to interested employees and managers on pertinent issues related to employment of persons with disabilities.  

  • The Department of Justice has worked in partnership with SSA to distribute tax incentive and other information to 7 million businesses to facilitate greater compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act through its ADA Business Connection program, and has produced technical assistance material of use to businesses. 

  • The EEOC has conducted free workshops tailored to small businesses, reached out to the private sector at business-focused events, and has published new technical assistance documents discussing reasonable accommodations in the restaurant industry and legal profession.

  • By revising Schedule A hiring authority, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has facilitated a greater influx of qualified people with disabilities into federal employment ranks. 

  • GSA recently adopted the new Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Standard to achieve the highest possible level of access to public buildings.

  • EEOC has released its compilation of best state government practices promoting employment of people with disabilities and launched Leadership for the Employment of Americans with Disabilities (LEAD) to identify practical ways for increasing the number of individuals with disabilities employed by the federal government. 

  • The Department of the Interior has established the Disability Rights Coordinating Committee, which is comprised of representatives of every Departmental unit and addresses disability-related concerns both for its employees and members of the public. 

  • The Department of Education convened a National Employment Conference in 2006 to highlight effective practices for state vocational rehabilitation professionals as they work with private businesses. 

  • The Department of Homeland Security has worked to hire more individuals with disabilities by training thousands of hiring managers and establishing the Disability Employment and Awareness Council.  The Council is comprised of Disability Program Managers and Selective Placement Program Coordinators from each DHS component. 

  • The Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency established a Disability Coordinator who will be responsible for providing guidance and coordination on emergency planning requirements and relief efforts for individuals with disabilities.

  • The Department of Homeland Security trains managers and employees using the award-winning Windmills attitudinal training program.  This unique training program is comprised of a series of workshops and modules designed to increase awareness of the role that attitudes may play in the employment of people with disabilities.

  • The Department of Transportation has trained senior executives on effective recruitment and hiring strategies, built a curriculum for hiring supervisors, actively recruited people with disabilities at gatherings of consumer groups, distributed vacancy announcements to disability organizations, reached out to and hired disabled veterans, and made its facilities physically accessible.

  • The Department of Veterans Affairs Employee Education System/VA Learning University has procedures in place to ensure that individuals with disabilities are not excluded, denied services, or segregated from educational events due to the absence of auxiliary aids and services.

  • The Department of Veterans Affairs provided early intervention and outreach to 460 wounded or injured service members at eight Military Treatment Facilities since January 2006 under the Secretary’s Coming Home to Work Initiative. 

  • The Department of Veterans Affairs initiated a new Faith-Based and Community Initiative (FBCI) that has facilitated outreach to community faith-based and non-profit agencies or organizations that  identified 518 successful job placements of disabled veterans since the outreach began in 2006.

  • The Department of Defense and the Department of Labor have created the REALifelines Program for disabled veterans, which provides career counseling and advocacy services to assist reentry into the workforce
  • The Department of Homeland Security has reached out to disabled veterans through collaboration with local Veterans Affairs offices, vocational rehabilitation centers, military installations, and veterans organizations to recruit qualified job candidates.
  • The Department of Homeland Security Headquarters sponsored an open house in 2006, in partnership with the DoD Military Severely Injured Center, to provide veterans and students with disabilities with an opportunity to meet managers and supervisors from organizations within Headquarters, and to obtain information about career opportunities.
  • The Department of Homeland Security, notably through its Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), continues to hire disabled veterans at significant levels.  Within the first eight months of FY 2007, CIS hired 28 disabled veterans, or 14 % of new permanent hires.
  • The Department of Homeland Security was among the first federal agencies invited to participate in a pilot program that launched Operation Warfighter (OWF), a DOD program that offers temporary assignments within federal agencies to newly disabled veterans while they undergo medical and rehabilitative treatment. 
  • The Department of Defense provides assistive technology to disabled veterans returning from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
  • The NCD hosted an event to provide disabled veterans with an opportunity to give their perspectives on program and service delivery.
  • The Department of Education launched a partnership with Treasury to help families build assets, provide assistance to entrepreneurs with disabilities, and facilitate employment of members of the disability community in small businesses. 
  • The USDA continues to support thousands of farmers with disabilities through its “AgrAbility” Program. 
  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has published six question-and-answer documents on how Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to people with specific types of disabilities.
  • Office of Personnel Management is promoting employment opportunities for people with disabilities through its Career Patterns Initiative.

Next Steps:

  • OPM will:
    • Establish a strategic partnership to take advantage of the Ticket to Work program at SSA, address the Schedule A excepted service hiring authority, and increase Federal employment of SSA benefit recipients with disabilities.
    • Utilize its existing employment website, USAJOBS, to link applicants with disabilities to information that will assist them in the federal hiring process.
    • Continue to disseminate information about disability employment issues through seminars and training.
    • Address disability employment issues as part of the broader Federal Human Capital initiative to expand and build a talented and diverse workforce.
    • Continue to emphasize the Career Patterns Initiative’s applicability to people with disabilities.
    • Expand the information and supports to Selective Placement Program Managers through the OPM Federal employment of people with disabilities website.
    • Conduct information sessions with agencies, Human Capital Officers, and Selective Placement Program Managers to disseminate information about hiring flexibilities, how to implement greater use of Schedule A, and other employment concerns.

  • SBA’s Office of Entrepreneurial Development will continue to refine its database as part of ongoing improvements in its EDMISII data collection system.
  • The Department of Education will:
    • Strengthen its relationship with employers through the Rehabilitation Service Administration’s (RSA’s) partnership with the U.S. Business Leadership Network and other business associations. 
    • Produce a film that will demonstrate the value of people with disabilities to the economy with the support of America's Strength, a non-profit organization dedicated to changing the attitudes of employers and the public about people with disabilities.

  • The Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy will:
    • Continue to produce quantifiable findings related to employer perspectives on people with disabilities and address employer concerns about healthcare costs, absenteeism, and productivity.
    • Continue gathering data on what employers report to be the direct and indirect costs and benefits of providing reasonable accommodations to applicants and employees with disabilities.

  • The Department of Justice will expand the ADA Business Connection and develop new fact sheets, entitled “Expanding Your Market,” that address issues related to the large market of people with disabilities.
  • The Department of Justice will create the “ADA Business Connection Information Exchange Toolkit,” a collection of material about the ADA that will enable business organizations, disability organizations, and others to hold their own Business Connection meetings locally. 
  • The Department of Labor, through its Veterans Employment and Training Services (VETS) and the Office of Disability Employment Policy will work to assist states and localities to respond to the needs of returning service members who are newly disabled. 
  • EEOC will continue to publish user-friendly documents on the ADA for employers and individuals with disabilities.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services will continue to educate Departmental human resource personnel and managers on employing persons with disabilities and addressing accessibility challenges.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services is developing a civil rights technical assistance tool for all State TANF agencies, assisting them in implementing their programs in accordance with Federal law as it relates to people with disabilities.
  • The Department of Homeland Security will increase permanent employment, retention, and development of individuals with disabilities within its staff.
  • The Department of Labor will continue to partner with and engage members of the Secretary of Labor’s New Freedom Initiative Award Circle of Champions business group and, on the international stage, will meet with European leaders in 2008 in Brussels to advance employment policies for people with disabilities.

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Improving the Service Delivery Infrastructure to Support Persons with Disabilities

The Administration has led in streamlining program operations and enhancing inclusion of individuals with disabilities seeking employment.  The three most wide-reaching government agencies providing direct service are the One-Stop Career System in the Department of Labor, the Rehabilitation Services Administration in the Department of Education, and the Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled.  These programs pave the way for employment opportunities of hundreds of thousands of individuals with all types of disabilities, and have worked to optimize service delivery.  Over the past two years, significant reforms have been underway to increase quality and quantity of service delivery within these departments and agencies.


  • The Department of Labor has:
    • Awarded a total of $65 million to 113 work incentive grantees within the workforce investment system from October 2000 through June 2006.   
    • Partnered with SSA to provide approximately $22 million annually to support a Disability Program Navigator Initiative in 31 states.
    • Implemented a customized employment initiative designed to build capacity within the workforce investment system and to integrate customized employment and universal design features within the system.
  • The Department of Education has successfully reorganized its Rehabilitation Services Administration, providing tailored service to individual state vocational rehabilitation agencies.
  • AbilityOne conducted its first strategic plan to modernize its operations and fulfill the vision of every Program employee earning at least the minimum wage, receiving a comprehensive benefits package, having the opportunity for upward advancement, and being placed in competitive employment.

Next Steps:

  • The Department of Labor will use existing benchmarks to support necessary improvements to One-Stop Career Centers in order to improve physical and programmatic accessibility.
  • The Department of Labor will continue analysis of the rich data sources resulting from grant activities to produce a comprehensive report of findings and develop government-wide policy recommendations for employment of people with disabilities.
  • The Committee for Purchase will continue to implement and update its strategic plan in order to pursue its vision for employment and will continue to work with NIB and NISH in the development of business lines that create new high-level employment opportunities and management-level jobs for people who are blind or who have other disabilities. 
  • In 2007, NCD will undertake a comprehensive assessment of the implementation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

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Eliminating Work Disincentives

In addition to the skills that qualify individuals with disabilities for specific jobs, removal of employment-related barriers is vital.  Examples of work disincentives include an absence of accessible or reliable transportation to and from work, fear of loss of government benefits (especially medical benefits to address disability-related needs), and physical inaccessibility of various places of work.  As a creative way to confront these concerns, the President and the Administration have put into place an array of supports.


  • SSA has continued its successful implementation of the Ticket to Work Program by enrolling 1,377 Employment Networks into the program and increased marketing and outreach.  
  • SSA has refined its Work Incentives Planning and Assistance program to place more emphasis on maximizing self-sufficiency and is working in partnership with the Department of Education and the Department of Labor to improve the workforce investment system.
  • The Department of Labor:
    • Funded three multi-year telework research projects to explore the full dimension of telework as a viable and sustainable employment option.
    • Provided job accommodation information to public employers, corporations, small businesses, nonprofit organizations, and individuals with disabilities.

  • The Department of Health and Human Services  provided support for the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Act through:
    • Medicaid Infrastructure Grants, which provided over $125 million in grants to 47 States and the District of Columbia
    • Demonstration to Maintain Independence and Employment (DMIE) Grants that has committed to providing over $152 million to assist States in providing health care and other services early in the progression of a disease.
  • NCD is conducting a series of studies aimed at improving work incentives for people with disabilities and is taking into account the perspectives, policies, and programs of public and private employers, as well as incentives to persons with disabilities as they consider available employment options.

Next Steps:

  • SSA will release regulatory guidance on the Ticket to Work program, clarifying and simplifying eligibility and application procedures.
  • The Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy will continue to enhance the effectiveness and reach of services while reducing costs through use of its Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR).
  • NCD will analyze existing public policies that impact the employment of people with disabilities.

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Expanding the Pipeline of Prospective Employers and Business Contractors

The federal government has provided job opportunities to people with disabilities on a short-term and long-term basis.  In addition, the Administration has actively supported efforts to contract with small business owners with service-connected disabilities.


  • Jobseekers with disabilities gain long term employment through a series of successfully-administered programs:
    • The Department of Education sends hundreds of thousands of qualified individuals with disabilities into the workforce to fill jobs in employment – 205,791 in 2006 alone.  Out of these, 96.0% were earning at or above minimum wage in an integrated setting (an increase over the 85.4% figure in 2000). 
    • The Department of Veterans Affairs has hired thousands of people with disabilities and has enabled them to staff its operations at every level of leadership, totaling more than 8% of its workforce.
    • The Department of Labor continues to build its Employer Assistance and Recruiting Network (EARN), its Training and Technical Assistance for Providers (T-TAP) program, and its efforts to promote employment. 
    • The Department of Homeland Security has dramatically increased the number of full-time employees with disabilities hired into its ranks, making up 5.90% of its Headquarters component, comprising 9.09% of Headquarters senior executives and increasing the number of people with disabilities at Headquarters by 256% between February 2004 and October 2006. 

  • GSA continues to advance its commitment to strengthening contracting opportunities with service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses by establishing set-aside contracting opportunities. 
  • The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness has encouraged more than 115 cities to date to adopt the innovation of Project Homeless Connect, a one-day, one-stop, results-oriented and consumer-centric engagement strategy to end homelessness.

Next Steps:

  • The Department of Labor, through the Office of Disability Employment Policy, will enhance the effectiveness of the EARN program by leveraging the project’s demand-side connections, exploring partnerships with key veterans agencies, and formulating alternative approaches for reaching a broader range of job candidates.  

  • The Department of Labor will develop policy recommendations based on the success of its customized employment initiative and work with other federal agencies on their implementation.

  • The Department of Transportation, through the Federal Railroad Administration, will continue to participate in the Microsoft Foundation/AAPD Federal Information Technology Summer Internship Program, the Minority-Serving Institutions Program, and the Workforce Recruitment Program for College Students with Disabilities.
  • The Department of Homeland Security developed a web-based Disability training program to educate DHS managers and supervisors nationwide on recruiting, interviewing, hiring, accommodating and retaining people with disabilities.  The course also provides managers with important information on emergency preparedness for individuals with disabilities, and contains a glossary and resource section.  
  • The Department of Education, through the Rehabilitation Services Administration, will continue to align its vocational rehabilitation and
    independent living state plan process with its monitoring and review process and continue to focus on program improvement.
  • The Committee for Purchase, an independent Federal agency, and its two Central Nonprofit Agencies will promote telecommuting.  For instance, NISH is allocating funds for grants to AbilityOne participating nonprofits that obtain federal telecommuting contracts and request assistance for training and related start-up needs. 

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