President Issues Executive Order to Increase Federal Employment of Individuals with Disabilities


July 27, 2010

Despite a strong economy, the passage of landmark legislation, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), government tax incentives, and a record low unemployment in the 1990s, the employment rate of individuals with disabilities actually decreased. Now, with unemployment looking to be a continuing issue for the American worker, individuals with disabilities may find it even more difficult to obtain employment.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 54 million Americans—or approximately one out of five—have some kind of disability and 26 million of those individuals—or approximately one out of 10—have a severe disability. In the prime employable years of 21 to 64, 82% of Americans without a disability have a job or business compared with 77% of those with a non-severe disability and 26% of those with a severe disability.

To address the issue, July 26, 2010, President Obama addressed a ceremony honoring the 20th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, calling it “one of the most comprehensive civil rights bills in the history of this country.”

“Not dependence, but independence,” Obama said. He then signed an Executive Order intended to establish the Federal Government as a model employer of individuals with disabilities. The order directs several federal agencies to design model recruitment and hiring strategies for agencies seeking to increase their employment of people with disabilities, as well as mandatory training programs for both human resources personnel and hiring managers on the employment of individuals with disabilities.

The White House described the new order as a means of fulfilling a “… pledge by the President to have the federal government be a model employer of people with disabilities.  … and establishes mechanisms such as mandatory training for hiring managers, requires preparing of strategic plans by agencies to be approved by OPM and OMB, requires OPM to develop model guidelines and assistance for hiring people with disabilities, reporting to the President about progress, and publicizing results on a website as a way to promote transparency.”

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which establishes the federal minimum wage and overtime pay requirements, contains a provision allowing for the employment of individuals with disabilities at special minimum wages (SMW).

A SMW is a commensurate wage paid a worker with a disability that is commensurate with that worker’s individual productivity as compared to the wage and productivity of experienced workers who do not have disabilities performing essentially the same type, quality, and quantity of work in the vicinity where the worker with a disability is employed. Payment at SMWs is only permitted under certificates issued by the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the DOLs Employment Standards Administration.

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments, employment agencies, and labor organizations from discriminating in employment against qualified individuals with disabilities.

Title II of the ADA prohibits state and local governments from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in programs, activities, and services. As a matter of practice, each agency requires federal contractors to comply with these provisions in all qualified contracts.

ADA is primarily enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an independent federal agency.

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