bosmalogoThe following guest blog post is from Eric Ellet, Programs Outreach and Education Coordinator, Bosma Enterprises. View the original post on

On March 24, 2014 the revised Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act became effective for companies with US Government contracts worth at least $10,000. Now that’s the headline, but what does it mean? Section 503 requires companies to recruit, hire, promote and retain individuals with disabilities into their workforce to a level of 7 percent of all company employees. It further goes on to say that organizations with at least 100 employees need to reach that 7 percent within each job group.

Now that I have your attention, how do you get it done? The act requires contractors to take several steps, including recruiting individuals with disabilities into their workforce; furthermore, it points out that companies likely have individuals with disabilities in their workforce. The act also requires contractors to provide employees and applicants an opportunity to self-identify as an individual with a disability. In addition to self-identification, the act requires contractors to collect pertinent data and make that data available to the auditors from the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).

Taking the points one at a time, how do you hire people with disabilities? First, you have to look for them. Talent exists all around us but is often overlooked. Many times companies write job descriptions focused on experience and not potential. Often managers hire people like themselves rather than individuals who ensure a diverse workforce. Many supervisors are concerned that once they hire someone with a disability, they will never be able to fire them. These are valid fears, but unfounded.

However, before looking outside your organization for new talent, take a good look within. You likely have individuals within your company that have disabilities that you don’t know exist. Providing these employees a safe and accepting environment is essential to getting existing employees to self-report as a person with a disability. If for instance, every senior manager in your organization is an able-bodied man in his 40s, how many bright young women in their 20s who happen to have epilepsy are likely to self-report as an individual with a disability?

Now for a quick throwback to your favorite children’s show. “Can you name the different types of disabilities?”


Source: John Hopkins University – Student Disability Services

That’s right. There are many types of disabilities that most people never think about. There are many types of disabilities that are not outwardly visible and many individuals with disabilities are already in the workforce. However, in addition to getting existing employees to self-report, most companies with federal contracts have a need to expand their employee ranks with additional workers who happen to be disabled. So how can you accomplish that? Consider targeted recruiting.

Extending recruiting efforts into university disability services offices, Veterans Affairs hospital social workers and local nonprofits that support individuals with disabilities through employment services are wonderful first places to start your search for talented individuals who are disabled. Workers with disabilities provide diversity to your workforce in terms of background and talent, but are also excellent problem solvers. Stop and think about the challenges overcome by the individual just to get to work each day. What problems will they identify and overcome for your organization? For additional information, see Seeking problem solvers in your workplace? Employ individuals with disabilities at

After looking for talent inside your company, you then need to advertise job openings. However, often job descriptions are written with so much company and industry jargon that an individual outside the organization has no idea what the job really is.

Additionally, seeking individuals who will be the best fit six months into the job rather than day one is a great best practice. Often potential is overlooked in favor of experience when in fact experience often gets you someone with the same background and “groupthink” that keeps your organization right where it has been.

Additionally, many managers seek to hire individuals they connect with and who have similar backgrounds, personalities and goals as themselves. What does this bring to your organization? What opportunities have these managers missed? Hiring individuals who solve problems, bring new points of view to the table and round out the personalities and skills of existing teams members bring new ideas and outstanding diversity to organizations.

Think about the change in the workplace attitudes and environment if the staffing mix changed from ten, 20-year-old men to a blended team of two 20-year-old men where one happened to be in a wheelchair, two 30-year-old women who happened to be ethnic minorities, two 40-year-old men and two 40-year-old women where one happens to be blind and another had a medical disability, a 50-year old-man and a 60-year-old women where one happened to be a disabled veteran. What life experiences and different points of view might the team bring to discussions that were overlooked before? How would this workforce blend align with your blend of customers?

Lastly, often managers are afraid that once an employee with a disability is hired, they won’t be able to fire them. This is simply not true. Many states are “at-will employment” states. In these states, the employer and the employee are free to sever their relationship at any time for any reason. This freedom for both employers and employees does not change just because an individual happens to be disabled. In most employment situations, expectations need to be clearly established by the employer and training and recurring evaluation of performance to job expectations should be provided. In the case of an individual with a disability, reasonable accommodations of the role to allow performance by an individual with a disability should be in place, but it is up to the individual to perform their role in line with the expectations of the job. A best practice in many companies is to use a progressive disciplinary process to inform, educate, retrain, document and resolve work performance issues prior to dismissal, However, if work performance issues can’t be resolved, the individual’s work relationship should be severed. Individuals with disabilities should be treated the same as other employees in work settings, allowing for reasonable job accommodations, and the employer should not fear dismissing an individual simply because they happen to be disabled.

For complete information on Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, visit the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance website at

Share This