Election season equals employment opportunities for the disability community

Posted by Michael Collins in Life After Paralysis on September 20, 2016 # Health, Advocacy and Policy

In the midst of the turmoil, drama and animosity of the current Presidential election, it may be hard for some to believe that this is actually a time of opportunity for people with disabilities who want to be employed. After the elections are concluded, no matter who wins, there will be thousands of full or part-time positions opening up in state capitals and regional offices around the country, and in Washington, DC. This represents a great opportunity to consider a new career.

Shortly after the elections, the next president and any newly elected governors will begin the changeover by appointing those who will be in charge of agencies or departments. Subsequently, their leadership teams will also be changed to bring new perspectives and energies to their administrations. Many of those new employees will be hired as appointees, as contrasted with career employees who must compete for their jobs and also have long-term retention rights.

Transition teams are already at work interviewing current appointed employees to determine if they should be allowed to maintain their jobs after November, as some will. The transition team members are also reviewing resumes and applications submitted by candidates who want to be considered for appointive positions.

People with disabilities have long had an advantage when it comes to Federal employment thanks to the Schedule A appointment process. This unique program allows qualified applicants who are disabled to be appointed to positions that others need to compete for; the process opens the door to the benefits of federal employment including healthcare, competitive pay, supplementary retirement programs and generous leave policies. Many states have similar policies in place, which can be determined by reviewing their human resource agency websites.

 Taylor Price, at work at his desk at the Department of Homeland Security.As in the private sector, the level of employment of people with disabilities in government has never matched the corresponding percentage of people with disabilities in the population. In 2010, President Obama followed President Clinton's example by issuing an Executive Order meant to change that by requiring the Federal government to hire an additional 100,000 people with disabilities over the following five years. The result is that applicants with disabilities are actually being recruited for government employment, as the effort to hire additional qualified people with disabilities continues today.

Why is working for the government different than working for any other employer? One difference could be that it is not necessary to wage a battle in order to get necessary access to the workplace or the most effective tools needed to perform a job. Government agencies are skilled at determining and providing the reasonable accommodations needed by employees with all types of disabilities in order to perform their jobs, and they also expend much effort in the area of recruitment.

At the Federal level, many agencies have Selective Placement Program Coordinators who help to recruit and hire people with disabilities as well as provide necessary accommodations. The Workforce Recruitment Program operated by the Departments of Labor and Defense coordinates recruiter visits to over 200 colleges and universities nationwide, seeking students and recent graduates who are disabled, to work for the Federal government.

It is understood that not everyone wants to relocate in order to become employed. While working in Washington, DC or a state capitol is sometimes exciting, it can also be hectic and expensive. Fortunately there are thousands of government field offices scattered throughout the country that offer the same benefits of employment as available to employees who are assigned to agency headquarters locations.

Opportunities are also available for those who voluntarily choose to protect their vital benefits by assuring that they do not exceed SSA or state income or assets limits, which are set too low. While there are several work incentive programs that can help bridge that divide, there is value in being able to contribute knowledge and skills by working, even on a part-time basis.

A part-time opportunity that is sometimes overlooked is appointment to one of hundreds of boards, councils and commissions in order to influence public policy at the federal or state level. Some of those bodies are advisory in nature, requiring input from the public and stakeholders. Others are regulatory as they help provide direction and oversight of government programs or agencies.

Appointment as a member of a board usually results in payment of no more than a modest stipend for participating in meetings and coverage of whatever expenses are required to travel from home to those meetings. Those payments do not count as income but are simply reimbursement for travel and lodging expenses; they can even cover personal assistance services if necessary to have someone travel with you due to the nature of a disability.

If influencing public policy or being responsible for the direction of government programs or departments is of interest, opportunities at the Federal level range from the Administration on Community Living to the Department of Transportation. Appointees usually serve for a limited term, and all applicants need to undergo a background check before being considered for appointment. Some board appointments are the responsibility of the president, governors, and members of Congress or state legislatures and can require Senate confirmation.

Board appointments can also be a great stepping stone towards fulltime employment if desired. My own career in public service started as a volunteer appointee by the governor to a couple of state disability-related committees, and then progressed into supervisory roles with state agencies in two states before retiring as executive director of the National Council on Disability.

During my career I was fortunate to work closely with appointive council members in Washington State, California and Washington, DC. The majority of those members received no pay, or only a small stipend for meeting time, but had their expenses related to agency activities reimbursed. In some cases if they could not, or preferred not to travel they were allowed to participate in meetings via teleconference.

Today is a great time to begin preparing to seek out one of those new positions, as the first few hectic months after the preferred candidates take office will benefit those who are most prepared to apply for whatever positions become available. October is National Disability Employment Awareness month in the United States, so starting now by updating resumes and submitting applications would be a great way to prepare to celebrate that month.

We make many important decisions in our lives, but one of the most important ones we make revolves around the world of work. From the time we enter the educational system as children, we are groomed and educated to become employable; the mere fact of having a disability should not be the determining factor in whether or not we are allowed to achieve the same goals as the rest of our peers.

Photo: Taylor Price, at work at the Department of Homeland Security.

© 2016 Michael Collins