By Steve Walker
When people think of diversity, they often think of demographic groups such as race or gender. However, diversity is a much broader and more inclusive concept that encompasses understanding and accepting the unique differences of every individual. While demographic groups such as race and gender are fundamental aspects of diversity, individuals with disabilities are sometimes overlooked. Individuals with disabilities cross all racial, ethnic, gender, educational, socioeconomic and organizational lines. Nationwide, nearly one in five people have a disability. Disabilities can be visible or hidden. According to the Council for Disability Awareness, at least one in four individuals entering the workforce today will become disabled before retirement.
As the nation’s largest employer, the federal government has a responsibility to lead by example and include individuals with disabilities in the workplace. The Department of State is committed to a diverse workforce in which all employees are valued team members and are able to contribute to achieving the mission of the Department. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterates the idea with the motto, “One team, one mission, one future.” In his 2018 NDEAM Proclamation, Pompeo said, “We recognize the creativity, innovation and skill that people with disabilities bring to our workforce, and we rededicate ourselves to creating economic opportunity for all.” The commitment to a diverse workforce includes active recruitment, retention strategies, promotion and transparent statistics on individuals with disabilities. Maintaining accurate data is critical considering the Department actively promotes the availability of disability statistics to advance educational, research and policy initiatives for improving employment opportunities. The Department uses three sources to measure workforce disability participation rates—self-identification, reasonable accommodation approvals and special hiring authorities.
1. Self-identification of disability in the Global Employment Management System (GEMS)
Some employees might be reluctant to report disability information, fearing it may affect their ability to successfully compete for jobs and promotions. It is important to understand that no adverse action will occur due to an employee’s decision to (or not to) self-identify as having a disability. Department employees are encouraged to review their GEMS profile to ensure accuracy. To view and update one’s disability information, employees should visit HR Online and click on GEMS self-service. In the new window that opens, click on the employee self-service tab and scroll down to personal information. Disability self-identification is an option within this section.
2. Reasonable accomodations approvals via HR/OAA/DRAD
The Disability and Reasonable Accommodations Division (DRAD) of the Bureau of Human Resources’ Office of Accessibility and Accommodations (HR/OAA) is the designated decision-maker on all requests for reasonable accommodation. Individuals who have been approved for reasonable accommodations are now included in workforce participation rates for people with disabilities.
3. Individuals hired via the Schedule A [5 C.F.R. 213.3102(u)] hiring authority and other hiring authorities that take disability into consideration
Schedule A is a special hiring authority that gives federal agencies a way to streamline the hiring process for qualified individuals with disabilities seeking civil service positions. In some instances, hiring officials may choose to select qualified candidates from a list of Schedule A applicants. Another example of exceptions is the disabled veterans hiring authority.
In January 2017, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission published a rule—applicable to federal agencies as of January 2018—requiring federal agencies to prioritize affirmative action in employment for individuals with disabilities (see 29 CFR 1614.203(d)). The regulation sets goals for federal agencies of 12 percent representation for individuals with disabilities and two percent for individuals with targeted disabilities. Targeted disabilities are a subset of the larger disability category, containing the most severe disabilities including serious difficulty seeing or hearing, paralysis, missing extremities, dwarfism, epilepsy, intellectual disabilities and psychiatric disabilities, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
As of December 2018, the Department reported total workforce statistics of the following:
12 percent of employees are individuals with disabilities. For the purposes of these calculations, an employee is anyone serving in a full-time permanent position, including career, non-career and limited non-career appointments.
1.6 percent of employees are individuals with targeted disabilities. The term targeted disability is defined at 29 C.F.R. 1614.203(a)(9), and a list of Targeted Disabilities or Serious Health Conditions is included on the OPM SF-256 (Self-Identification of a Disability) form.
The civil service workforce participation exceeds the goals. As of December 2018, the Department reported the following for civil service employees.
17.2 percent of civil service employees are individuals with disabilities.
2.6 percent of civil service employees are individuals with targeted disabilities.
We know that employees may choose not to self-identify or request a reasonable accommodation for many reasons; therefore, the actual percentage of Department employees with disabilities may be higher. If you are a Department employee and have a disability, we encourage you to self-identify via GEMS.
To support employees with disabilities, the Department created HR/OAA which provides centralized disability services and expertise to advance the Department’s mission worldwide. HR/OAA implements effective accommodation solutions, supports equal employment opportunities and promotes equal access to physical and digital environments. HR/OAA educates and supports employees and managers through a number of resources found internally on the Disability Dashboard.
Additionally, HR/OAA collaborates with the Bureau of Human Resources’ Office of Resource Management and Accountability (HR/RMA) to produce disability statistics. HR/RMA reports quarterly full-time, permanent employee rates by ethnicity, race, gender and disability for the services, bureaus, Foreign Service skills, civil service occupational categories and senior grades. HR/RMA’s reports can be found internally on the HR Portal.
The Department has made positive strides and a great deal of progress in promoting diversity across the workforce; however, more remains to be done. Creating an environment in which all employees have the opportunity to achieve their best work is ultimately the way the Department will deliver on its missions of advancing foreign policy and protecting and promoting American interests worldwide.
Steve Walker is a deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Human Resources.