On August 22nd, the Washington Times published an op-ed full of misinformation about Federal Schedule A hiring. How it got past fact checking by at the Times‘ editorial board is beyond me – and a number of people who actually study disability and/or employment policy. True, the Times is notoriously one of the more conservative newspapers in the beltway. But employment rather than welfare – the numerous programs of which many PwDs have to rely on due to un- and underemployment – has been a rallying cry for the right for ages. What gives?
Additionally, the article engages in rhetoric that is explicitly hostile to people with disabilities in general. While hostility against PwD is not unusual in our country, or abroad, as seen in the rise in disability motivated hate crimes in the UK, the comments made are beyond the pale. Schedule A is described as triggering “special privileges,” and people with psychiatric disabilities are described as “teetering on the edge of sanity.” Additionally, the author specifically lists Little People (“dwarves”) as being an example of an “unqualified” applicant who would get into federal appointment. Hostile language, discriminatory stereotypes, and flat-out misinformation are used to inflame negative sentiment, much in the way that other affirmative action programs have been attacked.
In response, groups ranging from the president’s National Council on Disability (NCD), to the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), to disability specific organizations like the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) have issued a number of statements highlighting the falsities and stereotypes that the article depends on. Additionally, some groups have issued FAQs in order to dispel assumptions that the editorial perpetuated.
Schedule A hiring, contrary to popular belief, didn’t start with Obama. It instead dates back to the 1970s, based in part on Section 503 of the Rehabilitation act of 1973, which outlaws employment discrimination based on disability and mandates that steps be taken towards affirmative action for people with disabilities. Numerous presidents have signed executive orders asking for improved steps to be taken to fulfill the federal government’s mandate to be a model employer, including Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. President Obama’s Executive Order 13548 is just one of many in a long line of steps to meet that mandate.
People with disabilities do have a couple of options when it comes to getting a job in the federal government. The first is, of course, to go through the competitive employment process without disclosing that you have a disability. Like any other potential employee, they would make an account on USAJobs.gov, including a resume, and apply for various positions. This can be a less than speedy process, though, and you are up against what can be a very large pool of applicants.
Schedule A mainly allows your resume to be seen in a smaller pool. Getting into the database for Schedule A isn’t as simple as putting your name in, though. You need, in addition to the typical job application stuff, documentation. What type? First, you need a letter signed by your health care professional saying that you have a “severe” disability, but it should not say what your disability is or anything about your medical history beyond that. The definition of severe is intentionally broad, so as to not exclude individuals with rarer conditions. Also, under current regulations, you need a noted from an Office of Vocational and Rehabilitation Services (OVR) or, in some cases, your doctor saying that you are “job ready.”
From the employer end, the system is pretty simple. You note that you have a job opening, and that you need a greater amount of diversity in your workplace. You open up the Schedule A Hiring Authority database, and see if there are any qualified candidates. You don’t get to see what the applicants under Schedule A’s specific disabilities are – you wouldn’t know a person’s IQ, sensory status (blind, deaf, etc), or other aspects of disability. You would instead see their resume, just like you would through the general hiring process. If you find someone in the database who is qualified, you would hire them for a trial period, after which, you would have the option to hire them for the position full time. If you don’t find any qualified positions, you would then, depending on what steps your department’s policies require, start looking in the USAJobs database.
Maybe you noted the trial period in the above description? If you are hired under Schedule A, you aren’t guaranteed to stay in the job permanently. The regulations require that you work it as though it is a temporary position throughout the trial period. At the end of that period, your employer can choose to let you go, or to upgrade you to a permanent position. And did I mention that this trial period lasts two years? Oh, and there is never any guarantee that you’ll even get a job through Schedule A. Additionally, there is a separate initiative for hiring veterans, disabled or not, within the federal government.
One more thing, and one that isn’t specifically Schedule A, but is conflated with it in the editorial. There is a form that, regardless of how you get hired, is given to you when you are hired into the federal government. Standard Form 256 is a document that allows you to identify if you have a disability, and if you have one of the ones listed on the form as especially likely to face job discrimination. It is filed anonymously, and is not attached to your job history or your name. It allows the federal government to keep track of the statistics on disability employment within the government without ever asking an employee to disclose their disability. While there are ways you can chose to disclose to your employer your disability and any accommodation needs you have, SF 256 is not it.
All the efforts listed above (and more) are done in an attempt to end discrimination on the basis of employment, as well as to lessen the dependence of people with disabilities on their families or on public programs. And it has had some impact. In fiscal year 2011, 14.7% of new hires into the federal government were people with disabilities. This is an increase over 10.3% in fiscal year 2010, which many attribute to the implementation of Obama’s executive order.
Unfortunately, this work is all an uphill battle against discrimination and a lack of opportunities that people with disabilities, like other marginalized populations, deal with in this country. While improvements are made, there is much more work that will need done to help bring parity in employment in our country. I hope that for all the intensity of this post, you learn something from it. I hope that it helps you fend off some of the misinformation out there at least, if not helps you or a loved one seek employment.