State as Model Employer Policies


Introduction to State as Model Employer for People with Disabilities Policy

Employee filing paperworkEmployment serves two primary functions for individuals and families: It provides a livelihood and increases social engagement.

People with disabilities experience significantly lower rates of employment than individuals without disabilities and consequently experience higher rates of poverty. As state legislators look to support people with disabilities in their efforts to secure employment, this report highlights numerous strategies related to states themselves becoming model employers for people with disabilities, an umbrella term also known as “SAME” policy. The information outlined builds upon earlier research presented in the National Governors Association (NGA) 2013 blueprint for governors report “A Better Bottom Line: Employing People With Disabilities” and the Employer Assistance and Resource Network for Disability Inclusion (EARN) 2013 report “States as Model Employers of People with Disabilities: A Comprehensive Review of Policies, Practices, and Strategies.”

Recent data from the 2010 U.S. Census indicates that nearly 1-in-5 Americans has a disability. According to data published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 28.3 percent of noninstitutionalized working-age (16-64) Americans with disabilities were employed in May 2016. For comparison, this was less than half the May 2106 employment rate of 72.9 percent for noninstitutionalized working-age Americans without disabilities. Unfortunately, the employment gap for people with disabilities has remained relatively stable over the last 35 years, meaning that even after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, employment rates for individuals with disabilities have not caught up to those for people without disabilities.

Consequently, people with disabilities continue to experience economic insecurity in substantial numbers. The 2013 American Community Survey (ACS) indicates that 28.2 percent of non-institutionalized people with disabilities aged 21-64 fall below the poverty line, compared to 12.5 percent of their peers without disabilities. In fact, the poverty rate for individuals with disabilities is higher than any other demographic category. In 2013, non-institutionalized people with disabilities aged 21-64 had average annual earnings of $38,300, earning on average $5,000 dollars less per year than their peers without disabilities.

Rationale for State as Model Employer (SAME) Policy

As noted in the NGA report, one estimate projects the percent of the U.S. population with a disability to double in the next two decades. Coupled with an aging population, this means that state governments will need to attend to a rapidly changing workforce to identify and attract skilled state employees. Individuals with disabilities represent an underrepresented and largely untapped segment of the labor pool for consideration in state government employment.

As states engage in policy efforts to increase disability inclusion and access in state agencies and encourage and recruit people with disabilities into state employment, SAME policies have the added benefit of demonstrating to private sector employers the viability and effectiveness of employing people with disabilities.  According to the NGA report, businesses express a desire to first observe states demonstrate successful targeted employment practices for people with disabilities. States that adopt SAME strategies position themselves to set an example for industries and small businesses, sharing best practices and helping allay fears that employing people with disabilities is a risky business decision.

In many ways, state and local governments may be better positioned than private employers to recruit, employ and advance individuals with disabilities. In the 25 years since the passage of the ADA, many state and local governments have made significant progress in removing physical building barriers and investing in accommodations, including technology, to create a more inclusive and accessible workplace. When including state higher education systems, state and local governments represent a major employment sector. Continued efforts to create a more disability-inclusive workplace are in line with ongoing public and private sector efforts to recruit and retain a skilled, diverse workforce.

State Legislatures Can Play a Key Role in SAME Policy Implementation

As a representative lawmaking body, state legislatures occupy a critical space in the policymaking sphere as it relates to SAME initiatives. They are positioned to perform dual roles, listening to and acting in the interests of their constituents with disabilities while also providing ongoing oversight of SAME policy components in executive agencies.

State lawmakers can convene key stakeholders to discuss current and future SAME policy implementation, giving special attention to the voices of individuals with disabilities. Successful implementation of SAME policies often involves ensuring regular input from individuals with disabilities, disability advocacy groups and service agencies. Including representatives from the disability community in task forces, committees and advisory groups can play a major role in successful implementation of SAME initiatives. State legislators can also build representation of individuals with disabilities into statutory design of state SAME policies components, as is the case in Oklahoma, where accessible technology is regularly evaluated by actual users with disabilities alongside state agency employees.

Many state legislatures also play a major role in oversight of SAME policies and programs. The following pages provide examples of data collection, evaluation and reporting requirements related to SAME initiatives, allowing state legislatures to make informed decisions regarding funding and implementation considerations.

State Initiatives Supporting State as Model Employer 

The following five topic areas and sub-areas identify strategies for implementing SAME policies at the state level, either through executive order or legislative action. As demonstrated by current SAME efforts, a state legislature may choose to focus on one topic area for policy development or may select a multi-pronged approach spanning two or more. The decision-making process related to how to best approach SAME policy efforts can be supported by soliciting input from state agency representatives (especially from departments of vocational rehabilitation, labor and/or employment, human resources, and health and human services); service providers working with individuals with disabilities; disability advocates; and constituents with disabilities. 

The following state-by-state summaries represent existing SAME policy options for state legislatures’ consideration.

  • Task Force, Advisory Group and Agency Collaboration Policies
  • Targeted Hiring Efforts in State Human Resources Management 
  • Encouraging Inclusive Workplaces 
  • Data Collection, Evaluation, Accountability and Oversight 
  • Education and Workforce Development

Task Force, Advisory Group and Agency Collaboration Policies

Directives for State Agency Goals and Collaboration

Governors in states including AlaskaKansasMaineMassachusettsNew Mexico and Virginia have used executive orders or executive branch initiatives to increase state government hiring of employees with disabilities. These mandates may serve to set specific, measurable, statewide goals for the hiring of employees with disabilities, require state agencies to study state government employment patterns for people with disabilities, encourage collaboration across state agencies and provide policy recommendations to meet those goals. Such directives may also include task forces, committees and other advisory bodies that may be tasked with implementing and monitoring the overall state directive.

Similarly, state legislatures in CaliforniaColoradoIllinoisMaineMinnesotaWashington, and the territory of Guam have mandated State as Model Employer initiatives to increase the hiring of persons with disabilities in state government. As with executive orders, these legislative mandates may include an examination of current state government hiring patterns and practices; set cross-agency, measurable goals for hiring; require collaboration; and make specific recommendations for the implementation of the state initiative. California, Maine and Utah have utilized both executive orders and state legislation to develop such directives. Illinois’ 2009 legislation, Public Act 096-0078, required specific state agencies to develop and implement programs that would increase the numbers of employees with disabilities in state government. Other states’ executive orders, including DelawareNew MexicoNew YorkVermont and Washington, have expressed broad support of affirmative action efforts that include increasing opportunities for employment of people with disabilities with the state government. 

California lawmakers enacted the 2002 Workforce Inclusion Act, which required the California Health and Human Services Agency and Labor and Workforce Development Agency to create a sustainable, comprehensive strategy to bring people with disabilities into state government employment. In 2005, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued Executive Order S-4-05, declaring that, “State government has an opportunity and a responsibility to lead by example, ensuring individuals with disabilities have an open door to the many opportunities in public service; and whereas, this administration is strongly committed to ensuring fairness and nondiscrimination in state employment practices and recognizes that equal employment opportunity for all segments of society is not fully realized without vigilance and conscious effort.” The order further directed all state agencies to use “best efforts” in the recruitment, hiring and advancement of people with disabilities, annual review of hiring practices to identify any barriers to employment, and, in consultation with their state agency disability advisory committee, take action to eliminate barriers. In addition, state agencies were directed to use an alternate process, called the Limited Examination and Appointment Program, to facilitate the hiring of persons with disabilities. In 2010, Schwarzenegger also issued Executive Order S-11-10, advising state agencies to review their reasonable accommodation policies and to examine the accessibility of goods and services purchased by the state.

Kansas’ 2010 Executive Order 10-10 directed all state agencies to develop a shared mission statement and vision to result in people with disabilities becoming competitively employed in equal numbers to employees without disabilities. It required an inventory of all existing state strategic plans and mission statements, identification of policies and procedures that might be a disincentive to the employment of people with disabilities, coordination of employment programs across agencies and an exploration of possible new initiatives. State agencies were also directed to develop baseline data on how many people with disabilities were employed and the fiscal impact of their employment, as well as commence annual reporting on the number of people with disabilities employed subsequent to the new initiative.

In 2006, Maine lawmakers enacted the “Act to Create Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities,” which directed state agencies to review placement of people with disabilities in their agencies, increase their employment in state government and further support the state’s 2006 Executive Order. The order established a State as Model Employer effort to increase the employment of persons with disabilities, conduct a survey of state workers to identify those with disabilities and set up an advertising campaign promoting employment of people with disabilities in state government. In 2010, Governor John Baldacci issued another executive order reasserting the state’s commitment to the State as Model Employer initiative.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick issued a 2007 executive order that resulted in a statewide strategic plan (known at the Massachusetts Disability Employment Initiative) with more than 25 specific goals and objectives to make the state a model employer. This executive order required written affirmative action and diversity plans for each state agency as well as the appointment of a diversity director in each state agency to oversee these efforts. A new  2011 executive order further enhanced the state’s commitment to principles of nondiscrimination, equal opportunity and diversity in state government, including for employees with disabilities.

Minnesota Governor Mark Drayton’s 2014 Executive Order 14-14 required agencies to increase the hiring of employees with disabilities by 7 percent by August 2018, stating that “the percentage of state employees self-identified as having a disability declined from approximately 10 percent in 1999 to less than 4 percent in 2013” and citing accordance with the statewide affirmative action program as required by Minnesota statutes, section 43A.19. The order requires the development of a model for recruitment and hiring strategies to include training programs for hiring managers and clear benchmarks to ensure implementation.  

In 2013, Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee issued Executive Order 13-02 to set a goal of 5 percent of the state’s workforce to consist of people with disabilities by June 30, 2017. The order also required each state agency to develop an annual employment plan and designate a disability employment coordinator to oversee related activities.

Task Forces, Commissions and Advisory Groups

A number of states have established task forces, commissions and/or advisory groups responsible for examining state employment for persons with disabilities, setting goals and accountability measures and structures, and providing leadership and guidance for state initiatives. Task forces may consist of representatives from relevant state agencies only, or may include other key stakeholders such as private sector companies that can assist state government in recruitment and retention efforts. Task forces can be responsible for studying the feasibility of a State as Model Employer effort, contacting other states and experts for information and learning, conducting baseline and ongoing surveys of state employees with disabilities, developing and implementing the initiative, and providing ongoing feedback on the effort. Currently, four states—Alaska, California, Utah and Vermont— have language requiring that people with disabilities be represented on task forces, commissions or advisory groups.

In 2008, Alaska’s Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education co-sponsored a Disability Employment Policy Summit that worked with state agencies to develop a plan for Alaska to adopt State as Model Employer policy. At that time, the council recommended a voluntary survey of state employees with disabilities to determine their numbers and better understand their concerns. The council further recommended that if employees with disabilities were found to be underrepresented in state government that an administrative order be issued to make the state a model employer. This administrative order would require state departments and divisions to report annually on efforts to hire employees with disabilities.

In September 2012, Alaska Governor Sean Parnell created a State as Model Employer Task Force within the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education. The task force, which was charged with reviewing best practices and developing strategies to create an inclusive workplace in state government for workers with disabilities, consisted of members from various state agencies, including members from the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education, the State Division of Personnel and Labor Relations, the State ADA Coordinator’s office and the State Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.

In 2002, California’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities was renamed from a previous committee and authorized in state statute in 2002 to promote the full inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce. Goals included:

  • Bring individuals with disabilities into gainful employment at a rate as close as possible to that of the general population.
  • Support the goals of equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency for these individuals.
  • Ensure that state government is a model employer of people with disabilities.
  • Support state coordination with, and participation in, benefits planning training and information dissemination projects supported by private foundations and federal grants.

The committee was also tasked with, as funding allowed, making grants to counties and local workforce investment boards in order to develop local strategies for enhancing employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

In 2007, Massachusetts’ Executive Order 478 established a Governor’s Non-discrimination, Diversity and Equal Opportunity Advisory Council to advise the governor on policies necessary to implement the order.

Washington’s 2013 Executive Order 13-02, which set the state workforce hiring goal for people with disabilities, also required the formation of a Disability Employment Task Force to assist state agencies with recruitment and retention. The task force was also charged with collaborating with private sector companies, sharing strategies and best practices and performing in a technical assistance capacity, with the aim of increasing the number of people with disabilities in all employment sectors in the state.

Established in 2002, Vermont’s Governor’s Workforce Equity and Diversity Council is charged with advising the commissioner of personnel and the secretary of administration on the development and implementation of the state’s affirmative action program. The council was responsible for ongoing coordination of efforts, monitoring of activities against goals and objectives and compliance with state and federal mandates.

Targeted Hiring Efforts in State Human Resources Management 

Fast Track Policies 

State governments may elect to set up human resource (HR) management policies aimed at streamlining or augmenting existing state agency hiring practices to target individuals with disabilities. Ten states—Alaska, California, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New York, Oklahoma, Utah and Vermont—have some form of fast track hiring policy.  Seven of the above states—Alaska, California, Delaware, Illinois, New York, Oklahoma and Utah—have used legislation to establish a fast track hiring policy targeting individuals with disabilities for state employment. In some cases, these fast track hiring practices seek to accommodate qualified people with disabilities in the application process, waiving or modifying civil service examinations, requiring mandatory interviews or providing an alternative application process. Other fast track efforts encourage state HR managers to hire qualified people with disabilities by creating incentives such as trial work periods or special appointment lists that take some of the guesswork and uncertainty out of hiring decisions. A legislative executive order scan for the period of 2013-2015 did not reveal any new states with fast track hiring programs, and the following section of this report reflects much of the EARN report section on fast track provisions. However, it has been updated to reflect recent regulatory or statutory changes, as well as the inclusion of a long standing fast-track hiring system in Delaware. For example, California’s passage of Senate Bill 644, which established an internship option for individuals with developmental disabilities in the states alternative application process, represents a substantial policy change.

Alaska established the Provisional Hire Program, in Alaska Stat. § 39.25.150(21), providing state hiring managers with the ability to place qualified individuals with severe disabilities into a four-month trial work period with the possibility of transitioning the provisional employee to permanent employment. This provisional hiring does not guarantee a permanent placement at the end of the four month trial period. Eligible people with disabilities become certified for participation in the program through Alaska’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, which ensures the person has the minimum qualifications of the position and qualifies as severely disabled. The provisional hire program does not, however, establish a hiring preference for people with severe disabilities, and the hiring manager can elect to interview the qualified individual before beginning the provisional hire process and also stop the provisional hire process at any time.

California’s Limited Examination and Appointment Program (LEAP), established in 1989, was reinvigorated in 2005 through Executive Order S-4-05, encouraging state agencies to utilize it to increase the number of people with disabilities in their employ. LEAP is an alternative civil service examination process available to any person with a disability who is certified through the Department of Rehabilitation. Once certified, an individual may take LEAP examinations for state positions during open testing periods. These examinations consists of two stages: an initial competitive readiness examination to evaluate an individual’s qualifications and skills, and (assuming successful completion of that examination) a trial on-the-job examination called the Job Evaluation Period (JEP). Successful completion of the JEP replaces the written portion of the standard civil service examination and awards the applicant with the civil service certification appointment. In 2015, California passed Senate Bill 644, altering LEAP by giving people with developmental disabilities the option to obtain civil service certification by successfully completing a 512-hour internship with a state agency in lieu of a written test or LEAP readiness examination.

Delaware operates the Selective Placement Program (SPP), established under Del. C. tit. 29 § 5904a. The SPP allows for individuals with a physical or mental impairment that affects participation in the competitive process to receive noncompetitive probationary job placement. A person interested in utilizing the SPP must be certified as having a disability by either the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation or Division for Visually Impaired, using the criteria for disability designation used in the federal ADA. Once certified, applicants complete a practice application and supplemental questionnaire to help their SPP contact determine if the applicant meets the qualifications of the job classifications selected by the applicant. Upon successful determination of job classification eligibility, the applicant may fill out Selective Placement applications for any job in the Delaware Employment Link portal that meets their job classification eligibility. Hiring managers may then choose to interview individuals for a selective placement. Successful placement results in a probationary employment period, which can last no more than 12 months and can result in permanent employment placement if certain criteria are met. 

Illinois offers numerous programs designed to increase civil service examination access for its citizens with disabilities. The Accommodated Testing Program is a funded state initiative that offers people with disabilities access to a number of on-site examination accommodations at state assessment centers. The Successful Disability (SD) Opportunity Program establishes an alternative examination process for people with disabilities who are consumers of the state Division of Rehabilitation Services. The SD program provides the applicant with an SD score that replaces standard scoring on civil service exams, places the person on an SD program list and qualifies him or her for agency hiring considerations when the SD program list is requested. The Alternative Employment Program also establishes a reassignment process for state employees on temporary leave for a disability and can no longer perform the requirements of their current assignment. Employees on temporary disability leave may request to be reassigned to another state position for which they are qualified to perform a six-month probationary assessment. All three programs are facilitated by Central Management Services and are established under statutory language of Illinois Public Act 96-0078 of 1996.

Maine offers the Special Appointments Program to current clients of the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation (BVR). Clients are certified by the BVR as meeting the minimum qualifications of a posting, capable of learning and performing the tasks of the posting, and ready to participate in the work environment without injury to self or others. The Special Appointments Program allows for a trial employment period for the certified individual with a disability and is facilitated through collaboration between BVR counselors, BVR liaisons and HR liaisons from the hiring agency.

Maryland’s Special Options Eligible List fast track program provides people with disabilities the opportunity to engage in training programs with the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS) or an internship under Maryland’s Quality, Understanding, Excellence, Success and Training (QUEST) program administered jointly through the Department of Budget and Management and DORS. After successful completion of the internship or DORS training, the client with a disability is certified for civil appointment. Certified individuals are then able to apply for state positions for which they are qualified. After completing the state application process for one or more job classifications and upon review, the DORS certified individual is placed on eligibility list that state appointment managers may draw from when making hiring decisions.

New York operates the Governor’s Programs to Hire Persons/Veterans with Disabilities. Through Section 55-b of the New York State Civil Service Law, up to 1,200 competitive civil service positions can be reserved for appointment of certified and qualified people with disabilities. Individuals with disabilities interested in consideration for Section 55-b appointment can seek eligibility certification with the Employee Health Service of the New York Department of Civil Service. Eligibility is determined by employment history and degree of functional limitation caused by the disability and may require a physical examination by a department physician. Once certified, qualified people may express interest in entry-level positions directly to agencies and then be considered for appointment based on qualifications and interviews, forgoing civil service examinations.    

Oklahoma’s Optional Program for Hiring Applicants with Disabilities, administered by the state’s Human Capital Management (HCM) division, provides for an alternative certification process for civil service. Under Oklahoma Statute §74-840-4.12, people with disabilities may seek certification from the state Department of Rehabilitation Services, thereby waiving all tests related to civil service eligibility. Upon successful certification, individuals with disabilities may apply to job classifications of interest. HCM then makes eligibility determinations and adds the person to eligibility lists for the corresponding job classifications, from which agencies can request referrals. Successful appointment must be to a permanent hire position after successful completion of a probationary period. The application and successful placement on eligibility lists is valid for one year. A person certified for the program must reapply and be reconsidered for eligibility each year.

In 2010, Utah established the Alternative State Application Process (ASAP) for individuals with disabilities through House Bill 17, allowing for on-the-job examinations in lieu of civil service testing. Utah administrative guidance allows for almost all competitive job postings in state government positions to be eligible for ASAP appointment. Interested individuals with disabilities can receive certification by providing documentation of disability and meeting the minimum qualifications of the job posting. They are responsible for identifying eligible positions and then contacting the state’s recruitment consultant, who in turn works with the agency hiring official to determine if they would like to interview the interested ASAP applicant. Applicants hired through the ASAP process are placed in a six month, on-the-job examination position, whereupon successful completion leads to appointment to the position pending a one-year probationary period.

Vermont provides for fast track hiring through a Mandatory Interview Option, wherein interested individuals with disabilities can ensure an opportunity to interview for positions for which they are qualified. People with disabilities who meet the minimum qualifications of the posting can ensure that their name is referred to the appropriate hiring authority for a mandatory interview by completing the Request for Mandatory Interview form and gaining approval from the state Department of Human Resources Labor Relations Division. Once approved under the mandatory interview option, all postings for which the qualified individual with a disability applies and meets the minimum qualifications must result in an interview. The mandatory interview option process does not guarantee the offer of employment, only an opportunity to interview.

Hiring Preferences

States may also work to increase disability inclusion in the state workforce by creating hiring preferences for people with disabilities. As a form of affirmative action, hiring preferences can be effective tools in SAME initiatives. Only three states currently have a statute or executive order providing for a hiring preference for individuals with disabilities. In Arizona, under Ariz. Rev. Stat. §38-492, people with disabilities are given a five-point preference on examinations, provided the individual would receive a passing grade without preference. Individuals with disabilities who are also veterans receive a 10-point preference. Montana, under ARM 2.21.14, requires that people with disabilities be hired over people without disabilities when the two are substantially equal in qualifications for an eligible initial hiring position. Recently, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback issued Executive Order 15-02, establishing a hiring preference for people with physical, cognitive and/or mental disabilities and requiring that all state executive branch agencies institute a system for giving hiring preference to people with disabilities. Executive Order 15-02 is so recent that it remains to be seen how state agencies implement the hiring preference.

While only three states have an affirmative action hiring preference for people with disabilities, many do have hiring preferences for veterans and veterans with service-connected disabilities. States looking to implement a hiring preference for individuals with disabilities as part of a SAME initiative can model it on or add to existing preference policies for veterans and veterans with service-connected disabilities. 

Recruitment and Outreach Efforts

States with existing SAME fast track and hiring preference policies can further promote disability inclusion in the workforce by engaging in recruitment and outreach efforts to identify and attract skilled individuals with disabilities. Activities such as job fairs, recruitment specialist positions in state hiring authorities, and coordination with state Vocational Rehabilitation and community service providers can help states identify and attract qualified individuals with disabilities who may not be aware of existing SAME hiring policies. States can also engage in outreach and education efforts to alert and assist applicants with disabilities regarding the processes required to obtain an alternative hiring certification or hiring preference. 

Encouraging Inclusive Workplaces 

When states engage in SAME initiatives, care should be given to ensuring that state agency workplaces and hiring processes are accessible. Workplace accessibility, from the earliest stages of recruitment to retention and career advancement, is a substantial component of successful employment for individuals with disabilities. 

Increasing Accessibility in the Hiring Process

States with SAME initiatives may examine application and hiring processes for opportunities to increase accessibility. Examples of application and hiring accessibility efforts include, but are not limited to, improvements in providing on-site accessible technology for use in the testing or examination process, ensuring online application systems and state employment websites are accessible to text readers and dictation software, and bringing state technology systems, including telecommunications, in line with regulations and guidelines that apply to federal programs under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

New Hampshire’s Web Accessibility Initiative requires all state agencies to develop and maintain web and mobile sites that follow universal access standards that conform to Section 508 regulations. The New Hampshire initiative also applies to all web and mobile state job applications, seeking to remove barriers to application and hiring for people with disabilities. Illinois maintains on-site testing accommodations at each of its five civil service examination centers through its Accommodated Testing Program, providing, upon request, accommodations including but not limited to: Braille exams, a reader and/or marker for the exam, a certified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, Zoom Text, High Contrast, closed-captioning and extended time limits for testing, and large screen monitors and desks that are wheelchair accessible. Oklahoma passed House Bill 2062 in 2013, revising existing law to include stronger accessibility standards for purchasing and design of all information technology and telecommunication systems so as to be in conformity with Section 508. The legislation requires that all contracted procurement of technology systems comply with the accessibility standards set forth in the bill. All state information technology and telecommunication systems must undergo periodic accessibility evaluation by the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services and users with disabilities. 

Workplace Reasonable Accommodations 

Establishing explicit workplace reasonable accommodation policies, either at the legislative or the executive branch level, will help ensure newly hired people with disabilities are able to access and succeed in the agency workplace. Strong workplace reasonable accommodations also benefit current state employees who may acquire a disability or may decide to disclose a disability, assisting state employees to remain in a current position.

Many states have found that providing for reasonable accommodations creates inviting and inclusive workplaces where people with disabilities feel comfortable self-disclosing a disability and asking for accommodations. In Alaska, ADA coordinators, housed in major state agencies, are available to guide state employees through the request for accommodations process as part of its ADA Compliance Program. The ADA Compliance Program also maintains a website replete with accommodations resources, facility access resources, and guidance on effective communication standards. Vermont utilizes a formal Request for Reasonable Accommodation process that includes possible review by a Reasonable Accommodation Committee (RAC) appointed by the commissioner of personnel. In the event a request is made for an accommodation exceeding $500, disagreement between department and employee on the reasonable accommodation offered, or denial of an accommodation request at the department level, the request for accommodation is reviewed by the RAC. Vermont also allows for reassignment to another position as an accommodation option, provided that all other efforts to provide reasonable accommodations have been exhausted. Oklahoma’s House Bill 2062, passed in 2013, provided for a statewide telework program for its state employees, which can be utilized as a reasonable accommodation, and included language to ensure that the implemented telework system is designed in such a way as to afford accommodations for state employees with disabilities. 

Studies by the Job Accommodation Network suggest that roughly half of all accommodations cost nothing to implement, with the cost of those that do averaging $500. Yet, smaller agencies may have a smaller budget to draw from in providing accommodations. As states work to provide workplace reasonable accommodations under the ADA, lawmakers can anticipate agency concerns over the cost of accommodations by developing accommodation funding policies. Two states—Massachusetts and Minnesota—currently operate a centralized accommodation fund (CAF), one example of SAME policy intended to streamline agency accommodation funding requests.  Implementation of a CAF, accessible by all state agencies, can help ease agency budgetary anxiety while also communicating a commitment to providing workplace reasonable accommodations to state employees with disabilities.

Massachusetts operates a Reasonable Accommodation Capital Reserve Account meant to supplement existing agency resources. Established in 2009, state agencies may make requests for supplemental funding for accommodations to the Massachusetts Office of Disability and Office of Access and Opportunity, which are evaluated and funds disbursed until the reserve account is exhausted for the current fiscal year. In past years, at least $100,000 has been made available to supplement state agency budgetary resources.

Minnesota recently underwent a viability and implementation study of centralized accommodation funds. Minnesota’s CAF efforts were spurred by legislative and executive branch action in 2014. Minnesota passed House Bill 3172 in 2014, requiring a study to determine if the state would benefit from establishing a special revenue account for central accommodations. The effort to secure funding for workplace reasonable accommodations was supported by Executive Order 14-14, which asserted Minnesota’s intent to become a model employer and included language relating to securing funds to provide accommodations for state employees with disabilities. The state’s Centralized Reasonable Accommodation Fund study, completed in 2015, examined active state CAF policy in Massachusetts as well as Washington’s CAF policy that was repealed in 2012. As part of 2015 omnibus appropriations Senate Bill 888, Minnesota created an accommodation account designed to reimburse state agencies for workplace reasonable accommodations made for state employees and applicants. The bill also requires an annual report to the legislature related to the use of the accommodation account by state agencies.  

Personnel Training on Disability Inclusion Practices 

Beyond ensuring accessible information and telecommunication systems and providing reasonable workplace accommodations, states can encourage disability-inclusive workplaces by adopting agency collaboration and personnel training initiatives designed to educate state personnel on best practices for disability inclusion and etiquette. Massachusetts includes Disability Awareness courses in the mandatory state employee diversity training program curriculum. The executive branch Office on Disability serves as the ADA and Rehabilitation Act coordinator and is tasked with development of the training materials and provision of technical assistance and resources to all state employees.  In 2015, Massachusetts Executive Order 559 established the Office of Access and Opportunity and designated the newly created deputy chair position responsible for developing comprehensive policy around best practices, removal of barriers and nondiscrimination and equal employment access and opportunity for all. The executive order explicitly includes people with disabilities in the list of populations targeted for increased employment in state government and also aims to increase the volume of Disability Business Enterprise procurement contracts. Connecticut Public Act No 13-225 establishes a committee of representatives from nine relevant state departments, appointed by the state ADA coordinator, which is tasked with advising the ADA coordinator on issues related to the employment of individuals with disabilities in state government. 

Data Collection, Evaluation, Accountability and Oversight 

States including California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, Washington and the territory of Guam that have set goals for people with disabilities through State as Model Employer efforts have included specific requirements for data collection, evaluation and oversight. 

Data collection includes the collection of baseline data, often through employee surveys, on the numbers of people with disabilities employed in state government, and tracking those employees and their outcomes once a State as Model Employer initiative is underway. For example, Kansas required the collection of baseline data on persons with disability followed by annual reporting on the numbers of persons employed and their fiscal impact on the state.

Surveys, often anonymous, can provide state governments with information on barriers to employment and retention (including fears of discrimination if persons identify themselves as having a disability), workplace environment, accommodation needs, training needs, and income and salary concerns. A number of states continue to conduct surveys of employees to remain abreast of ongoing concerns and to solicit feedback for improvement in the state’s efforts. Other requirements related to state accountability include annual or other reports on the initiative, monitoring of the numbers of employees with disabilities, tracking progress or developing some other type of mechanism to ensure that the statewide mandate or directive is followed through. The following are several examples of efforts to measure state initiatives:

The Alaska Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education conducted a survey of state workers in 2011 to continue to monitor the representation of employees with disabilities in Alaska state government and solicit their recommendations for improvement. Survey findings revealed important information on the state’s efforts related to increasing the employment of people with disabilities, including that they are appropriately represented in the state’s workforce. Recommendations offered by respondents included increased training on the ADA for managers and supervisors, flexible work schedules and job sharing opportunities, workplace accessibility, and a need for better recruitment and retention programs for people with disabilities, as well as health and wellness benefits and programs.

Illinois’ Departments of Human Rights, Human Services, Central Management Services, the Interagency Committee on Employees with Disabilities and other state agencies conduct an ongoing online work disability survey. The purpose of the survey is to give employees an opportunity to identify themselves as persons with disabilities and to determine whether emergency evacuation assistance is necessary.

Maine’s 2006 Executive Order required a survey of employees to better understand the prevalence of employees with disabilities in state government. The survey was conducted by the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service, with Maine’s Bureau of Human Resources and the Commission on Disability and Employment comprising the other two member groups of the Executive Order Working Group tasked with developing the survey. Survey findings revealed that more employees with disabilities were working in state government compared with other employed adults with disabilities. More than half had requested a job accommodation (mostly adjustments to the work schedule and/or a flexible work schedule or location), 80 percent of whom subsequently received it. Additional supports reported by respondents included special equipment and a supportive employer and co-workers.  

Minnesota’s Executive Order 14-14 to increase state government employment of people with disabilities required state agencies to submit an affirmative action plan with a policy statement, assignment of affirmative action/equal employment opportunity responsibilities, including a workforce analysis, goals, objectives and timetable for completion, measures to facilitate implementation, and the development of internal audit and reporting systems. Technical assistance is provided to each state agency to develop the plans.

Washington enacted House Bill 1636 in 2015, requiring all state agencies with 100 or more employees to provide an annual report to the legislature communicating data related to the percentage of individuals with disabilities comprising the agency’s workforce, including the number of new hires employed from division of vocational rehabilitation services or the department of the services for the blind. The legislation also requires that each covered agency report to the legislature regarding opportunities for internships that would lead to permanent placement in entry-level positions. 

Education and Workforce Development

As highlighted in the EARN report, career readiness, educational inclusion and vocational rehabilitation services comprise critical elements in supporting state employment for individuals with disabilities. As states seek to implement SAME initiatives, attention may be paid to the educational and vocational programs used to prepare individuals for employment. By pairing educational and vocational efforts with SAME initiatives, states can ensure individuals with disabilities possess the workforce skills necessary to be competitive in today’s labor pool. 

Work Experience Opportunities

States can seek to support career readiness for individuals with disabilities by ensuring students with disabilities have opportunities to engage in internships and career technical education. As with California’s newly added LEAP internship option for people with developmental disabilities and Washington’s requirement that state agencies annually report on potential internship opportunities that lead to permanent placements, states can look to adapt existing policies to include a work experience or internship program.

States can also look to private and nonprofit sectors as valuable work experience vehicles for their students with disabilities. By tapping in to existing services and initiatives by private and nonprofit businesses and working collaboratively to develop internship, career training and work experience programs, states can ensure that their students with disabilities become qualified and competitive employees with disabilities, strengthening both public and private sector workforces in the years to come.  

Project SEARCH provides an example of public-private partnerships that assist individuals with disabilities in obtaining and securing long-term employment. Project SEARCH utilizes educational systems, private sector businesses and state vocational rehabilitation services to provide a hybrid education and workplace environment where individuals with developmental disabilities gain competitive career skills and work experience. A 2015 RespectabilityUSA report identifying top performing states for all-sector employment of people with disabilities highlighted the role that nonprofit and state agency partnership internship programs like Project SEARCH have in assisting students with disabilities in the school-to-work transition. Seven of the 10 top performing states—South Dakota, Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Colorado and New Hampshire—have robust Project SEARCH programs. Wyoming, another of the 2015 top performing states according to RespectabilityUSA, has developed its own MentorABILITY work experience and career readiness program based on the education and work experience model created by Project SEARCH. States looking to develop public-private partnership programs to provide work experience opportunities can target departments of vocational rehabilitation and public elementary, secondary and higher education systems as valuable public agency partners. 

Vocational Rehabilitation Collaboration through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act

The federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) of 2014 includes numerous provisions related to career services for individuals with disabilities. WIOA will increase the role of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) systems and require greater collaboration and coordination between VRs, state Medicaid agencies, and intellectual and developmental disability agencies. 

Public Education and Outreach

South Dakota has created an education and outreach initiative called Ability for Hire, engaging business leaders and the public by promoting the benefits of hiring individuals with disabilities. The Ability for Hire effort, which has public and private sector support, serves the dual purpose of education the public on disability while also increasing visibility of vocational rehabilitation services to interested individuals with disabilities. The Massachusetts Work Without Limits initiative seeks to educate and engage individuals with disabilities and their families, as well as employers and service providers, on best practices and available resources. The Work Without Limits effort is designed as a collaborative network of individuals and organizations interested in increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities, with the stated goal of closing the disability employment gap.

Conclusions to State as Model Employer Policies

State governments have used a wide range of strategies to increase the number of employees with disabilities in their ranks. These have included setting broader mandates to affirm stated principles of diversity as well as the development of very specific targeted efforts. Both state legislation and executive orders have served to provide leadership and guidance, with one effort strengthening the other as necessary. State task forces, commissions and work groups have provided the creativity, experience and long-term commitment necessary to envision, design and implement a range of efforts. 

SAME initiatives are flexible and comprise any number of policy permutations, allowing state legislators to craft policy efforts that will be effective and viable in their states. As noted in throughout, there are numerous opportunities to adapt existing policies to include individuals with disabilities, including expanding hiring preferences and expanding the advisory, technical assistance and training role of state ADA coordinators. States interested in implementing SAME policies might also consider increasing public and interstate sharing of data, representation of individuals with disabilities in policy advisory groups, and the emphasis on career readiness in the critical school-to-work transition period.

Regardless of what form they take, SAME policy initiatives continue to expand disability inclusion in state government workforces, thereby improving the lives of individuals with disabilities and making the case for disability inclusion to the private sector business community.

This publication was supported and funded through a cooperative agreement with The Viscardi Center and the Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor, Grant No. [OD-26451-14-75-4-36]. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Viscardi Center or those of the Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor.