Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Securing equal employment opportunities for persons with disabilities continues to be a top priority in the United States. In addition to the federal government’s long-standing and wide-reaching enforcement efforts that prohibit disability discrimination in the workplace by private and governmental employers, we also are supporting equal employment opportunities through a variety of initiatives.
In 2010, President Obama issued an Executive Order to increase the federal employment of individuals with disabilities with the intention of making the federal government a model employer. Under the Order, senior-level officials at each federal agency must be accountable for enhancing employment opportunities and retention of persons with disabilities. Each official is charged with creating recruitment, training, and counseling programs for the employment of persons with disabilities.
The federal government also supports several grant-making initiatives that provide employment support to persons with disabilities. The Department of Education oversees grant programs which serve approximately one million individuals with disabilities annually, to help them obtain employment and live more independently through the provision of supports such as counseling, medical and psychological services, job training and other individualized services. The Department of Education also provides funds to state vocational rehabilitation agencies, to provide employment-related services for individuals with disabilities, giving priority to individuals who are significantly disabled. It also supports Project SEARCH, a program that provides education and training to young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities through an innovative workforce and career development model that benefits both the individual and the workplace.
The Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) is another initiative undertaken by the federal government in the past ten years. ODEP is charged with creating a national policy to ensure that people with disabilities have increased employment opportunities. ODEP provides national leadership by developing new employment-related policies and practices, and sponsors several important disability research and technical support services.
The private sector has also taken up the challenge of increasing employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. For example, the U.S. Business Leadership Network (USBLN) is a national disability organization that has over 60 affiliates across North America, representing over 5,000 employers. Such private sector initiatives help create workplaces, marketplaces, and supply chains where people with disabilities are included and respected for their talents and abilities.
The key U.S. enforcement of disability rights protections in the workplace is carried out by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Department of Justice, and the Department of Labor. These three agencies enforce federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against qualified job applicants or employees because of those individuals’ disabilities, history of disability, appearance of disability, or association with someone with a disability. Under federal law, there are strict limits on when employers may ask job applicants or workers questions about disability. However, employers may ask applicants whether they can perform the essential job functions, with or without reasonable accommodation. The law requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would cause undue hardship for the employer. Reasonable accommodations might include providing sign language interpretation for a job applicant, making the workplace accessible for wheelchair users, or providing an electronic screen reader for an employee who is blind. U.S. laws also prohibit employers from creating a hostile work environment for workers with disabilities.
The EEOC, Department of Justice, and the Department of Labor have the authority to investigate charges of discrimination. If they determine that an employer has discriminated, they attempt to settle the matter out of court, and if that effort is unsuccessful, the agencies may file lawsuits to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. Since the effective date of the ADA’s employment discrimination provisions in July 1992, the EEOC alone has obtained more than 939 million dollars in benefits for persons with disabilities who experienced employment discrimination.
The United States recognizes the challenges of achieving equality of employment opportunity and will continue its vigorous efforts to end workplace discrimination against persons with disabilities.