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How fair is the federal workforce to people with disabilities?

On Behalf of | Mar 27, 2023 | Disability Discrimination and Harassment

People with disabilities have long been underrepresented in the workforce. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claim that up to 26% of American adults have some form of disability. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) puts the number somewhere closer to 12% of the population. Regardless which of these numbers you use, you’ll find that they don’t hold up in the workplace.

A May 2022 report from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that people with disabilities made up only 9.4% of the federal workforce. The numbers from the BLS report were even more troubling.

A look at the numbers

Dated February 2023, the BLS report looked at the statistics for the whole labor force, not just the federal government. Even so, it found that people with disabilities were underrepresented at every turn:

  • Only 21.3% of people with disabilities were working, compared to 65.4% of people without disabilities
  • The unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 7.6%, more than twice the 3.5% unemployment rate for people without disabilities
  • When people with disabilities were working, they were far more likely to work part time (30%) than people without disabilities (16%)
  • People with disabilities were less likely to have college degrees, and they were still less likely to be employed than people of the same educational background without disabilities

There was some good news. As bad as these numbers are, they reflected a slight improvement from previous years. The employment rate was up by 2.2%. This meant people with disabilities joined the workforce at a slightly higher rate over the past year than people without disabilities. Their employment rate rose by 1.7%. The unemployment rate dropped by 2.5%.

Finally, the BLS reported that disabilities had a minimal impact on whether people pursued government jobs. It claimed that 13.7% of people with disabilities worked government jobs. This compared to 13.4% of people without disabilities.

Numbers don’t tell the whole story

No one is just a statistic. There are always human stories behind these types of numbers. And behind all the disappointing numbers, the ADA National Network reminds us there are disappointed people.

In a report from 2019, the ADA summarized a host of experiences shared by people with disabilities. They reported:

  • Their primary experiences with discrimination were work-related
  • They often felt excluded or isolated at work
  • The workplace discrimination manifested through other people’s attitudes and structural barriers, physical and organizational

The ADA reported that a study found people with disabilities were 26% less likely to hear back from potential employers. Note, this was based solely on whether they disclosed their disabilities. Everything else was the same. The same report found that 47% of people with disabilities believed they would never receive promotion to a leadership position. This was regardless of their qualifications.

As a result, many people with disabilities choose not to disclose them, but this can lead to unhappiness. People don’t want to feel they’re “living a lie” or keeping secrets about themselves. The ADA reported that people who disclosed their disabilities were far more likely to be content with their work (65% versus 27%). They were also much less likely to feel isolated at work (8% versus 37%).

Don’t let others beat you down

Of course, there’s one more discouraging thought hidden among all these statistics. The numbers clearly show how the playing field is tilted against people with disabilities. Even though the law strictly prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.

You deserve to be judged according to your merits, especially if you work in the federal government. And if others aren’t giving you a fair chance, you can push back. You can file claims with the EEOC, but you may need some help to strengthen your claims. The ADA noted that only 23.4% of disability claims were “closed with merit.” That means 76.6% of the people who reported disability discrimination failed to present convincing claims.

The first step to getting the justice you deserve is to act. The second step may be recruiting the help of an attorney who understands how to help you present your case.


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