New federal guidance has been released which offers details on what qualifies as competitive integrated employment for people with disabilities.
A frequently asked questions document by the U.S. Department of Education has served as guidance for the vocational rehabilitation program, which has been updated for the first time since 2017. The update details that federal law requires that individuals with disabilities receiving services through vocational rehabilitation must be provided the opportunity to obtain competitive integrated employment. To meet the definition of employment under this standard, the document indicates that disabled employees must be compensated on par with workers without disabilities performing the same job and be paid at least minimum wage in all cases.
Furthermore, the position must be one in which employees with disabilities can include opportunities for further advancement and work in positions that give them visibility in the community and work among colleagues without disabilities. According to the document, the viability of the work meeting the definition of being “typically found in the community” will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, but to satisfy that threshold, disabled people must have an equal opportunity to qualify regardless of their respective disability.
Group settings like janitorial or landscaping crews may also be considered competitive integrated employment if they meet the requirements outlined. However, positions through the AbilityOne Program and other situations where individuals with disabilities are hired to “comply with a direct labor-hour ratio of individuals with disabilities required by federal law” likely would not qualify.
People with disabilities do not have to choose competitive integrated employment, the Education Department said, but that is the only route supported by the vocational rehabilitation program.
As an organization comprised of mostly disabled people, Direct Access welcomes this news as it is yet another small victory towards bringing visibility, respect, and normalization of disability employment in our society.
Businesses should naturally hire individuals based on individual skillsets, but discrimination still exists from employers towards potential disabled employees that may require assistance, training, or changes in their work environment to meet individual needs. This legislation will not bring an end to these issues overnight, but the Feds offering this guidance to employers is in our minds a step in the right direction.