Are you finding it difficult to secure a government job as a graduate with disability?  While the National Disability Strategy called for all levels of government to step up and play a role in improving the lives and experiences of people with disability, including opportunities for employment it’s hard to see what difference this has made.  So how effective has the government response been?

Through the as one Australian Public Service Disability Employment Strategy the Australian Public Service Commission committed to transforming the hearts and minds, and the practices of Public Sector Agencies to improve the diversity of their workforce.  However, advocates point out that such policies don’t seem to be working as the numbers of employees with disability continue to fall within the public sector.

So is it time to take a new approach?

An alternative approach was taken in the United States in 2010 when President Obama issued an Executive Order  that recognized that the Federal Government, as the Nation’s largest employer, must become a model for the employment of individuals with disabilities.  This order directed agencies to improve their efforts through increased recruitment, hiring, and retention of people with disability.   This was promoted as not only the right and moral thing to do, but that it was good business as it would increase the potential of highly qualified people in the recruitment pool.

The Executive Order did not stop there though, it also set a clear goal of hiring 100,000 people with disabilities into the Federal Government over 5 years, including individuals with targeted disabilities.   And five years later the U.S. government announced that they’d actually exceeded their goal, with Federal agencies hiring 109,575 people with disability since the 2010 Executive Order. This took federal employees with disabilities from just over 5 percent to over 14 percent of their overall workforce in just 5 years.  And this meant the total number of employees with disabilities in their Federal service -264 844 – accounted for more employees with disabilities both in real terms and by percentage, than at any time in the past 35 years.

How did they achieve this?

Of course, setting up a quota is one thing, but reaching it is another.  The Executive Order also instructed the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to design model recruitment and hiring strategies for agencies to facilitate their employment of people with disabilities.  Through this a number of initiatives were introduced that included placing new obligations on agencies, additional training, and new practices and processes.

  • Create agency accountability – each U.S. Federal agency is required to develop their own specific plans for recruiting people with disability, and have these approved by the OPM. The plans need to include performance targets and numerical goals for the employment of people with disability, and sub-goals for the employment of people with a targeted disability – severe physical disability, psychiatric disability, or intellectual disability.   They also make provisions for education and training, reasonable accommodations, and increased retention and career progression.  A Senior Official who will be held responsible for the success or failure is identified in each of the plans.   The National Science Foundation provides a good example of an agency plan.


  • Selective Placement Program Coordinators – most agencies have appointed a selective placement program coordinator who helps recruit, hire and accommodate people with disability within their agency. This position involves helping managers determine essential duties of roles, reasonable accommodations, advising potential candidates, collaborating with other government and non-government organisations, and monitoring the selective placement strategies.


  • Non-competitive hiring process – while people with disability can compete for jobs with other applicants, there is also an alternative, known as Schedule A, that doesn’t require them to be part of a competitive process. This can make the recruitment process quicker and easier, and is a critical tool for people with targeted disability.  Schedule A jobs allow agencies to appoint peoples with severe physical disabilities, psychiatric disabilities, and intellectual disabilities.  Then once someone has been in a Schedule A positon for two years they can be eligible for conversion to permanent status.   Schedule A appointments can also be made to appoint readers, interpreters, and personal assistants for employees with severe disabilities as reasonable accommodations.


  • Develop HR Resources – the OPM has developed training and ‘how-to’ guides to assist HR and managers in the hiring and retention of people with disability. For example, it offers a range of on-line resources, such as the bite size 5 minute training to provide managers and HR staff with a helpful overview of what they need to know to hire people with disabilities using Schedule A.

This U.S Executive Order to make the U.S. government a model employer for people with disability has indeed created employment opportunities.  Back home in Australia, this can not only inspire us to keep working towards this aim,  but in the meantime it can also provide valuable insight into what types of strategies can be used to increase our level of public sector employees with disability.

A photo of looking up at a large grey building into a white sky.
Looking up for answers – it’s important that all levels of government encourage inclusion of people with disability internally and lead the way.

You can learn more about the APSC’s RecruitAbility program in this article.  What else could governments in Australia do to improve the employment rates of people with disability in the public sector?  To learn more about USEP and our program working on university campuses to improve graduate employment outcomes, have a read of “Improving employment outcomes for graduates with disability”.