Opening the Door to Employment: The ADA at 25

Posted on July 24, 2015
On July 26, Americans mark the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This landmark piece of civil rights legislation called for the full participation of individuals with disabilities in society—including in the workforce. While access and opportunities for Americans with disabilities have improved over time, their participation in the workforce continues to lag at one-third the rate of those without disabilities. Today’s WatchBlog examines a few of the federal programs that support employment for people with disabilities, and the recommendations we have made to help improve those programs. Punching the Ticket to Work The Social Security Administration’s Ticket to Work program provides people receiving certain SSA benefits with “tickets” to redeem for job placement and rehabilitation services. However, when we examined the program in 2011, less than 1% of eligible individuals participated in it, due in part to a lack of awareness and fear of losing their eligibility for disability payments. SSA also lacked information and tools to both track ticketholders and oversee providers of employment services. For example, some providers cherry-picked clients, serving only those most likely to return to work. This increased the likelihood that those providers would be reimbursed by SSA for successful outcomes, but at the expense of supporting ticketholders most needing help. We made multiple recommendations that SSA implemented to strengthen oversight of service providers and track the progress of participants. Serving veterans with disabilities VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program provides job training and placement services to veterans with service-connected disabilities. We found high caseloads and lack of staff training in key areas to assist veterans, such as workplace accommodations, job placement strategies, and understanding tax incentives for employers. VA acted on our report and has since introduced new training and taken steps to balance office workloads. However, it still does not know the extent to which veterans stay employed over the long term. Working together In 2012, 45 different federal programs provided employment services for people with disabilities. However, each overlapped with at least one other program, providing similar services to similar populations. Despite the overlap, limited coordination took place. Further, most had not been studied to see if they were effective. These issues persist and, in our 2015 High Risk Update, we noted that the Office of Management and Budget could do more in this area. Learning from the experts In 2010, we convened a panel of disability experts to explore options for increasing workforce participation. They noted that strong leadership is required at the federal level—both Congress and the Executive Branch—to make the best use of government resources. They also stated that the federal government should set an example for private employers to follow by becoming a model employer of people with disabilities. Our report captures all their advice.