Recent Report Highlights State Efforts to Become a Model Employer of People with Disabilities 

By Rachel Wright, Policy Analyst 

State governments have increasingly recognized the advantages of proactively recruiting and hiring people with disabilities. As such, many states have pursued “state as a model employer” policies and practices to increase the number of people with disabilities employed in the public sector. 

The Council of State Governments, in collaboration with the State Exchange on Employment and Disability, recently published a report titled The State as a Model Employer of People with Disabilities: Policies and Practices for State Leaders. This report offers public officials policy options as well as real-life examples of innovative policies and programs that states have successfully implemented to build a stronger, more inclusive public-sector workforce. 

For state hiring officials, model employer policies enhance diversity, equity and inclusion in the workforce. In turn, this can increase the state’s profitability and comparative advantage as an employer. For people with disabilities, employment in the public sector can improve employment outcomes and increase economic self-sufficiency. These benefits are critical when considering the long-standing labor force inequities experienced by people with disabilities as well as the talent gaps that employers are seeking to fill nationwide. 

The report provides the following policy options to state legislators as they work to be model employers of people with disabilities: 

  • Instituting formal mechanisms (legislation, executive orders) – States can institute formal mechanisms such as legislation and/or executive orders to increase the likelihood that employment-related issues affecting people with disabilities are addressed by government officials throughout all stages of policy development and implementation. 
  • Creating infrastructures (cabinet positions, task forces, working groups, advisory committees) – Creating formal infrastructures such as cabinet level positions, taskforces, working groups and advisory committees allow for disability-issues to be considered at the highest levels of state government. They can also enhance coordination and collaboration on disability-related issues across all branches of state government.  
  • Extending diversity and inclusion initiatives State officials can advance public-sector employment of people with disabilities by extending diversity and inclusion initiatives, such as affirmative action plans, to include state agencies and departments.  
  • Developing comprehensive, government-wide strategic plans Developing comprehensive-government wide strategic plans can guide SAME efforts and ensure that reporting mechanism are in place to enhance accountability and facilitate continued progress toward agency goals.  
  • Instituting fast-track and other hiring systems to facilitate employment States can consider increasing the accessibility of application processes for public-sector employment by instituting fast-track hiring and other systems. Fast-track hiring systems seek to systematically recruit and hire individuals with disabilities through streamlined or simplified processes.  
  • Enacting advancement and retention practices – Policymakers can implement strategies to facilitate the enhancement and retention of people with disabilities in the public sector workforce. Strategies include establishing reasonable accommodation policies; stay-at-work, return-to-work (SAW/RTW) programs; and disability-inclusive telework policies.  
  • Ensuring accessibility of information and communication technology – States can act as model employers of people with disabilities by ensuring that accessibility is a primary policy consideration in the design, development and procurement of information and communication technology (ICT). To achieve this, states can institute accessibility requirements for ICT and/or adopt inclusive procurement procedures for all ICT acquired by state government.  
  • Ensuring availability of personal assistance services – Neither federal law nor many state anti-discrimination laws require employers to provide personal aids and devices, including personal assistance services. States can establish policies and programs that provide and finance the provision of personal assistance services for employees with disabilities.  
  • Developing disability awareness training for state personnel – States can reduce stigmas around disabilities and foster inclusive workplace cultures for employees with disabilities through instituting disability awareness training for all personnel.  

As states recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, policymakers can enhance diversity, equity and inclusion in the public sector workforce through adopting “state as a model employer” policies and practices. These policies prioritize accessibility and inclusion of people with disabilities throughout all stages of the employment process — recruitment, hiring, advancement and retention.  

For further information and examples of how your state can act as a model employer of people with disabilities, please read and share The State as a Model Employer of People with Disabilities: Policies and Practices for State Leaders.