Autism News, Employment

Feds Propose Changes To Disability Employment Rules

by Michelle Diament, via Disability Scoop | March 15, 2021

Jordan Allison, who has autism, works as a swatch and button specialist in the special order department at Hart Schaffner Marx in Des Plaines, Ill. in 2016. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

The Biden administration is reconsidering what should qualify as competitive integrated employment for people with disabilities.

The U.S. Department of Education said it plans to update a 2017 frequently asked questions document that serves as guidance for the vocational rehabilitation program and the agency is soliciting public comment on its proposal.

Under federal law, people with disabilities participating in vocational rehabilitation must be given the opportunity to obtain competitive integrated employment. The guidance in question addresses what counts.

The Education Department indicated that the update comes in response to requests for more clarification, particularly related to the location where work is conducted, and it represents the culmination of three years of meetings with stakeholders.

Per the new proposal, individuals with disabilities would have to earn at least minimum wage and work in the community in a setting where they interact with people without disabilities to the same extent that typically-developing employees do in order for work to qualify as competitive integrated employment. What’s more, employees with disabilities must have similar opportunities for advancement as employees without disabilities who have comparable positions.

Self-employment and telework opportunities can meet the criteria, the document indicates. And, group employment settings like janitorial and landscaping crews should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

However, the proposed guidance is clear that individuals with disabilities are not required to participate in competitive integrated employment and can choose to work in other settings.

“We encourage state VR agencies to continue to work with employers and other community partners to create employment opportunities that meet all criteria in the definition of ‘competitive integrated employment,’ including the criterion for an integrated employment location,” the document states. “Nevertheless, we recognize some VR program participants, represented by family members or others as appropriate, may choose to pursue work that does not meet the definition of ‘competitive integrated employment,’ such as those work opportunities that pay subminimum wage or are not integrated in a manner consistent with the definition.”

The Education Department is accepting comments on the guidance through April 8.

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