Technology bridges the employment gap for feds with disabilities

An initiative by the Labor Department and Cornell University helps link people with disabilities to federal HR professionals.

An interactive online portal has spawned new hope for people with disabilities exploring a career in the federal government -- and for managers looking to recruit them.

Launched in September 2011 in response to a directive that requires agencies to boost their efforts to hire employees with disabilities, connects more than 400 federal human resource professionals, disability program managers and selective placement program coordinators to share policies and best practices around hiring, retention and advancement of people with disabilities in federal government.

Now that it's been in operation for more than six months, its creators -- Cornell University and the Labor Department --- are taking stock of its performance and planning the next phase.

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Since its inception, eFedLink has developed 16 planning groups with two or more members, eight of which have 10 or more members. The first quarter of 2012 saw more than 30,000 page views, averaging around 330 page views daily, according to Cornell University’s Employment and Disability Institute. The institute created the website under a contract for the Labor Department Office of Disability Employment Policy.

“The website has changed a lot since the launch because we’ve gotten a lot of responses from people with disabilities in the federal sector as well as advice from managers on how to make it easier, more useful,” said David Brewer, senior extension associate at the institute.

The small-group feature has been “very, very popular,” he said. Users have the ability to create a private discussion group that can then be turned public. The “Federal Initiatives” section, where users can get answers to common inquiries around hiring people with disabilities, has also been warmly received.

“We think that a lot of times people are coming to the website for answers, and these are people who are very busy and don’t have a lot of time to engage back and forth,” Brewer said. “They want to know what they need to know.”

Others, such as disability program managers, take a more participatory role and engage in ongoing discussions. For managers particularly, the website gives them an opportunity to connect with peers, share information, leverage expertise and answer questions about their work around disability employment, said Akinyemi Banjo, policy adviser at the Labor Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.

"The collaboration section of the site is mainly geared toward federal personnel who function in areas related to disability employment," he said. "But a job applicant is also able to access the 'Resources' section of the website to learn more about disability policies and issues."

Speaking about the vision for eFedLink, Brewer said the next part of the process is to develop collaborative document creation as well as see how the website works with mobile technology.

“We want the discussion groups to be very responsive to the needs of mobile technologies while maintaining the highest levels of security,” he explained. 

But gaining better understanding of how the website affects actual employment of people with disabilities is the ultimate goal. “Otherwise, what’s the point? It’s really our mandate under our contract with the Department of Labor to help support the change process,” Brewer said.