You may have heard that changes to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 will increase employment for people with disabilities. This week’s Ticket to Work blog answers some of your questions about Section 503 and what it means for you! 

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What Is Section 503 and What Could it Mean for You?

Sep 23, 2016

You may have heard by now that changes to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which took effect March 24, 2014, will increase employment for people with disabilities. This week’s Ticket to Work News and Views blog answers some of your questions about Section 503 and what it means for you!

What is Section 503?

Federal contractors are businesses hired to provide goods or services to (or on behalf of) the federal government. Under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, businesses with 50 or more employees and $50,000 or more in federal contracts must take affirmative action to hire more people with disabilities. The rule encourages federal contractors to make an effort to ensure at least 7% of their employees are qualified individuals with disabilities.

This 7% requirement is an aspirational goal or target. It’s not a hiring requirement, but a way to ensure that federal contractors include disability in their recruitment and hiring criteria. These employers must show they are complying with Section 503 requirements to recruit and hire people with a documented disability. To meet this goal, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) estimates that federal contractors need to hire more than half a million more employees with disabilities. If you’re looking for employment and have a disability, this could be great news for you!

How will employers comply?

One way federal contractors can meet the 7% target is to encourage applicants and current employees to disclose if they are an individual with a disability. In the past, under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers were not allowed to ask applicants about disabilities before offering them a job. Section 503 now allows employers to invite applicants to voluntarily self-identify as having a disability. The 503 Final Rule requires contractors to offer applicants a chance to self-identify as having a disability both before and after a job offer. Employers MUST use language taken from the US Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) form. For online job postings, this voluntary self-identification request must be included with the race/gender request.

If an employer invites job applicants to voluntarily self-identify for affirmative action purposes, the employer must clearly state that the information they are asking for is:

  • Used only for affirmative action efforts, and
  • Optional to provide, will be kept confidential in accordance with the ADA, and that if an applicant decides not to self-identify, he or she will not be punished in any way. 

To ensure that self-identification information is confidential, applicants must provide it on a separate form than the job application. Watch this OFCCP video that educates employees and applicants with disabilities about the importance of self-identifying.

What if I’d rather not disclose my disability?

You have the right not to disclose your disability. If you do not disclose it before getting a job offer, there are still many other chances to update your disability status, including when you are offered a job. Contractors must also invite current employees to self-identify every five years and regularly remind employees that they can confidentially update their disability status at any time. Employers must keep your voluntarily-disclosed disability information confidential and separate from your personnel file.

In addition, an employer:

  • Cannot force you to self-identify or ask for proof of your disability.
  • Can ask if you have a disability, but cannot ask what the disability is.

About Ticket to Work

Social Security’s Ticket to Work program supports career development for people ages 18 through 64 who receive Social Security disability benefits (SSI or SSDI) and want to work. The Ticket program is free and voluntary. It helps people with disabilities move toward financial independence and connects them with the services and support they need to succeed in the workforce.

To learn more about Ticket Work, contact the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 (Voice) or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) Monday to Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET. Ask a representative to send you a list of service providers or find providers on your own with the Ticket to Work Find Help tool. Your service provider may be able to connect you with information about Section 503 job opportunities.

Sources and Notes:
The following sources were used and/or excerpted in developing this material: