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Disability Employment Program

The USGS is required to ensure that individuals with disabilities are not excluded from, denied the benefits of, or otherwise subjected to discrimination in any program or activity. Federal laws give special emphasis to the issue of employment. In fact, the implementing regulations for these laws state that the Federal government should become a model employer of people with disabilities.

The Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity (DEO) manages the USGS Disability Program and has responsibility for ensuring compliance with these laws within USGS.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, (Rehab Act) is the most significant law regarding persons with disabilities in the Federal government. There are three sections applicable to USGS.

Section 501 of the Rehab Act deals with all aspects of employment and requires USGS to establish an affirmative action plan to encourage the hiring, placement, training, and promotion of individuals with disabilities. It requires agencies to make special efforts to employ individuals with "targeted disabilities," set goals for the overall number of employees with targeted disabilities, ensure the elimination of architectural and program barriers that limit individuals with disabilities, and establish procedures for providing reasonable accommodation. Targeted disabilities are those deemed to be more severe for employment purposes and include blindness, deafness, paralysis, missing extremities, convulsive disorders, severe distortion of limbs and/or spine, and mental illness.

For employment purposes, a person with a disability is defined as one who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. Qualified individuals with disabilities are those with a disability who can perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations. The Office of Personnel Management established special hiring authorities for people with targeted disabilities to make it easier for selecting officials to bring those individuals on board non-competitively. The USGS servicing personnel offices can provide specifics on those hiring authorities.


Disability Program

The Selective Placement Program for persons with disabilities is specifically covered in law and by regulation. The Disability Program Manager (DPM) assists management by identifying discriminatory practices and barriers to the employment and advancement of employees and applicants who have physical and mental disabilities. The DPM also identifies architectural barriers and recommends changes as appropriate.

This section describes laws and Executive Orders that support and encourage the employment, retention, and advancement of people with disabilities.



1. Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (29 U.S.C. Section 791), prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in Federal employment and requires the Federal Government to engage in affirmative action for people with disabilities. The law:

  • Requires Federal employers not to discriminate against qualified job applicants or employees with disabilities. Persons with disabilities should be employed in all grade levels and occupational series commensurate with their qualifications. Federal employers should ensure that their policies do not unnecessarily exclude or limit persons with disabilities because of a job's structure or because of architectural, transportation, communication, procedural, or attitudinal barriers.
  • Requires employers to provide "reasonable accommodations" to applicants and employees with disabilities unless doing so would cause undue hardship to the employers. Such accommodations may involve, for example, restructuring the job, reassignment, modifying work schedules, adjusting or modifying examinations, providing readers or interpreters, and acquiring or modifying equipment and/or facilities (including the use of adaptive technology such as voice recognition software).
  • Prohibits selection criteria and standards that tend to screen out people with disabilities, unless such procedures have been determined through a job analysis to be job-related and consistent with business necessity, and an appropriate individualized assessment indicates that the job applicant cannot perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation. Requires Federal agencies to develop affirmative action programs for hiring, placement, and advancement of persons with disabilities. Affirmative action must be an integral part of ongoing agency personnel management programs.

2. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (29 U.S.C. Section 794d), requires Federal agencies to procure, use, maintain, and develop accessible electronic and information technology, unless doing so imposes an undue burden. National security systems are exempt. Federal agencies were required to comply with standards promulgated by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (the Access Board) that took effect on August 7, 2000. Agencies must biannually evaluate their compliance with Section 508 and must report the results of these self-evaluations to the Attorney General.

3. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 covers employers in the private sector and State and local governments. The substantive employment standards of the ADA, which are applicable to the Federal Government through the Rehabilitation Act, can be found at 42 U.S.C. Section 12111, et seq. and 42 U.S.C. Sections 12201-204 and 12210.

4. The Architectural Barriers Act, enforced by the Access Board, requires that buildings and facilities be accessible to people with disabilities if they were constructed or altered by or on behalf of the Federal Government or with certain Federal funds, or leased for occupancy by Federal agencies, after 1968. When individuals with disabilities are unable to use a building because there are no accessible parking spaces, no curb ramps, no ramps at the entrance, no accessible rest rooms, no accessible drinking fountains, no raised lettering on signs, or other barriers exist, they may file a complaint with the U.S. Access Board.


Disabilities Program Resources