A Chicago-based organization is available to help companies meet these new rules and also provide support for people with disabilities who are looking for jobs.
"Anyone who gets a federal dollar to work with the federal government is going to have to demonstrate that they're actively seeking to recruit, hire and retain workers with disabilities," said Barbara Otto, CEO of Health and Disability Advocates, a national policy and advocacy organization. "The section 503 rehab regs is really exciting because it's going to come into effect March 2014... Federal contractors, of which in Illinois there are over 7,000 federal contractors, which brings in about $11.7 billion every year."
The new rules are a step forward.
"I see the 503 Act less about enabling some people to identify as having a disability to let a business meet that 7 percent and more about improving the workplace by requiring affirmative action plans," Otto said.
Rob Roy has an MBA from the University of Chicago. He has hearing loss and wears hearing aids. Although Roy has a job, he believes the new ruling of Section 503 will make a significant difference in the long run.
"I think that the 7 percent of the workforce ruling is a great tool for decision making," he said. "I think that what they learn in a role at a contractor will ultimately impact maybe how they will recruit and hire people at other large firms that maybe don't work with the government."
"I think the 503 Act gives a financial incentive that we haven't had before to get businesses to think beyond the label of disability. We want every employer, whether it's a federal contractor or whether it's a small business, to focus on the ability that each employee brings to the table," Otto said.
The Health and Disability Advocates' Think Beyond the Label website has resources available to businesses and people with disabilities. http://www.hdadvocates.org/Think-Beyond-The-Label/