Amending the New Section 503 Affirmative Action Regulations

Resolution 2014-11
Whereas, Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, provides for both a disability non-discrimination obligation and an affirmative action obligation on federal contractors and subcontractors in the employment of persons with disabilities; and
Whereas, it is estimated that 25 percent of all jobs in America are, in one way or another, related to federal contracting, a percentage that is expected to continue to grow; and
Whereas, the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), in its exercise of oversight responsibility for the implementation of Section 503, published new rules in September 2013 updating and modernizing the affirmative action provisions applicable to workers with disabilities; and
Whereas, these new rules contain many positive and laudable provisions; and
Whereas, there is nevertheless a provision in the new rules that may deprive many persons who are blind or visually impaired from benefitting from the new rules themselves and that will seriously undermine the ability of such persons to perform their jobs once hired; and
Whereas, this adverse provision is embodied in the new rule's express exemption of technology accessibility from the requirements of either non-discrimination or affirmative action under Section 503; and
Whereas, this exemption is embodied in the statement that accessibility of information and communications technology is a “best practice” but is not “indispensable” and is not required by the law; and
Whereas, employees who are blind or visually impaired must frequently and substantially utilize information and communications technology in order to perform their jobs; and
Whereas, the inaccessibility of such equipment will significantly burden, if not entirely thwart, the ability of employees who are blind or visually impaired to achieve  successful job performance and upward mobility in the technology-dependent office environment of our day; and
Whereas, the purported exemption for technology accessibility could lead to the denial of reasonable accommodation requests or court decisions that federal contractors have no accessibility obligations under Section  503; and
Whereas, the OFCCP's treatment of accessibility may well be in violation of other employment anti-discrimination laws that apply to federal contractors but that are not administered by OFCCP, including Title I of the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and, in the case of certain federal contracts, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act;
Now, therefore, be it resolved by the American Council of the Blind in convention assembled on the 17th day of July, 2014, at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, that this organization formally petition the U.S. Secretary of Labor to take action to review and amend the new 503 regulations to address the concerns discussed in this resolution; and
Be it further resolved that this organization use all appropriate available opportunities to raise the profile of the limitations contained within the new regulation both within and outside the disability community; and
Be it further resolved that should the U.S. Department of Labor fail to amend its 503 regulations to fully account for federal contractors’ technology accessibility obligations, the officers, directors and staff of this organization are empowered to explore additional advocacy efforts, including litigation if appropriate, to protect the employment and advancement of employees who are blind or visually impaired.
Ray Campbell, Secretary