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Change in law requires UCLA to hire more disabled workers

By Tala Ahmadi

April 15, 2014 12:46 a.m.

The University of California and UCLA now have to improve their efforts to hire more people with disabilities, after recent changes to a 40-year-old law.

The UC sent out its first voluntary staff-wide survey earlier this month that allowed employees to identify as a person with or without a disability. The survey marked an initial move toward providing increased support for employees with disabilities.

The survey was released to comply with a recent change to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that requires all federal organizations to take extra measures to hire more people with disabilities.

The change in law comes at a time of increasing national focus on accommodating and supporting people with disabilities. But because the push is fairly new within the UC and UCLA, it is difficult to determine the university’s progress, said George Tejadilla, the assistant director for the UCLA Staff Diversity and Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity Compliance Office.

“It’s a brand new thing and UCLA and the UC are jumping on, even though the rule change only became effective on March 24,” Tejadilla said. “We are trying to do this as soon as possible.”

The law change also requires federal organizations to collect statistics regarding the employment history of individuals with disabilities. It also mandates that organizations implement projects that aim to contribute to the effort to reach a national 7 percent employment rate for people with disabilities.

While collecting data on members of the UCLA community with disabilities will be a valuable asset for increased support of individuals with disabilities, more can be done, said Olga Lavinthal, a statistician for the Staff Diversity and Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity Compliance Office.

“We hope to change the culture about identifying disabilities because people have been reluctant to identify (themselves as disabled),” Lavinthal said. “We want people to come forward. As part of the broader community, we are in a position to hire or monitor the numbers and we have to make an effort to hire more people with disabilities.”

Statistics of individuals with disabilities will be included in next year’s Affirmative Action Plan, a plan that outlines data on how successful UCLA is at hiring minority individuals, women and people with disabilities.

The plan also explains the efforts made in the last year to increase the number of minorities and women employed at UCLA and establishes hiring and project goals for the upcoming year.

UCLA’s 2013-2014 affirmative action plan includes minimal literature about the efforts to hire more individuals with disabilities, but now that the UC is required to collect statistics on people with disabilities, more attention will be paid to outreach for that demographic, Tejadilla said.

A lot of the projects UCLA included in the plan involve training programs and courses for existing staff that do not directly lead to employing people with disabilities, minority individuals or women, Tejadilla said.

However, Tejadilla thinks the projects are beneficial because they create a culture where management and higher staff recognize that these individuals are capable of performing the necessary tasks for certain jobs.

Laura Sencion-Mendoza, a counselor for the Academic Advancement Program and vice chair of the UCLA Committee on Disability, said that in addition to just hiring individuals with disabilities, UCLA must learn how to effectively train its staff to learn how to work with people with disabilities.

While UCLA is in the process of increasing outreach and providing more support for individuals with disabilities, Sencion-Mendoza thinks there is still a lot of work left, like abolishing the stigma that people with disabilities are incapable of meeting the demands of a certain job.

“My experience in trying to get things going has been pretty positive, so I’m hoping that this is just the beginning of something that will make the campus much more diverse,” Sencion-Mendoza said.

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