Improving Work Experience of Persons with Targeted Disabilities (PWTD) in IRS

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The IRS strives to be a best place to work for persons with targeted disabilities.

Historically, the IRS has hovered at or slightly below the Federal government's 2% participation goal for Persons with Targeted Disabilities in the IRS, consistently hiring 150 to 200 Persons with Targeted Disabilities each year since 2006.

However, this group's workforce numbers have remained stagnant.

In 2010, 30 focus groups were held in 4 cities, with 256 managers and employees to identify barriers to retaining employees with targeted disabilities.

Data analysis revealed 8 primary challenges relating to: Placement, Training, One-on-One Support, Accessibility and Safety, Reasonable Accommodation, Interpreters, Career Advancement, and Communications, Awareness and Education.

Eight executive-led teams were created, and during 2010 and 2011, they developed tools and programs to address the challenges that were identified.

This presentation provides information about those products and tools.

Focus group participant feedback indicated that individuals with disabilities are perhaps being placed in positions where it is difficult for them to succeed.

As a result both the initial hiring processes and where employees with targeted disabilities work in the organization were reviewed.

Exception Hiring or Schedule A hiring makes it easier and faster for the IRS to hire someone with a severe disability.

To help managers take advantage of this opportunity a step-by-step exception hiring guide, called "Five Easy Steps," was developed and posted on the service-wide HCO web site.

The Five Easy Steps are: Identifying staffing needs, gain approval to recruit and provide completed position information to the servicing employment office.

Receive resumes from the IRS Recruitment Office.

Obtain qualifications from HCO Employment.

Conduct interviews.

Select and Hire.

Focus group participant feedback indicated that adaptive equipment is often not available in time for training and when employees report for work.

As a result, existing procedures for identifying accommodation needs in time for training and reporting for work were revised.

Form 14220 was developed to ensure accommodations are in place when training is requested on ELMS.

Equipment and materials can be requested on Form 14220 - such as materials in large print, Braille or TVs with closed captioning capability.

There's also an option on the form to describe any other specific needs not already listed.

Now, a hyper-link from the ELMS reporting instructions takes the requester to Form 14220 to make it easy to find the form, make the request, and ensure accommodations are provided timely for training.

Employees may have a need to make accommodation requests when on-boarding; therefore, a hyper-link to Form 14220 was added to the On-Boarding Needs Assessment for Employees with Disabilities and Their Managers.

Originally, there were no instructions for completing Block 18, the Special Needs/Accommodations section, on the Request for Centralized Delivery Services Support Form.

This resulted in unclear requests and inadequate preparation for accommodating persons with disabilities arriving for training.

Specificity was added to the instructions for this Form.

This change gives the requestor multiple considerations for accommodating the employee's needs.

The change also gives instructors early notification of unique situations and alerts them of the assistance needed.

For example, they can request support from Modernization & Information Technology Services, in time for proper arrangement and set-up of services before the training date.

Since the original Classroom Instructor Training Course Exhibit 4-1 did not address specifically how classroom instructors are to provide reasonable accommodations to students, Exhibit 4-2 was added to provide the proper guidance.

The exhibit, or checklist, now provides guidance and instructions on how to assist students with disabilities in a classroom setting.

Focus group participants indicated that new employees with targeted disabilities have a more difficult time acclimating to the new work environment.

As a result, a new program was piloted that matched seasoned employees with new employees with disabilities to help them transition to the workplace.

During all the focus groups, participants talked about the challenges of being a new employee in new surroundings.

Coming into a new job is always challenging and the focus group participants revealed that it was especially challenging for them. It is important employees feel welcome and wanted when they come to the IRS.

In response, a buddy system was developed called M.O.V.E.D., or Motivated Orientation Volunteers for Employees with Disabilities, to provide volunteer support to help new employees get oriented to the workplace.

The Buddy helps the new employee get acquainted with their physical surroundings, such as the layout of the buildings, rest rooms and cafeteria locations.

The program is offered to any employee who has a disability.

The new employee learns about the program from their manager or during orientation.

M.O.V.E.D. is now being rolled out nationally.

Next, we'll hear from pilot participants about their experience with M.O.V.E.D. in this short video.

Pete Lane: As employees begin new careers, there are considerable anxieties with relocation and just the awesome prospect of beginning a new job. Those anxieties are often barriers to performing well. The buddy system will relieve those anxieties and allow the employee to truly enjoy this new page that they're turning in their lives.

Audrey Williamson: I volunteered to have a buddy because I just moved to Atlanta. Atlanta is huge. I'm here by myself. And although I have co-workers that are helping me with my technical job aspects, I just thought it would be a great way to meet another co-worker who could help me with other things outside of work, like where is the post office? Where is the grocery store? You know, how do you get to places on MARTA? Things like that.

Lora Daniels: Even without a disability, if you come into a city as big as Atlanta, it is scary. You know, so someone being around that you could ask questions to, I think, is helping Audrey a lot.

Audrey Williamson: The buddy system has worked great so far. Lora has been able to help me with a lot of things outside of work that I don't, you know, feel comfortable asking my co-workers about, and she's just been a great person and a great support system.

Lora Daniels: Audrey has made it so easy for me, and I realize that whether a person has a disability or anything, a person is a person. So I think we've got along. We were matched pretty well.

Pete Lane: I am excited to see that the experience that I have gained and that the services and support that I've provided in Jacksonville to my new employees are now being elevated to a national level where this type of support and the buddy system can be implemented across the organization to provide assistance, valuable assistance to individuals as they enter new jobs, regardless of the function and regardless of the geographical area.

Audrey Williamson: My hopes for the buddy system in the future are being part of the pilot...I hope to help be able to clearly define the roles and responsibility of the buddies and the participants, and I hope that it will one day be something that's permanently in place for the IRS. And I hope to one day be a buddy myself.

Lora Daniels: I've met a new friend, and me and her have joked on e-mail about we'll probably be buddies for life because our personalities are kind of similar and she makes me laugh, you know.

Audrey Williamson: It feels good to work for an organization that understands your disability and the things that come along with that.

Pete Lane: The buddy system is going to make a difference.

The Reasonable Accommodation Resolution Board is another initiative successfully piloted in 2011.

To provide resolution to some of the more difficult cases, W & I established a Reasonable Accommodation Resolution Board consisting of the W & I Senior Leadership Team.

During the pilot the oldest cases were looked at first, and the Human Capitol Board has adopted this process for an IRS Reasonable Accommodation Resolution Board.

The focus group participants indicated that an employee's experience is highly dependent on the manager, whose skills vary widely.

As a result, the "Managing Employees with Disabilities Course" was revised, and all W & I Managers were required to take the course in fiscal year 2011.

Originally, the Managing Employees with Disabilities course was a two-day course. It was reduced to a three-hour course and made available on ELMS.

The revision made it easier to access the information managers need, when they need it, since topics are arranged by individual modules.

The course owner is the W & I Accessibility Office which will also conduct classroom training upon request.

Focus group participants indicated that managers and employees with disabilities were concerned about being able to safely evacuate the building in emergencies.

They did not understand the processes in place.

As a result, processes were put in place to increase awareness and provide more information to employees and managers about the emergency evacuation process.

Many employees with disabilities and managers expressed concern over evacuation procedures at their site.

To ensure that employees with disabilities' concerns were heard, a Special Assistance Advocate was incorporated into the Occupant Emergency Plan (OEP) and the Incident Management Team at all IRS campuses.

The responsibility of the Special Assistance Advocate is to represent the interests of employees with disabilities to ensure the appropriate planning is conducted during the development of the OEP, prior to and during drills, as well as during actual emergencies.

At each campus, videos of the local First Responders, such as the Fire Department, covering evacuation procedures, were recorded, closed captioned and made available online.

The videos will be used for new hire orientation or as needed for employees that move from one building to another.

Here is an example of one of the videos. (Fire marshal example video displays.)

Focus group participants indicated that managers not familiar with the Reasonable Accommodation process can slow the processing of requests.

Therefore, tools to help managers through the decision-making process were developed.

This tool follows a "decision tree" format to help guide managers through the steps in the RA process.

The tool also includes hyperlinks to forms, job aids, and internal and external web sites to provide "just-in-time" information on particular subjects.

Linking back to the policy and process owner information ensures the latest information is at hand.

Another feature included is "mouse over" capability to provide definitions of key nomenclature, such as the definition of "major life activities."

Next up: a demonstration of the Reasonable Accommodation tool.

This virtual example will begin on the next slide.

The tool is an interactive decision tree designed to take a manager through every step of the RA process beginning with whether or not a request for an accommodation has been made.

Alternatively, the manager can enter the tool at a later stage of the RA process.

Is it RA?

Then click the following questions.

Does the employee mention a medical condition? Yes.

Is the condition obvious, or does it seem verifiable? No.

Is there a history of a medical condition? No.

Other easy-to-use features include moving the cursor over highlighted terms for additional information.

For example, placing the cursor on "Major Life Activity" opens a pop-up box with a definition of the term.

Are major life activities affected by the claimed medical condition? No.

Would essential job functions be affected by the claimed medical condition?

Click "here" to be carried to the Essential Functions job aid.

Would essential job functions be affected by the claimed medical condition? Yes.

Click Intake Process tab.

Who has initiated contact concerning an RA request? The Employee.

The Employee or Employee Representative contacts manager about a need? Continue.

Discuss with Employee or Employee Representative the requested accommodation. Continue?

Should the request enter the RA process? Yes.

Deciding official agrees with requested accommodation? Yes.

On the right side, click the link to Form 13661 and advise that this is directly from the forms web site so it is always current.

Now that you've seen how easy it is to use, we hope you will take advantage of this user-friendly tool.

Focus group participants explained that interpreters can be difficult to schedule and processes for requesting interpreters vary across campuses.

Therefore, the teams worked to standardize processes for all campuses.

The current process for requesting an interpreter calls for Procurement to initiate a contract for every request.

That can take up to 30 days to be awarded.

So a Blanket Purchase Agreement was negotiated which removes or minimizes Procurement's involvement, and saves two to three week.s time.

Now purchase cardholders can deal directly with the vendor and schedule appointments within a reasonable timeframe.

The HCO Interpreting Services Lean Six Sigma Team looked at: Determining the proper ratio of deaf and hard of hearing employees to interpreters per site, Innovative ways to address the need for interpreters on campuses, reducing the time to request and receive interpreter services, and ensuring availability of interpretive services at approved meetings and training events.

As these new technologies like the Video Relay System become available, we anticipate that the way we use our staff interpreters will change.

Most employees are interested in advancement.

Focus group participants explained that while they were pleased to have the opportunity to work for the IRS, in many cases they also felt that it was difficult to advance.

While naturally, everyone is responsible for his or her own career and for creating a Career Learning Plan, it became clear that support along the way is very important.

In response, one of the first improvements made was an update to the Internal Revenue Manual, in cooperation with the Human Capitol Office, to emphasize the importance of ongoing discussions between the manager and employee.

It is important for the manager to make employees aware of the benefits of the Career Learning Plan and actively help prepare the plan.

One of the projects was to test the current career development sites for accessibility and compatibility with our most commonly used adaptive equipment.

The teams worked closely with the Information Resources Accessibility Program to test eight IRS career development sites.

Two of the sites had accessibility issues that were reported to Modernization & Information Technology Services.

Communications were issued through several channels to different audiences to generate awareness about the many improvements made to benefit employees with disabilities.

A Communications group was created to provide educational e-mails, articles, and reader polls about managing and working with persons with disabilities and to communicate the outcomes of the initiative to the workforce in W & I and across the IRS.

In May 2011, a webinar was produced to inform the members of the focus groups and the rest of the IRS about the progress of the initiative, but at that time, many of the products presented here were not complete.

The IRS Disability Initiative web page was developed which links to the products that were produced and provides information about the origin of the initiative and other disability issues.

Updates to this page are ongoing and links to many of these products are also on iCAN and iMANAGE.

Thank you for viewing this presentation.

You can find more information about the PWTD initiative, including links to the products and tools included in this presentation on the W&I EDI Disability Initiative web page and iCAN.