Governor Polis Signs Bill Creating a Hiring Preference Pilot Program for People with Disabilities

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For Immediate Release | July 1, 2021

On Wednesday, June 30, 2021, Governor Jared Polis signed SB21-095, extending the Employment First Advisory Partnership (EFAP) and creating a hiring preference pilot program for qualified applicants with disabilities, developed by the Governor’s office, the Attorney General’s office, the Department of Personnel Administration (DPA), the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE), and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. The pilot will be housed in CDLE; if successful, it will be adopted in other state government agencies.

“Coloradans with disabilities are often denied the opportunity to advance their careers, with significant negative effects on their financial wellbeing due to widespread misperceptions about their abilities, and despite their significant contributions to our thriving economy,” said Lieutenant Governor Dianne Primavera, a longtime disability advocate. “As a result, employers miss the opportunity to hire qualified candidates, hindering their ability to grow in a labor market increasingly characterized by severe skills gaps. This administration is focused on building a Colorado for all and this important new law will help expand opportunities for these workers”

A 2019 report published by US News and World Report found that while Colorado then had the best economy in the nation, it had the fifth worst employment gap for people with disabilities. 

The Disability Hiring Preference Pilot outlined in SB21-095 will give applicants with disabilities, who choose to identify as a person with a disability, a preference, similar to the Veterans’ Preference currently in place. The Pilot was created to encourage state agencies to increase the number of employed persons with disabilities and improve the state's practices on recruiting and hiring persons with disabilities. The pilot is due to launch in January of 2023 and will run until December of 2027. 

The bill will also help the State of Colorado advance its goal of becoming a model employer. 
“Many people do not disclose a disability in the hiring process due to an understandable fear of being judged or deemed less competent than those without disabilities,” said State Personnel Director Kara Veitch. “SB21-095 goes a long way toward fulfilling the Governor’s vision of a Colorado for All.  The bill will ensure Colorado’s disability community knows they are welcomed, their important voices are heard, their talents are valued, and they will be treated with respect.”   

The bill also extends the work under SB16-077, signed in 2016 by Governor Hickenlooper, which created the Employment First Advisory Partnership (EFAP), designed to support people with all types and degrees of disabilities in their career goals. 

“Like many states, we’ve seen the positive impact of similar preference programs for veterans, who also have much to provide employers,” said Joe Barela, Executive Director of CDLE. “By recognizing the value workers with a variety of disabilities bring to the workplace, CDLE will be better equipped to realize our department’s mission: to create an economy that elevates all Coloradans.”

The EFAP is composed of people with disabilities, disability advocates, providers, and representatives from the Colorado Department of Education, the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, the Colorado Department of Higher Education, the Colorado Department of Human Services, and the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. 

“The collaborative approach taken by the Employment First Advisory Partnership has resulted in substantial gains in interdepartmental coordination and cooperation that have produced efficiencies in how state government supports the employment of Coloradans with disabilities, including people with the most significant disabilities,” said Bob Lawhead, Policy Advisor for the Colorado Developmental Disabilities Council and EFAP Co-Chair. “Individuals like my son, who has Down Syndrome and those with other cognitive disabilities, are demonstrating that inclusive workplaces enhance overall productivity, work team morale, and customer satisfaction!”

“We hope the hiring preference will encourage people with disabilities to apply for jobs at CDLE.” said Kristin Corash, Director of CDLE’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. “CDLE is looking forward to welcoming more employees with disabilities to our workforce.”

The hiring preference will go into effect by January 2023 and the department is hoping to have it in place much sooner.  Keep an eye out for the launch date.

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