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Are you deaf/hard of hearing and want to become a U.S. Federal Employee? The Persons with Disability Hiring Path

An infographic style image of a woman walking on a white path on a yellow background. Stars from the US flag are visible behind the background. Icons of a government building and the statue of liberty with a hearing aid are superimposed on the image.

When you hear someone say the “U.S. Government,” have you ever wondered who they are speaking about?  I mean, who are the people that choose to serve our nation as civil servants? And have you, or someone you know, considered joining the team of dedicated government professionals and wonder how to even start the process?

Well, I am one of the 2.2 million passionate, dedicated U.S. civil servants and one of the  estimated 16.6% of federal employees who has a qualifying disability. I am a hard of hearing veteran.  For more than 37 years, I have served my nation as a Soldier and a civil servant, the last 8 years here at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the director of communications, and currently as a senior advisor/program specialist.

Today, I invite you to spend a few minutes reading about the journey to federal employment with the intent of gaining a better understanding about the federal hiring process and the special hiring authorities afforded to individuals with disabilities.

There are many myths, or misunderstandings, about “how” to get into federal employment, and I will be the first to acknowledge that the process can seem very bureaucratic, confusing, and mysterious. With a little time and research, however, it can also be understood as a manageable and highly effective process, and one that is ultimately focused on hiring the right person for the right job.

The focus of this blog post is on the special hiring authorities for disabled individuals, which means we need understand the laws and policies designed to protect and provide equal employment opportunities to persons with disabilities.

Understanding the LAW…

In 1990, Congress passed The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, State and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications.

The website states, “The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in everyday activities. The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability just as other civil rights laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. The ADA guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to enjoy employment opportunities, purchase goods and services, and participate in state and local government programs.”

The passage of the ADA set the stage for comprehensive civil rights protections and ensures the more than 56 million disabled Americans are protected against discrimination and afforded the same employment opportunities as everyone else.

The Journey to Federal Employment…Starts with

The Office of Personnel Management is the federal agency responsible for workforce policies, programs, and benefits in service to the American people, so in essence they are the ‘HR Office” for the U.S. Government.  OPM has established policies to recruit and hire people with disabilities and their website contains a wide range of helpful information. I highly recommend taking some time to view the OPM Disabilities Employment website to get a better understanding of current policies and protections granted to those of us with disabilities.

To start the journey in considering federal employment, the first step is the U.S. Government’s official website for federal employment, Here you will find all federal job opportunities, job descriptions, the hiring pathways, and how to apply.

The specific opportunities and descriptions are usually pretty easy to search for and process, but I’d like to focus a little more on what I mean by pathways and how to apply.

Hiring Pathways…

The U.S. Government has established 12 Hiring Pathways to federal employment.  Each one is unique and designed to help hire individuals that represent and reflect our diverse society. Typically, the U.S. Government requires its employees to be U.S. citizens.  When a job is open to “all U.S. citizens”, it means anyone with U.S. citizenship, or who is a national (i.e. a resident of American Samoa and Swain Island), may apply. You can verify your citizenship with the Self-Check through E-Verify (, if available in your state of residence. Additionally, the hiring paths identify specific categories and criteria for job listings, and range from “All U.S. Citizens”, to “Veterans,” “Peace Corps/AmeriCorps,” and “Individuals with Disabilities.”

The Individuals with Disabilities Hiring Path…

According to the USAJOBS website, “If you’re an individual with a disability, you can apply and compete for any job for which you are eligible and meet the qualifications, but you also may be eligible for a special hiring authority.”

Therefore, as deaf and hard-of-hearing people, we may be eligible for non-competitive appointment in the federal government through the “Schedule A” hiring authority which is part of the special (excepted) hiring authority for persons with disabilities.

So, what does this mean?

The federal government uses two types of hiring processes: Competitive and Non-Competitive.  The competitive process is where a qualified individual competes amongst other qualified applications for the position; whereas the Non-Competitive process is when a federal agency can select (hire) a qualified individual using one of the special hiring (excepted) authorities, such as Schedule A (Persons with Disabilities) without advertising the position or through the open competitive process.

Schedule A refers to a special hiring authority that gives federal agencies an optional, and potentially quicker, way to hire individuals with disabilities. Applying under Schedule A offers an exception to the traditional competitive hiring process. You can apply for jobs using Schedule A if you are a person with a qualifying disability. OPM considers persons who are deaf or serious difficulty hearing, benefiting from, for example, American Sign Language, CART, hearing aids, a cochlear implant and/or other supports as a qualifying disability. More about where to obtain this letter is contained in the following paragraphs.

This special hiring authority is an excellent way for a federal agency to quickly recruit and hire a qualified individual without going through the sometimes lengthy competitive hiring process. EPA uses these types of special hiring authorities year-round to fill critical vacancies.

The Schedule A Letter…

As mentioned above, a Schedule A letter is an important part of the process for individuals seeking consideration under the Schedule A hiring authority and the agency to which you applied will require you to submit official documentation from a licensed medical facility or professional indicating that you have an intellectual disability, severe physical disability (which includes sensory disabilities), or a psychiatric disability.  OPM has stated that “documentation of eligibility for employment under Schedule A can be obtained from a licensed medical professional (e.g., a physician or other medical professional certified by a state, the District of Columbia, or a U.S. territory to practice medicine); a licensed vocational rehabilitation specialist (i.e., state or private); or any Federal agency, state agency, or agency of the District of Columbia or a U.S. territory that issues or provides disability benefits.”

The letter is quite straightforward and must only state that you have a disability as defined by 5 CFR 213,3102(u).  It’s important to note that disclosing your specific disability is voluntary and not required in the Schedule A letter. You can find a sample Schedule A letter from the OPM website here.

The information above is just an introductory overview, and I’m sure you still have many questions about the process and where to begin.  Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to learn more about federal employment.  These include FAQs on our websites, in-person, virtual, and hybrid workshops, and federal selective placement program coordinators to help guide you during your journey.

Where to get Assistance…

OPM’s website is a great place to start. The site is easy to use and has many helpful links and graphics which allow users to easily find information, as well as links to other government websites.  Additionally, you will find that many federal agencies, including EPA, host a variety of in-person and virtual workshops and career fairs.  If you click on the “Events” tab near the bottom of the page, you will see these events listed and how and where they are hosted.

And I’m particularly pleased to mention that my region hosts monthly events called the “U.S. EPA Region 8, 9, and 10 Federal Careers Virtual Workshops.”  These workshops are opportunities for myself and my colleagues from the western regions to spend some time discussing the agency, reviewing the website, offering tips to prepare federal resumes, and conducting a question-and-answer session. If you, or potential candidates, have additional questions, you can find my contact information at the end of the blog, so please feel free to reach out to me or anyone on the EPA Region 8 human resources staff.

Finally, for college and university students who have a qualifying disability and are interested in federal employment, the U.S Department of Labor oversees the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP), which connects federal and select private-sector employers nationwide with college students, graduate students and recent graduates with disabilities.  This is a great site where students with qualifying disabilities can upload resumes, transcripts, Schedule A letters, and other applicable documents, and where federal recruiters can search for, and hire, qualified candidates.  My colleagues and I use this site regularly and we have successfully hired several recent graduates with disabilities into our workforce.  If you are an instructor, please share the WRP with your students or have them reach out to me for additional information.

It’s Only the Beginning…

I acknowledge that we have only touched the ‘wave tops’ of the many complex and important topics regarding federal employment and the hiring process for disabled Americans.  I hope you find this blog post a useful introduction of the laws and special hiring authorities to assist persons with disabilities who are interested in federal employment. There are still many additional areas that warrant detailed exploration and discussion, such as reasonable accommodations for federal employees or the role of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but we’ll leave those for another day.

We each have our calling, and it is our right as disabled people to be afforded the same employment opportunities to follow that calling. I am proud and honored to serve my nation as a civil servant and I am equally proud that our government strives to develop, practice and foster diversity, equality, inclusion and accessibility in our workforce.  The passage of the ADA was a monumental step forward in establishing the policies and programs to assist, and protect, persons with disabilities in their quest to find meaningful and rewarding careers in the federal workforce.

 I do hope that you have found this information useful and that you share with others in our community.

 ** A very special thank you to Ana Caicedo for reaching out and asking EPA to be part of The Mind Hears.  I admire The Mind Hears’s passion and dedication to helping our community of deaf and hard of hearing people. 

A white man with brown hair wearing a blue suit jacket and a red tie looks at the camera

Andrew Mutter currently serves as a senior advisor and program specialist for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Region 8 in Denver, Colorado.  There he provides senior advisory services in the areas of communication, outreach, human capital acquisition/talent management, strategy development, planning and operations.

Previously he served as the Director, Public Affairs/Office of Communication and Public Involvement in Region 8, and prior to joining the EPA he served as a senior program manager at the U.S. Department of Commerce in Washington D.C. Andrew is a retired U.S Army Colonel and served in combat and various locations around the world.  He is a disabled veteran and is hard of hearing.


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