AAP for People with Disabilities

The President and Fellows of Harvard College have issued a policy statement setting forth the University’s commitment to equal employment opportunity and affirmative action which includes applicants and employees with disabilities.  The University’s Affirmative Action Program (AAP) for employees with disabilities was first published in the Harvard University Gazette in 1978; it continues to be revised, as appropriate, and is disseminated on a regular basis.  

Law and Regulation

The purpose of this section of the Affirmative Action Plan is to meet the obligations of Chapter 60 of Title 41 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 60-741 and 60-741.1 setting forth the “standards for compliance with section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (29 U.S.C. 793), which requires government contractors and subcontractors to take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment qualified individuals with disabilities”.   This provision applies as well to subcontracts in excess of $10,000 entered into by a prime contractor in carrying out any contract with the United States for the procurement of property and nonpersonal services. Additionally, every government contractor or subcontractor holding a contract of $50,000 or more and having 50 or more employees is required by the Department of Labor to maintain a written affirmative action program at each of its establishments, which complies with Part 60-741.

In accordance with the aforementioned law and regulations, an individual with a disability is defined as one who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of such person’s major life activities, (2) has a record of such impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment.

A ”qualified individual” means an individual who meets the requisite skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of the position and who is capable of performing the essential functions of a particular job, with or without reasonable accommodation to his/her disability.

The affirmative action requirements of the Act differ significantly from the affirmative action mandate of Executive Order 11246 in the following ways:

A.    Affirmative action plans developed under the provisions of the Rehabilitation Act are not required to contain a utilization analysis or goals and timetables.  The regulations thus recognize the unique nature of the work force with disabilities which, with its highly individualized skills and abilities, does not lend itself to group generalizations for goals.

B.    The University must make a reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of a qualified applicant or employee, absent undue hardship.

Labor Department regulations require that an equal opportunity clause appear in all government contracts and subcontracts for the procurement of personal property and nonpersonal services in excess of $10,000.   The specific wording for that clause appears at 41 CFR 60-741.5.  The clause provides:  (1) that the employer will not discriminate and will take affirmative action to employ, advance in employment, and otherwise treat qualified individuals with disabilities without discrimination based upon their physical or mental disability;  (2) an agreement that the contractor will be bound by the rules, regulations, and orders issued by the Secretary of Labor pursuant to the Act;  (3) an agreement to post appropriate notices informing employees and applicants of the contractor’s affirmative action obligations under the Act;  (4) an agreement to notify collective bargaining representatives of the contractor’s obligations under the Act; and (5) an agreement that the clause will be included in every subcontract or purchase order that exceeds $10,000, unless specifically exempted.

The regulations of the Labor Department require that the contractor make a reasonable accommodation to the known physical and mental limitations of a qualified employee unless the contractor can prove undue hardship, which means significant difficulty or expense, as demonstrated by certain financial and operational factors, including the nature and net cost of the accommodation needed, the overall financial resources of the facility involved and of the contractor, and the impact of the accommodation on the facility’s ability to conduct business and on the abilities of other employees to perform their duties.  41 CFR 60-741.2.

Labor Department regulations require that the University policy must be stated and posted, a plan for external and internal policy dissemination must be established, responsibility must be assigned, appropriate recruiting sources must be contacted, and an audit and reporting system designed and implemented.

The Affirmative Action Plan at Harvard University

The Affirmative Action Plan incorporates and reflects the elements of Affirmative Action Plan requirements set forth at 41 C.F.R. 60-741.  The actions taken by the University to ensure compliance include:

  1. Stating and posting the University’s equal employment opportunity statement;
  2. Reviewing the University’s employment practices to determine whether its personnel policies provide the required affirmative action for employment, retention, and advancement of individuals covered by the Act;
  3. Reviewing its personnel process to determine whether present procedures ensure proper consideration of qualifications of applicants or employees covered by the Act for job vacancies (filled either by hiring or promotion), and training opportunities;
  4. Reviewing all physical or mental job qualification requirements to ensure that they do not screen out applicants with disabilities, are job related, and are consistent with business necessity and safety;
  5. Making reasonable accommodations to known physical and mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals absent undue hardship;
  6. Developing and implementing procedures to ensure that employees with disabilities are not harassed because of disability;
  7. Externally disseminating the University’s equal opportunity policy and undertaking appropriate outreach and positive recruitment;
  8. Internally disseminating the University’s equal opportunity policy;
  9. Designing and implementing an audit and reporting system;
  10. Assigning responsibility for implementation of the University’s affirmative action activities;
  11. Providing training;
  12. Including affirmative action clauses in each of its covered government contracts or subcontracts;
  13. Inviting all employees who believe themselves covered by the Act and who wish to benefit under the Affirmative Action Program to self- identify on a voluntary basis.

In furtherance of its affirmative action obligations and commitment toward persons with disabilities, the University’s Office of the Assistant to the President for Institutional Diversity and Equity:

  1. Utilizes publications to inform all employees of the Plan.
  2. Posts information publicly to inform employees and applicants of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
  3. Enlists the assistance of organizations serving and training individuals with disabilities, including, but not limited to, the Massachusetts Division of Unemployment Assistance, Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission and The Resource Partnership.
  4. Consults with local human resource professionals in determining reasonable accommodation, consistent with business needs, for individuals with disabilities on a case by case basis.
  5. Coordinates internal procedures to ensure that the program is implemented.
  6. Ensures that the University includes in its advertisements the program of nondiscrimination with respect to individuals with disabilities.
  7. Reviews records of employees with disabilities who self-identify and request consultation.
  8. Ensures that written notification of the University’s obligation is provided to its contractors and subcontractors.
  9. Encourages efforts to include employees with disabilities in advertisements and University publications.

Responsibility for coordinating the overall Affirmative Action Plan for Persons with Disabilities has been delegated to the Office of the Assistant to the President for Institutional Diversity and Equity (H-OAP).  Any staff member may inspect a copy of the Plan at H-OAP, The Smith Campus Center, Room 935, 1350 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In addition to University Disability Services (UDS), the Office of Human Resources disseminates information related to the University’s Reasonable Accommodation Procedure. 

Dissemination of Policy


Steps taken to disseminate the policy internally include:

  1. Publication of the University policy in the Harvard University Personnel Manual.
  2. Publication of the University policy in the preface to each Harvard Opportunities section of the Harvard University Gazette.
  3. Discussion of the policy and Plan in management training programs for supervisors and managers as well as in affirmative action workshops.
  4. Discussion of the policy as part of orientation for new staff members and in updates of personnel policies and benefits for existing staff members.
  5. Communication of the policy through written notice to the collective bargaining representatives of Harvard’s various unions.
  6. Posting the policy statement on bulletin boards in central, faculty, and departmental personnel offices.
  7. Online dissemination of the policy.


All of the University’s recruiting sources have been informed of Harvard’s equal employment opportunity policy and of its Affirmative Action Program.  Lists of current openings are sent regularly to agencies and other recruitment sources for their information.  Additional steps that have been taken by the University to disseminate this policy include:

  1. Listing all appropriate positions with the Massachusetts state employment agencies via our membership with DirectEmployers and the National Labor Exchange.
  2. Contacting local offices or service organizations such as Work without Limits, Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, and Massachusetts Commission for the Blind.
  3. Assuring that letters and advertisements that are used as part of the recruitment effort clearly state the University’s policy.
  4. Assuring that all contractors and subcontractors are notified by written communication from the University’s director of purchasing of the University’s commitment to equal employment opportunity and ongoing programs.

Employment Policies and Practices

Pre-employment procedures are reviewed to ensure that individuals with disabilities do not face discrimination in the employment process.  For example, there is no University-wide pre-employment medical examination requirement.  Medical examinations are required only in those administrative units where health and physical condition are important for the safety or well-being of those being served, for the welfare of the employee, and/or due to the nature of the job duties (bona fide work requirement).

Harvard’s Affirmative Action Program is a good faith effort to hire and retain persons with disabilities.  The University has taken the following specific steps:

  1. The Harvard University employment application and the entire selection process, both in the central Office of Human Resources and the faculties and other administrative units, have been reviewed to ensure nondiscriminatory practices.
  2. A review has been conducted to make sure that the Offices of Human Resources are accessible to all applicants.  Furthermore, faculties and departments are being notified that as part of their affirmative action obligation they must be prepared to interview Office of Human Resources referrals at an accessible site.
  3. The Office of Human Resources and UDS provide technical assistance to support departments in developing reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities. 
  4. The University does not reduce the amount of compensation offered at the time of hire or promotion to individuals with disabilities based on prior disability, income, pension, or other benefits received from other sources.
  5. Union officials and representatives of collective bargaining units have been informed of the University’s affirmative action policies and participate in efforts to make all staff members aware of the University’s commitment to these policies.
  6. All union contracts contain appropriate affirmative action language.  


The Office of Human Resources and the Office of the Assistant to the President for Institutional Diversity and Equity share responsibility for the implementation of the University’s Affirmative Action Plan for Persons with Disabilities.  Sources that include individuals with disabilities in their applicant pools are utilized in University recruitment efforts.

Staff members in all Human Resource offices play an important role in ensuring that potential and current employees with disabilities have equal access to information about vacancies.  Individuals with disabilities are considered for employment and promotion on an equal basis as individuals without disabilities.

The Office of Human Resources has principal responsibility for outreach and recruitment of individuals with disabilities.

UDS also participates in disseminating information related to the AAP as well as takes part in its implementation.  This includes but is not limited to the following:

  1. Assisting HR personnel with developing the skills and knowledge necessary to advise managers and other supervisory staff on disability-related issues that arise in the workplace.
  2. Assisting the Office of Human Resources and human resources officers in developing networks for managers of employees with disabilities.
  3. Assisting employment professionals in researching and developing working relationships with agencies, organizations, and individuals that work with, or have contact with, persons with disabilities.
  4. Encouraging efforts to keep Harvard’s commitment to persons with disabilities “in the news;” generating articles for the Harvard University Gazette and other in-house media.
  5. Assisting in revisions of those parts of the Affirmative Action Plan related to persons with disabilities.
  6. Reviewing selective job postings and descriptions to ensure that mental and physical job qualifications are job related and consistent with legitimate business needs.

Oversight responsibility for this plan is delegated to the Office of the Assistant to the President for Institutional Diversity and Equity.  This office participates in the annual review and update of the University Affirmative Action Plan; periodically reviews the progress of affirmative action efforts and takes corrective action where appropriate; and provides pertinent personnel information for government agency review where appropriate.

Harvard Resources for Employees and Applicants with Disabilities

Since September 2011, the following new University Disability Services (UDS) initiatives/collaborations have been implemented:

  • University-wide Reasonable Accommodation (RA) Procedure and Fact Sheet – to facilitate clear and consistent implementation of workplace reasonable accommodation requests
  • Disability Case Management Meetings – to facilitate timely implementation of workplace reasonable accommodation requests
  • Improved collaboration between HR, Disability, Benefits and UDS
  • Updated RA database – to track reasonable accommodation requests, project future trends and ensure adequate resource allocation
  • Updated UDS website – to disseminate the plethora of disability-related procedures, services, resources University-wide
  • Development of a UDS Assistive Technology/Adaptive Equipment Lending Library – to ensure timely access to auxiliary aids and services as reasonable accommodations
  • Additional External/Internal Collaborations –
    • Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC)
    • Easter Seals
  • Workplace Alcohol Policy Revision (in collaboration with Labor and Staff Relations)
  • Ongoing professional development for UDS staff members – to ensure expertise related to the ADA Amendments Act and EEOC Regulations
  • Updated ADA Facilities Database Update (in collaboration with University Planning and Project Management)
  • Updated On-line Access Map (in collaboration with University Planning and Project Management)