With a new rule taking effect this week, federal officials are looking to compel businesses to significantly increase the number of people with disabilities that they employ.

The rule requires most federal contractors to ensure that people with disabilities account for at least 7 percent of workers within each job group in their workforce.

While officials at the U.S. Department of Labor say they are not establishing a firm hiring quota for contractors, they do expect that businesses servicing the government will work toward achieving the target. Contractors that fail to meet the goal and do not show sufficient effort toward reaching the 7 percent threshold could lose their contracts under the new rule.

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Disability advocates say the added pressure on federal contractors will go a long way.

“Federal contractors represent 22 percent of the American workforce and an aspirational 7 percent hiring goal means the rule will create real jobs, at all levels of seniority, for Americans with disabilities,” said Mark Perriello, president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities.

Perriello said he expects that the government’s new requirement for contractors will ultimately have a ripple effect throughout the economy, with the potential to “transform employment opportunities for people with disabilities.”

Under the rule, businesses with at least 50 employees and $50,000 in federal contracts must take specific steps surrounding recruitment, training, record keeping and policy dissemination, all designed to up employment of those with disabilities. Similar steps are already required to promote inclusion of women and minorities in the workplace.

The changes could mean up to 585,000 jobs for people with disabilities within the first year alone, the Labor Department said last year when the rule was finalized.

The plan has faced opposition from some businesses and was challenged in court by the construction industry trade group, Associated Builders and Contractors. Just last week, however, a judge with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the Labor Department rules paving the way for them to be implemented on schedule.

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