Response from National Council on Disability Chairman Jonathan Young to August 22 Washington Times Editorial on Federal Hiring of Americans with Disabilities

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The Aug 22 Washington Times editorial, (Holder’s “severe mental deficiency”) categorizing the Department of Justice (DOJ) initiative to hire more Americans with disabilities as “crazy” illustrates a profound mischaracterization both of disability and the Executive Order the Times finds objectionable.   

In the editorial, the Times takes issue with a July 31 policy memo issued by the DOJ which seeks to improve agency “hiring of persons with targeted disabilities.” According to the Times, the memo in question lists a number of “targeted disabilities” that “trigger special hiring privileges” in compliance with President Obama’s Executive Order 13548.

While incendiary phrases like “teetering on the edge of sanity” might play well with pundits they do little to make the case the Times attempts to argue against hiring disabled workers. Use of words like "trigger," "special" and "privilege" reinforces an unsubtle, archaic bias: “Disabled people are dangerous. They are not like us. Employers beware!” 

Contrary to the apparent attempt by the Washington Times to frighten, separate and inflame, Americans with disabilities are us. People with disabilities are America’s returning veterans and our aging seniors, our sons with autism and daughters with Down syndrome. They are our Olympic athletes.  Moreover, you don’t have to be born with a disability to have disability, someday, personally affect you. Most people, 80% in fact, aren’t born into disability, they acquire their conditions later.

Why hire more people with disabilities? According to 2010 Census data, 56.7 million Americans have disabilities. The unemployment rate of persons with a disability was 15% in 2011, almost double the rate for those without a disability, at 8.7%. Numbers alone would seem to indicate a need to improve these figures as the DOJ, other federal agencies, and forward thinking employers in the private sector are attempting to do.

While the Times editorial suggests applicants with disabilities would be fast-tracked into jobs at the DOJ without due screening and assessment, the DOJ memo clearly states otherwise, “A qualified individual with a targeted disability is a candidate who, based on his or her background, skills, and experience would have otherwise been selected for interview, with or without a disability (emphasis added).” Or to translate for the editorial staff at the Times: Applicants must be qualified.

To mischaracterize the DOJ initiative with fear-mongering and hyperbole misses the point.  Efforts such as those outlined in the DOJ memo to increase employment of Americans with disabilities should be supported and replicated, rather than maligned.

The National Council on Disability urges employers in both the public and private sector to follow suit.

The original editorial by the Washington Times this is in response to is available at:

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/aug/22/holders-severe-mental-deficiency