Letter to the President after Newtown Tragedy

December 20, 2012

The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

On behalf of the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency, and in response to your recent national call to action, I write to offer the commitment of our Presidentially-appointed Council Members and professional staff as a trusted advisor to the Administration and the newly announced interagency task force in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.  As a national voice within the federal government for the nation’s 56 million people with disabilities, including people with psychiatric disabilities (people with mental illness), we are eager and willing to provide advice and counsel to the efforts of the task force and the  actions of leaders within the Administration and Congress.

We agree with you wholeheartedly that something needs to change. As you identified in your recent public addresses in the wake of the tragedy, NCD further agrees that finding solutions to stemming such tragic violence requires thoughtful examination of multiple policies and systems. While a disability diagnosis of the perpetrator of the violence in Newtown remains unconfirmed, media coverage and national dialogue has increasingly focused on issues related to mental health, often portraying, intentionally or not, a correlation between certain mental or developmental disabilities and violence. On the contrary, research consistently documents that people with disabilities are much more likely to be victims of violence than the perpetrators of it.

Accordingly, in addition to offering our wealth of policy knowledge from over three decades of engaging in discussion and advancing recommendations regarding community-based health services, supportive housing, and peer supports for people with diverse disabilities, NCD is particularly interested in ensuring that fears, myths, and stereotypes about people with disabilities are not perpetuated.  It is important that the policy proposals considered and advanced by the task force do not, even inadvertently, reinforce stigma and confound existing and future efforts to encourage utilization of mental health services. We encourage you to charge the task force with considering strategies to combat such misinformation in the course of its work and within the Administration’s messaging on the Newtown tragedy more generally.   

NCD is ready to assist the interagency task force, the rest of your Administration, and leaders of Congress as we move forward in a spirit of unity to address this latest tragedy and bring healing that can only come from our collective sober resolve.
 

Very Respectfully,
 

Jonathan M. Young, Ph.D., J.D.
Chairman, National Council on Disability
 

cc:// Vice President Joe Biden
The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius
The Honorable Arne Duncan
The Honorable Eric Holder

National Council on Disability • 1331 F Street, NW, Suite 850 • Washington, DC 20004