Rebuttal to editorial on Holder’s “severe mental deficiency”

The editorial equating

SILVER SPRING, Md., August  30, 2012 — On August 22, The Washington Times published an editorial attacking affirmative action for people with disabilities seeking to enter the federal workforce. The piece opened with the sentence, “You don’t have to have a severe intellectual disability to work at the Justice Department. But it helps.”

The editorial equates “disabled” with “unqualified” and refers to the Justice Department policy of hiring those with disabilities as a “crazy new human-resources priority.” It calls the policy a way to deny opportunities to well-qualified job seekers, ignoring the fact that many disabled individuals are extremely qualified for federal positions.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network issued the following statement in response:

The Washington Times‘ recent editorial attacking efforts by the federal government to act as a “model employer” for people with disabilities is full of both blatant factual inaccuracies and statements calculated to denigrate the contributions of workers with disabilities. Not only does the Times ignore the reality of widespread discrimination against disabled people—it also accepts such discrimination as natural and desirable. To the Times’ Editorial Board, “Most employers would balk at even minor mental disabilities in hiring a lawyer,” and federal disability hiring initiatives propose to employ “those who are teetering on the edge of sanity.” This attitude ignores the legacies of pioneering disabled attorneys like Paul Steven Miller and Evan Kemp, both of whom faced down prejudice and dedicated their careers to advocating on behalf of the disabled community. Today’s generation of lawyers with disabilities deserve no less respect.

According to The Washington Times, disabled people are hopelessly damaged goods: we are automatically unqualified or poorly qualified for positions within the Justice Department, and inherently incapable of providing taxpayers with a “superior level of public service.”  The author ignores the long-standing and deeply entrenched ableism that pervades hiring processes in the public and private sectors. Along with perpetuating damaging stereotypes about disabled people—particularly those of us with developmental and psychiatric disabilities—the author makes bold assertions based on factual inaccuracies. Despite the author’s protestations about “special treatment” and the potential for abuse, Schedule A requires extensive documentation and has nothing to do with Standard Form 256—which asks only those who have been hired to voluntarily self-identify as disabled for statistical purposes. Schedule A also does not allow for the hiring of unqualified employees. 

Although the Times’ editorial evinces a tone of shocked indignation, as if the idea of regarding disabled people as a minority subject to historical and ongoing injustice is novel and outrageous, such affirmative action policies are neither new nor unique to the Justice Department. The initiative to provide disabled applicants with opportunities within the federal government dates back decades, and the Obama administration’s executive order has simply increased the effective implementation of a long-standing policy across federal departments. 

Ultimately, The Washington Times grossly mischaracterizes a policy that is delivering meaningful employment opportunities to qualified candidates with disabilities, thereby improving the diversity and talent within the federal workforce. American taxpayers are themselves an incredibly diverse population, and they deserve to be served by public employees who reflect that diversity.  That such an editorial was published at all demonstrates how sorely such policies are needed, and how far we have to go to attain equality and inclusion for the disabled community.

You can visit the ASAN website for more information about federal disability hiring efforts

For a long time, I have struggled with publishing what I feel to be very important information about disability and autism on this site, hosted by The Washington Times.  This editorial by TWT Opinion makes me question continuing that relationship even though TWT opinion does not in anyway reflect the multi-faceted group of writers and editors that daily create the Communities.

We will wait and see what the response, by TWT, to this opinion editorial is. I would like to know, do you wish to see Autism Unexpected stay in this space?  

Jean writes a personal blog at Stimeyland and an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey. Read more of Jean’s work at Autism Unexpected in the Communities at the Washington Times. Please credit Jean Winegardner and the “Communities at” when linking to this story.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Jean Winegardner

When Jean had her first child in 2001, "autism" was about the scariest word she could think of. Six years later when her second child was diagnosed with PDD-NOS, a form of autism, she was just happy to have a word to help him get the services he needed. Her autism journey has been full of tears, laughter, love and at least one attorney.

Jean blogs about her life with her autistic son, Jack, on her blog, Stimeyland. Her two neurotypical children, Sam and Quinn (one older, one younger than Jack), make frequent appearances there as well. Also at Stimeyland? Jean's quirky sense of humor.

She also runs AutMont, an events calendar listing autism-related events in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Raising a child with special needs is hard for so many reasons, but after living with Jack, Jean wouldn't trade him for anything in the world. Come along with Jean as she experiences the joys that come with parenting a special kid.

You can email Jean anytime at stimeyland at gmail dot com or follow her on Twitter, where, as "Stimey," she offers her world view in snippets of 140 characters or less.

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