Self advocates call for retraction of Washington Times editorial

Ari Ne'eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, talks with Autism Unexpected about last week's editorial attacking federal disability hiring efforts.

SILVER SPRING, Md., September 4, 2012 — Last week, shortly after The Washington Times Opinion section published an editorial arguing against affirmative action for individuals with disabilities seeking jobs at the Justice Department, The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) put out a statement in response, published in this column.

Since then, ASAN has followed up with a FAQ, posted on the ASAN website, about federal disability hiring efforts that refutes many of the arguments made in the editorial. This FAQ outlines the purposes and differences in the forms mentioned in the Times editorial and explains why this hiring process doesn’t create an unqualified workforce.

Attorney General Eric Holder also responded to the editorial via a letter to the editor published in the Times on Monday.

Ari Ne’eman, president of ASAN, agreed to answer some questions about why the Times editorial was not just offensive, but factually inaccurate and should be retracted.

Autism Unexpected: What are the most important factual errors in the Times editorial?

Ne’eman: “I’d say the most important factual error is the idea that people with psychiatric and neurological disabilities can’t be good attorneys—that’s precisely the kind of naked bias the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was developed to fight. 

But beyond that, the Times’ piece presented this disability hiring initiative as focused on the Justice Department and emerging under the Obama administration. In fact, neither of those things are true—the Justice Department was implementing a policy that exists across the federal government, and while President Obama signed an executive order expanding implementation of Schedule A in 2010, the policy has been in place for decades under both Democratic and Republican administrations. 

In addition, the editorial confused federal affirmative action efforts for people with disabilities that requires extensive documentation—the Schedule A program—with the self-identification form that all new employees to the federal government fill out—the SF-256—whose purpose is just for estimating the number of people with disabilities employed in the federal workforce.”

Why is federal affirmative action hiring important to individuals with disabilities?

“People with disabilities are disproportionately excluded from the federal workforce, often because of attitudinal barriers on the part of employers. In the past, the federal government has acted as “model employer” for discriminated against minority groups, such as the African-American community, allowing qualified applicants from stigmatized backgrounds to acquire job experience that makes them more attractive to the private sector, thereby encouraging greater hiring outside of government. The Schedule A program moves us in that direction for the disability community as well.”

What can the Times do to make the situation better?

“Retract the editorial and apologize—let’s use this as a teaching opportunity. Conservatives and disability rights advocates actually share many goals—we believe in the dignity of work, we want disabled people to be participating in the workforce and not dependent on Social Security’s income support programs to survive. But government has a role to play in making those things happen for our community. To pretend otherwise is just foolish. The Washington Times owes its readers better than a diatribe that gets the facts wrong.”

Autism Unexpected supports ASAN’s position on the Times editorial and joins its leadership in asking the paper to retract the editorial.

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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