NDEAM: The Beginning

On September 2, 1945, WWII officially ended.  However, for many of the 670,846 wounded in the war, the struggle did not end there.  Discrimination, often unintentional, unknowing discrimination, was rampant against the disabled, meaning that their job prospects were limited.  (Discrimination was much more pervasive than it is now, though that is not to say that current job prospects for the disabled are good.)  Because of this, on September 21, 1945 by Act of Congress and Presidential proclamation, President Truman declared October 7-13, 1945 as National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.  In Proclamation 2664, the President wrote, “I ask the governors of States, mayors of cities, heads of the various agencies of the Government, and other public officials, as well as leaders in industry, education, religion, and every other aspect of our common life, during the week and at all other suitable times, to exercise every appropriate effort to enlist public support of a sustained program for the employment and development of the abilities and capacities of those who are physically handicapped.”

In response to this, many Senators and Representatives expressed their support.  Given the number of wounded veterans returning home and others with physical disabilities, many of those in Government had a personal interest in aiding those who they knew to be capable individuals.  In particular, Representative Earl C. Michener expressed on the Congressional Record, “Just because one cannot see as others do, or walk as others do, or talk as others do, or hear as others do, is no indication that this person does not have a mission in life and a definite productive place in society and in our economy.  However, it is easy for the American people to forget, and the celebration of this particular week will not only stimulate the memory, but will impress the necessity of remembering that there are in every community some physically handicapped persons.”  When you eliminate the word “physically” from this remark, so that it applies to today’s broader definition of disability, Rep. Michener’s statement is just as relevant now, as it was over 70 years ago.

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“Concussion. Oh, oh!” says Trump

Beyond commenting on the “softening” of the NFL, Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for President has essentially ignored those with brain injury during his campaign.  Last week in Florida, though, Donald Trump spoke of brain injury at a rally in Florida when, “a woman who had fainted [during a Trump rally]… returned to the crowd.”  Commenting on her return, Trump said, “That woman was out cold, and now she’s coming back.”  While there is nothing wrong with that statement, he then returned to a topic he spoke of earlier in his campaign: namely, he spoke of the “softening” of the NFL, with its new post-concussion regulations.

Through continual blows to the head, NFL players are prone to CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).  Harry Carson, a former Hall of Fame linebacker for the New York Giants who developed CTE, said in response to Trump’s views, “Once the brain is injured, you [can] never recover… So to make light of it, there’s a certain amount of ignorance that’s there.”  Carson also noted that many children look up to and try to imitate the actions of NFL players, which may lead to concussions and other brain injuries in them.

Political commentators always note when a candidate changes his or her views on a topic.  Trump, however, has stayed consistently pro-neurological disorder on this subject.  This opinion, though, expresses a disregard for Americans, merely for his entertainment.

October is… National Disability Employment Awareness Month

There is a “day/week/month” to celebrate or draw attention to everything.  For example, October 14th, was National Dessert Day.*  So, get some of your leftover ice cream and take a look at the information included in this article regarding an awareness month in October: National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).

NDEAM is led by the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP).  The purpose of ODEP is “to invest in systems change efforts that result in increased community-based, integrated employment opportunities for individuals with significant disabilities.”  (My question is who is to determine what “significant disability” means?)  The theme of NDEAM in 2016 is #InclusionWorks.  According to the Department of Labor, that means inclusion into all facets of work – business, opportunity and innovation.  If you look through the NDEAM page on the DOL website, you will see that the government has various suggestions on how employers should commemorate NDEAM: review policies, establish an ERG, create a display, train supervisors, educate employees, publish articles, feature NDEAM in social media activities, and participate in disability mentoring day.  (Given the abysmal employment numbers for the disabled, I think it’s really the employers that need to be educated on the abilities of the disabled, not just the employees.)

As positive as NDEAM is, its effectiveness is questionable.  According to a recent news release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of unemployed disabled Americans was 8.7% in September 2016.  In September 2015, this number was 10.4%.  For non-disabled Americans, the unemployment rate went from 4.7% in September 2015 to 4.6% this year.  It may seem that, in the past year, the disabled have had an easier time gaining employment, but the unemployment rate for the disabled is still twice the number of that of the general population and even this number’s validity is questionable.  People are only considered unemployed if they have been looking for work within the past 4 weeks and, after years of unemployment, one may no longer search for employment every month.  (On the other hand, there are only certain activities the government considers “actively searching for work,” so some people, disabled and not, may have been searching for work in other ways.)  For many disabled, they have been unemployed for much longer than a month.  For this and other similar reasons, many disabled are simply considered “not in the labor force”.  (Approximately 30% of working-age Americans are considered “not in the workforce”.  For the disabled, this number is about 80%.)

Neither President Obama nor any former President is to blame, per se, for America’s seemingly ineffectiveness disability-related employment policies.  Really, no one is to blame.  In fact, compared to 70+ years ago, the disabled are now treated with much more respect.  Recognized in various forms since 1945, politicians and the public simply don’t know what to do to properly “celebrate” NDEAM.  As you will see in my next posts, politicians throughout the years have simply not known what to do to help the America’s ever-increasing disabled population in relation to employment issues.

* Specifically related to TBI, the world honors Brain Injury Awareness Day on March 22.

Republicans Do Care: John Kasich

John Kasich does not have any known personal experience with disabilities, but as Governor of Ohio he has shown support to the disabled population.  One of the goals of Ohio’s current budget is “Better Support For Ohioans With Disablities”.  To that end, “the budget makes historic new investments to ensure that every Ohioan with a developmental disability who wants to live and work in the community can do so. [His] budget invests $286 million over two years to increase home- and community-based services, support community work opportunities and create new options for individuals who want to leave institutions.” 

In 2012, Kasich signed Executive Order 2012-05K, which launched Ohio’s Employment First program.  (Watch video where Kasich expresses his support for the program.)  The program, a cooperation between seven state government departments, explains well its purpose through its subtitle, “Every Person.  Every Talent.  Every Opportunity.”  Specifically, Employment First helps, “young people with developmental disabilities [learn] about employment options and planning during their school years. Adults with developmental disabilities… have support teams that assist in learning more about how abilities and interests can match opportunities in the workplace.”  Kasich continues to support those with disabilities, as in June, he signed a law that legalized medical marijuana in the state for certain medical conditions, including traumatic brain injury.

Republicans Do Care: Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee, often addressed and championed special needs children during her presidential campaign, as she has personal experience with it.  Her son, Trig, was born with the neurological disorder, Down syndrome.  Through parenting and advocacy she says, “what’s been confirmed in me is every [person] has something to contribute to the world, if we give them that chance.”  As Governor of Alaska, “[she] succeeded in securing additional funding and assistance for students with special needs.”

In 2010, she publicly chastised Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane for an episode in which, “Chris Griffin, the show’s awkward teenager, goes on a date with Ellen, a girl with Down syndrome… [whose] mom is the former governor of Alaska.”  (A scene that features Stewie singing a song about “Down Syndrome girl,” as he continually calls her, is particularly offensive.)  Obviously, and by MacFarlane’s own admission, the governor Ellen is referring to is Palin.  The actress who provided the voiceover, who has Down Syndrome herself, said Palin should have a sense of humor.  In response, Palin said “The world is full of cruel, cold-hearted people who would do such a thing.”  (My view is that someone with a neurological disorder can make fun of themselves, but if someone else makes fun of that person, it’s a completely different story.)

Republicans Do Care

I have made a point to note Hillary Clinton’s positive actions directed toward American’s ever-increasing disabled population.  However, by doing so, I am not intending to be partisan, as the disabled vote is, “represented fairly equally in both parties.”  Donald Trump seems ignorant of the large disabled voting bloc with his only noted discussion on this topic coming when he mocked the disabled reporter, Serge F. Kovaleski.  As a whole though, Republicans do care about the disabled demographic, both politically and personally.  Today, I will note two of these individuals and what they have done for the disabled.

Clinton Focuses on the “Invisible, Overlooked and Undervalued”

Before the media turned their attention to the presidential debates, Clinton did what fellow presidential nominees have yet to do: namely, on September 21, 2016 in Orlando, FL, Clinton gave a 30 minutes speech that focused on the “invisible, overlooked and undervalued”. Specifically, Clinton spoke about the disabled.

According to the CDC, more than 56 million Americans, or 19% of the population, are living with some form of disability.  “Whether they can participate in our economy and lead rich, full lives that are as healthy and productive as possible is a reflection on us as a country,” Clinton stated.  During her speech in Orlando, Clinton outlined her plan to make an “inclusive economy” for all Americans.  She promised to “focus on improving [disabled Americans] job opportunities.”  (This is an excellent goal, but it does not appear to be enforceable.  I continue to believe that educating the general public, from a young age, is key, thereby providing a better understanding of the capabilities of the disabled.)  She plans to eliminate employers’ ability to pay less than minimum wage to disabled workers and she plans to encourage new partnerships with businesses to improve hiring practices for those who have a disability.

Clinton says she will give the disabled a voice in the White House.   In fact, as Secretary of State, she appointed the first ever Special Advisor for International Disability Rights, Judith E. Heumann.  She has proposed “Autism Works”, a program to increase the job and housing opportunities for adults with autism.   Also, Clinton has released a campaign ad to highlight her commitment to help Americans with disabilities.  This ad, featuring Nyle Dimarco, a 27-year-old model who is deaf, begins, “by explaining that there isn’t any sound and that viewers should feel free to scroll past it because ‘we’re used to being ignored’.

Clinton’s notable speech withstanding, I see the disabled voting bloc as being largely ignored.  Clinton’s speech, for example, was the first speech during her campaign to put disabled Americans at the forefront.  However, Jennifer Mizrahi, the president of RespectAbility, an advocacy organization for people with disabilities, says the election has focused attention on issues affecting disabled voters as never before.

(On his website, Donald Trump makes a point to note that, on September 21, his campaign rally in Toledo, Ohio was attended by more than 2,000, while Clinton’s speech in Orlando, the same day, only had about 300 attendees.  But, in my view, substance is more important than pomp and, ummm, circus.)

Transcription of Hillary’s speech: https://www.hillaryclinton.com/briefing/updates/2016/09/21/in-orlando-clinton-vows-to-protect-the-rights-of-people-with-disabilities/