November 11 is a day to celebrate and honor the millions of Americans, of all races and genders, who served this country with honor as veterans of the US military – today is Veterans Day! It is time to recognize the veterans who are living with the “signature wound” of more recent wars: traumatic brain injury and often the co-occurring post-traumatic stress disorder. These men and women fight on the battlefield for the citizens of the United States and now fight for their health and/or equality back at home. (Visit the articles links or click the Government/Military link on the right side of this page to find more information about veterans and TBI.)
This past month has been a time of, “reflecting [on] the important role that different perspectives play in workforce success,” as October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. This year, President Trump issued a proclamation to honor NDEAM in which he recognized that, “every American who is willing and able to work should have the opportunity… this includes the 30 million American adults with disabilities.” Statistically, it is unfortunate to see that NDEAM has not had enough of an effect in its 70+ years of existence. According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment rate for disabled Americans has risen, from 18.1 percent in September 2016 to 19.6 percent this September. However, this is still far below the employment rate for non-disabled Americans, which was 65.5 percent in September 2016 and 66 percent this year.
President Trump referred to the above statistic, when he said that, “more employers should recognize the fresh perspectives and skills these men and women can add to an innovation-focused workforce.” Reflecting this statement, in 2017, the theme of NDEAM has been “Inclusion Drives Innovation“.
The National Institute of Health defines aphasia as, “a disorder that results from damage to portions of the brain that are responsible for language… The disorder impairs the expression and understanding of language as well as reading and writing. Aphasia may co-occur with speech disorders, such as dysarthria or apraxia of speech, which also result from brain damage.” Brain damage is, of course, the defining effect of a traumatic brain injury and other neurological disorders.
The United States government has designated June as National Aphasia Awareness Month. The subtitle of an article from yesterday’s Huffington Post states what I see as the main purpose of the Month: “Just because you have word-finding problems does not mean you have diminished intelligence!” Educating the public is the key to Aphasia Awareness, so that those who have a neurological disorder and those who know an individual who has a neurological disorder recognize that their innate intelligence is still very much present.
February 20 was President’s Day. Before the end of the month, it is good to honor one of America’s most lauded presidents and brain injury survivor, Abraham Lincoln:
During his younger years, although he had little formal education, Lincoln was an avid reader. He would have rather spent a day reading a book than outside riding a horse. Perhaps because of his comparable inexperience with outdoor activities, Lincoln was thrown off a horse as a child. Though the specifics of this event are murky (some articles/posts claim he was 9-years-old during the incident, some say 10. Some say he was hurt by a horse, others say a mule), what is clear is that he remained unconscious for at least the rest of the day.
Later in his life, Lincoln had two bouts of malaria, in 1830 and 1835. When parasite-filled blood cells block blood vessels, malaria can cause brain damage. Also in 1835, some claim that Lincoln had the sexually transmitted disease syphilis. Syphilis can cause neurological problems.
While both contracting malaria and syphilis may have heightened the severity of Lincoln’s brain injury, the most severe occurrence to Lincoln’s brain was, most likely, the aforementioned fall off a horse at a young age. Given this historical information, it is clear the Lincoln had some sort of brain damage. His recorded behavior further exhibits this. Specifically, Lincoln is known to have had a prolonged struggle with severe depression. Depression is, unfortunately, a common side effect of brain injury.
Whether knowing that Lincoln had some sort of neurological problem affects people’s views of him positively, negatively or not at all, is irrelevant. People simply need to know that the president who brought our country back together had a brain injury. Knowing this, the public may question and change their underestimation of and negative behavior towards brain injured classmates, neighbors, fellow employees, etc.
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.
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.