What do you do with all the cash you saved on Black Friday and Cyber Monday? Well, 6 years ago #GivingTuesday was officially introduced. (The hashtag in the name is a clear indication that the global day of giving was instigated on social media and peoples’ desire to help.) On the day’s website, one can find most of the charities/non-profits in their area. Though all the listed charities/non-profits are well-deserving of support, specifically related to brain injury, there are links to the Brain Injury Alliances in various states and other charities, nonprofits and hospitals that help the brain injured. (One foundation that is not found in the search, but is well-worth donated to, especially for those residing in the North New Jersey area, is the Kessler Foundation.)
Gabby Giffords may be a Democrat, but she also is an Arizonian and brain injury survivor. Her husband, Mark Kelly, is a former astronaut who presumptively knows many fellow astronauts who have had a brain injury from their travel. Politically, they differ from Senator McCain. However, as fellow Arizonians, his friend and his former colleague, she and her husband have expressed their hope for McCain’s recovery.
Kelly expressed the importance of maintaining a positive outlook, just as McCain did during his 5+ years detained as a prison-of-war during the Vietnam War. Giffords tweeted, “You’re tough! You can beat this. Fight, fight, fight! I am proud to call you my friend.”
As has been widely reported, Senator John McCain was diagnosed with brain cancer on Friday of last week. As if having to undergo brain surgery to remove what were thought to be benign brain tumors wasn’t enough, now that they are known to be malignant, McCain can look forward to a host of symptoms. These symptoms can include vision problems, seizures, difficulties with concentration and thinking, difficulties with speech, etc. In essence, the symptoms of brain cancer largely mirror those of brain injury. In fact, the National Institute of Health has published the results of a study that shows that there is an, “association between traumatic brain injury and the subsequent risk of brain cancer.”
Despite his medical issue though, McCain has chosen not to stay idle: “Just hours after news broke of McCain’s brain cancer diagnosis, the Arizona senator blasted President Trump amid a report that the administration decided to halt a CIA training program for moderate Syrian rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime.” Additionally, his diagnosis has produced an almost unheard-of-now bipartisan show of support, which could perhaps open the door for further cooperation.
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.
First recognized in 2009, the CDC designates March as Brain Injury Awareness Month in order to “protect kids and teens by raising awareness and informing action to improve prevention, recognition, and response to concussion and other serious brain injuries.” This year, the awareness month has been entitled “HEADS UP!”, as it primarily involves educational activities about concussion diagnosis and treatment. As information regarding the month’s Awareness activities becomes available, this blog will update this post. (View this year’s Facebook page about the month.)
February 1 marked the 14th annual Brain Injury Awareness Day in Virginia. Hosted by neurologist and State Delegate John O’Bannon, this day allows those affected by and/or advocating for brain injury to discuss their concerns and wants with their state legislators. This year, the discussion specifically focused on the state government’s cuts (but not elimination) of funding for rehabilitation for brain injured individuals. Because of this concern, “after meeting with legislators, dozens of survivors, advocates and caretakers of people with brain injuries held a rally Wednesday to call for improvements in services for disabled Virginians.” What the government may not understand though, is that it takes rehabilitation, sometimes lengthy rehabilitation, to regain functionality following a brain injury, meaning that adequate state funding is necessary. Increased functionality means increased employment, increased tax collections and less reliance on government-funded support and services.
In the article, Anne McDonnell, executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Virginia, is quoted as saying, “It is a rare privilege to watch a brain come back online.” This statement implies that brain injury survivors are primarily non-functioning individuals. This is highly offensive and simply not true.
Additionally, the article quotes a survivor who is involved with the Association, as saying, “Forty-two … I think I’m 42.” By choosing to publish this quote, the author of this article is making light of a symptom of this survivor’s disability. Additionally, I believe that this person, as with many brain injury survivors, has a general disbelief of his memory because he had so many memory problems immediately following his injury. No one remembers everything.
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.
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.
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.)
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.