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On August 22nd, 2012, The Washington Times published an editorial entitled, "Holder's 'Severe Mental Deficiency'", attacking affirmative action for people with disabilities seeking to enter the federal workforce. In response, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network has issued the following statement:
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 disabilitie! s 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.
Director of Community Engagement
Autistic Self Advocacy Network