The National Organization on Disability

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Robin Williams and the ‘Stigma’ of Mental Illness

Image of DiversityInc logoThe sudden death of famed actor and comedian Robin Williams has brought added attention to the severity of mental illness. Williams’ long battle with depression and his suspected bipolar disorder reportedly led the actor to commit suicide this week.

Williams’ battles are far from uncommon. According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide among middle-aged men has risen a startling 27 percent since 1999. Millions of Americans face the daily reality of depression and mental illness, and American companies are discovering ways to help their employees.

Why are so many people afraid to disclose, and treat, a mental illness?

We asked three disability advocates and leaders—Carol Glazer, President, National Organization on Disability (NOD); Lori Golden, Abilities Strategy Leader and AccessAbilities Leader for EY; and Jill Houghton, Executive Director, US Business Leadership Network (USBLN)—to shed some light on depression and on ways that mental-health issues can be successfully managed in the workplace.

All three women see one key hurdle: The stigma associated with mental illness is keeping those with it from being open about their condition, and from receiving the needed assistance in order to succeed in the workforce and society.

In Memoriam: James Brady Advocated for Access, Too

Image of Washington Post logoWhite House press secretary James S. Brady, who died on Aug. 4 at 73, was shot in the head in John Hinckley’s assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. As noted in The Post’s obituary [“Witty Reagan aide and gun-control advocate,” front page, Aug. 5], Brady’s name was incorporated into the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and he is commemorated by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (the Brady bill).

Missing from the obituary was Brady’s notable work as a disability advocate. He was the vice chairman of the National Organization on Disability for many years (he was succeeded by another leader whose life changed in a random moment: Christopher Reeve).

Brady advocated passionately for the Americans With Disabilities Act. His support was important to the passage of the bill, which President George H.W. Bush signed in 1990. As a lifelong Republican who had taken a bullet serving Reagan, Brady was in a unique position to make the case for the ADA.

Brady lived with major permanent disabilities for more than 33 years. His massive brain injury affected him physically — he was partially paralyzed and used a wheelchair — and mentally. Brady used his visibility to be a champion of disability rights for his fellow Americans.

Brewster Thackeray, Arlington

The writer is executive director of the ENDependence Center of Northern Virginia and was formerly vice president of the National Organization on Disability.

James Brady, Also a Noted Disability Advocate

A Letter from NOD’s Former Vice President on the Legacy of James Brady

Disability can strike any person at any moment. Nobody personified this fact more than James S. Brady, who woke up able-bodied on March 30, 1981, and barely survived the day. Jim Brady, who passed away on August 4th at 73, was shot in the head during John Hinckley’s assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. The President, hit by a bullet that ricocheted off his limousine, fully recovered. Mr. Brady was left with major permanent disabilities that he lived with for more than 33 years. His massive brain injury impacted him physically—he was partially paralyzed and used a wheelchair—and mentally.

Jim Brady’s name was incorporated into the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence that his wife Sarah chaired, and he was commemorated in the name of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (also known as the Brady Bill). Less well-known than his gun control activity was Mr. Brady’s work as a disability advocate. It has been little detailed in the media coverage of his passing, but he was the Vice Chairman of the National Organization on Disability for many years, a post in which he was succeeded by another famous leader whose life changed in a random moment, Christopher Reeve.

After accepting Founding President Alan Reich’s invitation to become NOD’s Vice Chairman in 1989, Mr. Brady advocated passionately for the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. His support was important to the passage of this bipartisan bill, which President Bush signed in 1990. A lifelong Republican who had taken a bullet serving Ronald Reagan, Mr. Brady was in a strong position to make the case, as he put it, that “People with disabilities – the largest minority in the U.S. – were left out of the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964… Congress has a chance to correct this injustice.”​

His excellent op-ed on the topic in the New York Times can still be read online.

Nobody chooses to have a disability. Mr. Brady was a champion of disability rights who used his experience to advocate for opportunities for his fellow Americans with disabilities.

Brewster Thackeray
Executive Director, ENDependence Center of Northern Virginia

[The writer was Vice President of NOD from 2000-2004]

NOD Remembers James S. Brady, former Vice Chairman, Press Secretary & Disability Advocate

James Brady was serving as President Ronald Reagan’s former press secretary when he was wounded during an assassination attempt by John W. Hinckley Jr. The incident left Mr. Brady seriously wounded; he suffered from partial paralysis and was largely confined to a wheel chair for the remainder of this life. In the decades after the shooting, Mr. Brady became an outspoken advocate for disability rights and stricter gun-control policies.

In 1989, James Brady joined NOD as Vice Chairman. Brady and other NOD leaders gave speeches, lobbied Congressional Committees, and enlisted nationwide grassroots support for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed into law in 1990. The ADA gave new impetus to the disability movement and a fresh public awareness of the critical issue of the employment of people with disabilities.

Brady authored an impassioned op-ed for The New York Times in 1989 urging Congress to pass the law, saying:

“Experience has shown that no civil right has ever been secured without legislation. A law such as the Disabilities Act would insure that facilities and employers - public and private - maintain minimum standards of accessibility. The act would require installation of ramps, elevators, lifts and other aids in new private businesses and public buildings, and on newly purchased buses and trains. And it would prohibit discrimination in private employment, public accommodations, transportation and telecommunications.

“By breaking down barriers in stores and offices, it would enable more disabled people to purchase goods and services - and thereby strengthen our national economy. By breaking down barriers in public transportation, the act would allow more people with disabilities to be employed and participate in community activities. The act would free hundreds of thousands of citizens who are virtually prisoners in their homes because of inaccessible transportation and public accommodations.”

Today, we at the National Organization on Disability honor James S. Brady’s life and work and continue to work toward the full integration of Americans with disabilities in all aspects of life.

Crossing the Line from Pet to Service Animal

Image of USA Today LogoMany fliers avoid airline fees by misrepresenting their pet dogs as service animals, giving legitimate service animal owners a bad reputation.

Frequent business travelers and at least one airline say they have noticed an uptick in the number of service dogs in aircraft cabins, raising questions for others as to whether a number of dogs that are truly pets are being passed off as service dogs.

Such fliers don’t want keep their dogs in a carrier case in the cabin or aim to avoid paying a fee for their pets, says Jeanne Hampl of the Assistance Dog Club of Puget Sound in Gig Harbor, Wash.

“There’s so much fraud out there,” says Hampl, secretary of the club, which helps members train service animals. “People do it all the time — say it’s a service dog when it’s not — and create so many access problems for people with legitimate service animals.”

People with a legitimate need for a service dog may include blind individuals, paraplegics, amputees and others with “visible disabilities,” but travelers with “invisible” disabilities — such as hearing or emotional problems, diabetes or seizures — may also need them, Hampl says.

NOD Director & Harvard Law School Professor to Receive Disability Rights Award from Bar Association

Image of ADA Disability Commission LogoJuly 31, 2014, Washington, DC — Michael A. Stein, an internationally acclaimed expert on disability law and policy who participated in the drafting of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, will receive the American Bar Association’s Paul G. Hearne Award for Disability Rights. Stein is a member of NOD’s board of directors, in addition to being the co-founder and executive director of the Harvard Law School Project on Disability. The ABA Commission on Disability Rights selected Stein for his commitment and service as a disability rights advocate and teacher.

He is the recipient of numerous awards from global disability rights groups (most recently, the inaugural Henry Viscardi Achievement Award) and national level disability rights organizations that he has been honored to serve and was recognized by the Boston Globe Magazine as a “Bostonian Changing the World.”

The award, co-sponsored by Starbucks Coffee Co., will be presented at the commission’s Reception for Lawyers with Disabilities during the 2014 ABA Annual Meeting in Boston sponsored by Walmart and Microsoft.

Employment in US Improves, But Disabled Jobless Rate Stays Stubbornly High

​WASHINGTON—While the U.S. unemployment rate fell from 7.9 percent in 2012 to 7.1 percent in 2013, the jobless rate for people with disabilities remained stubbornly above 13 percent - which comes as little surprise to advocates.

They point to a combination of factors for the problem - employers’ hesitation to hire, disabled people’s fears that a job could cost them benefits and a federal benefits system that creates a “disincentive to work.” Because of that, joblessness for the disabled was 13.2 percent in 2013, down only slightly from 13.4 percent a year earlier,according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

“We’re talking about a very long-term, chronic problem,” said Carol Glazer, president of the National Organization on Disability.

Arizona reflects the broader national problems, say experts, even though no state numbers on employment for the disabled in 2013 were available. But the Census Bureau averaged unemployment for working-age people with disabilities from 2008 to 2012 and put the rate at 17.8 percent nationally for that period, while it was 18.4 percent in Arizona.

What’s So Special About Special Needs?

Image of HuffingtonPost LogoHUFFINGTON POST BLOG By CAROL GLAZER, President, National Organization on Disability

My 22-year-old son, Jacob, tests as “mildly mentally retarded” on standardized IQ tests, but he’s one of the smartest people I know.

Like many people with intellectual disabilities, Jacob speaks with few filters, often saying the one thing in the room that everyone is thinking, but no one else dares to say. Last week when friends were over for dinner, he was asked why he contributed little to the evening’s conversation. His answer came quickly: “You’re talking about boring stuff.”

So when Jacob asks, “What’s so special about special needs?” it’s a great question.

Disability Does Not Justify Pistorius Shooting, Groups Say

Image of ABC News logo

NOD President Comments on Olympian’s Defense to ABCNEWS

A defense witness in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial said people with disabilities are more likely to have symptoms of anxiety and “exaggerated fight or flight” responses, but disability rights groups aren’t buying it as an excuse for the shooting death of his girlfriend.

“Frankly, I think there’s a little bit of exploitation of his physical disability to say that it’s linked to some mental health issue that would cause him to commit murder,” said the president of the National Organization on Disabilities, Carol Glazer. “It’s just too much of a stretch.”

Pistorius, a 27-year-old South African Olympian known as the “Blade Runner” for his prosthetic legs, is on trial for shooting his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp through a locked bathroom door on Valentine’s Day 2013. He claims he mistook her for a burglar.​

Shinseki Resignation Must Trigger VA Retooling

HUFFINGTON POST BLOG By CAROL GLAZER, President, National Organization on Disability

Image of HuffingtonPost Logo News that Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki has resigned in the wake of misconduct and mismanagement at the agency’s vast network of medical facilities is upsetting. As most observers, including veterans up close to the VA would agree, Shinseki was a visionary who began what could have been an effective reform agenda.

But make no mistake: The problems that have come to light with the VA did not happen overnight, nor even in the course of one administration. And some of the problems result from the actions—and in some cases, inaction—of Congress, some of whose members would rather politicize problems than solve them.

With 300,000 employees, the VA is the third largest federal agency, responsible for all services to veterans from acute medical care, to housing, education and employment benefits. Few organizations—public or private—can do all these things well. The VA’s sheer size and span of responsibility render it ineffective at adapting to the ever-changing nature of war, the toll it takes on our troops and their families, and the ways communities are organizing themselves to respond.