The National Organization on Disability

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Let’s Make Compliance the Floor, Not the Ceiling

Op-ed by Randy Lewis, Former SVP at Walgreens’, accidental disability-advocate and featured speaker at NOD’s CEO Council form “Moving Beyond Compliance”

Image of Randy LewisWay up on the 57th floor of Chase Tower, a group of people came together in Chicago last week who are literally changing the lives of so many Americans living with disabilities. This is an historic moment when our nation can at long last begin to harvest the talents of Americans with disabilities and, in the process, help them enjoy full opportunity for employment and earnings. For those in the workforce, the unemployment rate of people with disabilities in the U.S. is nearly twice the national unemployment rate. It’s a pervasive problem that still exists nearly a quarter century after the Americans with Disabilities Act became law. But you can feel the tide starting to turn.

The National Organization on Disability (NOD), which has been doing great work to help companies close that employment gap, hosted a forum in partnership with Exelon, one of Chicago’s leading employers engaged with this issue. There is now building in corporate America today a new energy and commitment toward workplaces that include people with disabilities with all other diversity segments. Workplaces where people with disabilities are considered for what they can do, not what they can’t. Where employees with disabilities are performing equal tasks and earning equal pay. I had the privilege of leading such a process at Walgreens and shared my experiences with the group assembled this week atop Chase Tower. More on my Walgreens experience in a moment.

One reason this is such a remarkable time is the recent shift in public policy out of Washington. This year, the U.S. Labor Department adopted a rule change that, for the first time, sets a seven-percent hiring goal for people with disabilities if you are a contractor that does business with the federal government. Many companies are working to comply right now, and I know some here in the Midwest have raised concerns. That’s why I’m delighted Patricia Shiu, the point person at DOL who spearheaded the rule change, was able to travel from D.C. to Chicago for this forum. Her office has worked hard to listen to employers to make the transition smoother. My message to corporate America is a simple one: Don’t do it because you have to, do it because it will make your company better.

US Department of Labor News Brief: Workforce Inclusion Forum

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More than 120 business leaders and community advocates attended a symposium on disability employment hosted by the National Organization on Disability and Exelon in Chicago on Sept. 10.

Retired Walgreens Executive Randy Lewis (left) and Carol Glazer, president for the National Organization on Disability (right) listen to OFCCP Director Patricia Shiu at a NOD sponsored symposium in Chicago on hiring and including employees with disabilities.
Retired Walgreens Executive Randy Lewis (left) and Carol Glazer, president for the National Organization on Disability (right) listen to OFCCP Director Patricia Shiu at a NOD sponsored symposium in Chicago on hiring and including employees with disabilities.

Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs Director Patricia A. Shiu discussed the agency’s rule establishing a 7 percent employment goal for people with disabilities by federal contractors and subcontractors. “The experience of companies has overwhelmingly been that these hires are a source of loyal, hard-working talent that boosts corporate productivity,” Shiu said. ​

Retired Walgreens executive Randy Lewis described efforts that led to 10 percent of the company’s workforce consisting of individuals with disabilities. “Don’t hire people with disabilities because you have to, do it because it will make your company better,” he said.

NOD Chairman Gov. Tom Ridge Delivers Keynote Remarks at Pennsylvania Disability Employment Summit

NOD Chairman and former state governor Tom Ridge delivered keynote remarks at the the third-annual Pennsylvania Disability Employment Summit (PADES). The summit brings together business leaders, advocates, providers and persons with disabilities to discuss the importance of helping individuals with disabilities gain employment and achieve independence.

Widely covered by press outlets throughout Pennsylvania, the three-day event featured a Secretaries’ Roundtable with cabinet officials discussing how agencies help provide services that assist individuals with disabilities, information on tax incentives and free training available to employers; updates on transportation for Pennsylvanians with disabilities; and a job fair where businesses can recruit and interview qualified candidates on the spot.

Revisiting the Pain of Mental Illness in America: What Can We Learn From Robin Williams’ Suicide?

Image of HuffingtonPost LogoHuffington Post Blog by NOD President Carol Glazer

As an actor, comic and humanitarian, Robin Williams touched millions of lives. His untimely death by suicide linked to serious depression has deprived all of us of years more of his extraordinary gifts. More importantly, his family lost a husband and father. The media has been abuzz about the profound pain wrought by depression on its victims and their families. But before we move on to the next important news story, let’s first tally up what Robin Williams’ death tells us about the stigmatization of mental illness and the cost of investing in its early detection and treatment vs. the cost of not doing so.

Throughout history, as a society we’ve treated mental illness in short bursts, separated by large periods of benign or active neglect. From the purges and bloodletting in the Middle Ages, to later “madhouses” that housed inhabitants in cages, to reforms creating more humane state hospitals in the late 1800s, public policy has come full circle. In the 1960s we learned that state institutions were no better than incarceration of previous centuries. That recognition led to deinstitutionalization in the mid-1960s, codified by President Kennedy’s funding for treatment facilities through the Community Mental Health Act of 1963. (President Kennedy’s sister Rosemary had famously undergone a lobotomy, which left her inert and unable to speak more than a few words).

But while the number of institutionalized mentally ill people in the United States dropped from a peak of 560,000 to just over 130,000 in 1980, only half of the proposed community mental health centers intended to support individuals who transitioned back to communities were ever built, and many of those that remained were dismantled in the 1970s and ‘80s due to lack of funding. Sadly, the promise of deinstitutionalization—helping vast numbers of people with mental health disabilities lead normal and productive lives through treatment in their communities—was never fulfilled.

Let’s Fill the Disability Gap

Image of Profiles in Diversity Journal logoBobby Sturgell, SVP Washington Operations, Rockwell Collins and NOD Director

Before you hire your next employee, I challenge you to consider someone with a disability. The benefits that a person with a disability brings can be significant. Research studies dating back to 1948 have consistently shown that employees with disabilities have average or better attendance, job performance, and safety records than their non-disabled counterparts, as well as a lower turnover rate.

Reportedly, there are 56 million people with disabilities living in the U.S., and approximately 33 million of them are of working age. The labor force participation rate of this group is 21 percent, which is much lower than the participation rate of those working without disabilities—approximately 70 percent.

We recognize the value that persons with disabilities bring, especially veterans that served our country. Being in the defense industry, the skills that disabled veterans bring are a natural fit. Their battle experience using our technology can produce strong customer affinity.​

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.