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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.

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Events

LIVE WEBCAST | From Application to Onboarding: Accommodations Make a Difference
Thursday, September 4, 2014

Moving Beyond Compliance | Chase Tower, Chicago
Wednesday, September 10, 2014

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Press Releases

NOD Chairman Updates US Labor Secretary on Efforts to Prepare Federal Contractors for Rule Change

If Embraced by Corporate America, DOL Rule Change Could Result in 600,000 Jobs for People with Disabilities

July 14, 2014 Washington, D.C. – At a briefing prepared for U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, National Organization on Disability Chairman Tom Ridge and President Carol Glazer today shared what they have been hearing from corporate America as federal contractors prepare for a new seven-percent hiring goal for people with disabilities.

With the rule change going into effect this past March, many companies are working to comply right now. In an effort to assist employers who may find reaching these new goals challenging, NOD has expanded its role by adapting its services to help businesses to effectively recruit, hire, train and retain job-seekers with disabilities.

“In setting the new rules, your staff proved to be responsive and made many necessary adjustments based on feedback from the business community,” Gov. Ridge told Sec. Perez and Patricia Shiu, director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. “We are pleased that you are seeking to keep the lines of communication open so that we can continue to share with you what we’re hearing from employers in an effort to help them achieve the seven-percent target and increase employment opportunity for the 29 million working-age Americans with disabilities.”

Leaders from Giant Eagle and Prudential Join NOD Board Of Directors

June 18, 2014, New York, NY – The National Organization on Disability (NOD) today announced that Laura Karet, chief executive officer at Giant Eagle, Inc., and Michele C. Green, vice president and chief diversity officer at Prudential Financial, Inc., have been elected to its Board of Directors. The unanimous vote came at NOD’s Board of Directors meeting last week.

“We are delighted to add Laura Karet and Michele Green to NOD’s board at what is a critical time for the disability community,” said Gov. Tom Ridge, Chairman of NOD. “New rule changes from the U.S. Labor Department offer great hope for employing more Americans with disabilities, and Laura and Michele’s experience and passion for these issues will be very much needed to make sure we are capitalizing on those opportunities. We thank them both for stepping up and serving.”

“It is a tremendous honor to join the Board of Directors of the National Organization on Disability,” said Karet. “Giant Eagle has had great success with our Team Members (employees) with disabilities, who bring an excellent work ethic and reflect the diverse customers and communities we serve. I look forward to collaborating with my fellow Board members on how we can create more opportunities for people with disabilities – not just within our own organizations – but across the country.”

NOD Chairman Ridge Calls for Ratification of Disability Treaty Following Supreme Court Ruling

Image of Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities logoJune 9, 2014, New York, NY – A recent ruling by the United States Supreme Court should clear the way for the U.S. Senate to approve an international treaty designed to promote the rights of people with disabilities worldwide, according to Tom Ridge, Chairman of the National Organization on Disability. Until now, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has been stalled in its negotiations on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, or Disability Treaty. The Supreme Court has spoken unanimously in the case of Bond v. United States, and established that the balance of powers between the federal government and the states can be maintained with appropriate language added to international treaties like the Disability Treaty.

“As Chairman of the National Organization on Disability, I call on those Republican Senators who used the pending decision as the basis of their opposition to the Treaty to accept the unanimous verdict of the Court and support it,” said Gov. Ridge. “I urge expedited, bipartisan support for this landmark Treaty.

“The Disability Treaty would export American leadership and values abroad, and protect Americans, including the 5.5 million American veterans with disabilities, from inaccessibility and discrimination when they wish to work, study, or travel overseas. Ratification of the Treaty would be a victory not only for those whose rights are protected, but for the ideals of freedom and equality for all that are the bedrock on which this nation was built.”

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