Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I was disappointed that The Washington Times recently perpetuated the type of bigotry that has kept too many people with disabilities out of American workplaces and mainstream society (“Holder’s ‘severe mental deficiency,’ ” Comment & Analysis, Aug. 23). The Times’ editorial attacking the Justice Department’s efforts to include people with disabilities in its workforce is disturbing. Its assumption that people with disabilities are incompetent employees — a baseless stereotype — demonstrates the very reason why it is important to have efforts like that in which the Justice Department is engaged.

When President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) into law in 1990, he noted that the law would “unlock a splendid resource of untapped human potential that, when freed, will enrich us all.” Mr. Bush reminded Americans that people with disabilities “want to work, and they can work” and that “this is a tremendous pool of people who will bring to jobs diversity, loyalty, proven low turnover rate, and only one request: the chance to prove themselves.”

That sentiment was echoed last year by Thomas J. Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Calling people with disabilities a “great untapped resource,” Mr. Donohue observed that “companies that take a lead in hiring people with disabilities are positioning themselves for success when worker and skills shortages will make diversity and inclusion programs a necessity rather than a choice.”

Yet despite their talents and skills, people with disabilities continue to have dramatically high rates of unemployment and underemployment 22 years after the ADA was passed. Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat and chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, recently issued a report sounding the alarm and calling on Congress, the administration, the business community and society at large to make employment of people with disabilities a priority.

As chairman of the National Governors Association, I have made employment of people with disabilities a top priority. I have been reaching out to business leaders, who are eager to partner in this effort. Increasing employment of people with disabilities is critical to our economic health.

The Justice Department should be proud, not ashamed, of its efforts to implement the president’s executive order calling for increased hiring of federal workers with disabilities. People with disabilities have been among our most successful presidents, Supreme Court justices and federal agency leaders. We will all benefit from having them serve.


Dover, Del.

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