Your Aug. 23 editorial about people with disabilities was ill-informed, offensive and a stark reminder that persistent prejudices and stereotypes remain too prevalent in our society and must not go unchecked (“Holder’s ‘severe mental deficiency’ “).
The disability hiring authority to which your editorial refers is born from the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, signed by former President Richard Nixon. This authority allows the federal government to hire qualified persons with a range of disabilities for a variety of positions, including returning veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder, serious depression or traumatic brain injury — some of the disabilities you so derisively highlighted in your misguided editorial. It allows the additional flexibility to hire persons, when qualified, who are blind, deaf, paralyzed, have a seizure disorder or, yes, have severe intellectual or psychiatric disabilities.
As with all Justice Department hiring decisions, the most qualified candidate will be selected. What was notably absent from your editorial was the requirement that in order to be selected, the disabled candidates must demonstrate that they are qualified for the jobs.
Your suggestion that this important authority, given to all federal agencies by Congress, is being used at the department to hire only attorneys and then only those with what once was referred to as “mental retardation” or those who are “teetering on the edge of sanity” is not only inaccurate, it is truly shameful. It demonstrates the kind of unjustified attitudes that have resulted in the unacceptably high unemployment rate for people with disabilities.
The department employs persons who have many types of disabilities, and they contribute every day to the success of our mission. Of the nearly 116,000 department employees, fewer than 11,000 are attorneys. These positions are in human resources, finance and information technology, among other sectors. There are many jobs at the department for which a person with an intellectual disability such as traumatic brain injury, those on the autism spectrum and those with other conditions can be qualified candidates.
I am proud to continue the long, bipartisan tradition of ensuring access to equal employment opportunity for people with disabilities. The Justice Department will continue to serve as a model employer, providing a place where those who are qualified and seek to work will be embraced with equal justice, equal dignity and equal opportunity.
ERIC H. HOLDER JR.
U.S. Attorney General