Posts Tagged ‘Disabilities’

Tips to keep children with autism and other disabilities safe from sexual abuse

July 8, 2012

Keeping children and adults with autism and other disabilities safe from sexual abuse is a critical topic that people don’t like to talk about, but warrants more attention than it often receives. Several studies have indicated that children with disabilities face a higher risk of sexual abuse than those without disabilities. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, women with disabilities are sexually abused at a rate at least twice that of the general population.

Children with autism and other disabilities can be especially vulnerable because of communication problems or a lack of fear. Incidents may go unreported because children with disabilities may not be able to convey what happened, may not fully understand what is inappropriate, or may not be seen as credible because of communication problems.

To see the rest of my article on Examiner.com, click here.

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Cleaning and organizing in Washington, D.C. and Maryland

November 27, 2010

I thought I would post this about a company that uses mostly people with disabilities in cleaning and organizing.  I’ve used them before and they’re good.  This is cut and pasted from an email:

“My name is Janet Carter and I am the owner of ABC Cleaning Services.  This is a new company that employs individuals with disabilities. I am interested in obtaining residential and/or commercial contracts. If you have any questions or are in need of our services, please feel free to contact me. We will be happy to accommodate you in your home or office environment.”

ABC Cleaning Services, LLC
Janet Carter
abccleaningservices1@gmail.com
202-526-8028

HHS, NIH and other federal agencies should hire more employees with autism and other disabilities

July 13, 2010

Special Comment

The federal government’s Schedule A Programintended to facilitate the hiring of people with disabilities is severely underutilized. The hiring authority has rarely been used to hire people with cognitive, developmental or psychiatric disabilities. The federal government should develop and implement policies that ensure that people with autism and other disabilities are given an equal opportunity to contribute to the missions of government agencies.

Background

The unemployment rate of people with disabilities is approximately 70 percent. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) created the Schedule A hiring authority to allow for greater recruitment and hiring of individuals with disabilities. Schedule A allows federal agencies to “provide disabled individuals a unique opportunity to demonstrate their ability to successfully perform the essential duties of a position with or without reasonable accommodation.”

OPM states that the Schedule A certification is used to “appoint persons who are certified that they are at a severe disadvantage in obtaining employment…Certification also ensures that they are capable of functioning in the position for which they will be appointed.”

The Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health

Unfortunately, the government’s record on hiring employees with disabilities through the Schedule A program has been abysmal. The agencies that should be leading the government are among the worst offenders, starting with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), its Operating Divisions including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

To see the rest of my article on Examiner.com, click here.


Kids Enjoy Exercise Now (KEEN) holds annual sports festival for D.C. area kids with disabilities

June 8, 2010

Kids Enjoy Exercise Now held its 9th annual sports festival Sunday at Hadley Park in Potomac, Maryland. The sports festival is an annual celebration in which KEEN families participate in sports and games with their children and siblings, along with volunteer coaches.

KEEN is a national, non-profit volunteer organization that gives children and young adults with disabilities a chance play sports and recreational activities in a non-competitive, welcoming atmosphere. KEEN athletes include children with physical, intellectual, and developmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and autism.

For the rest of my article on examiner.com, click here.

Monsters, Inc.

January 22, 2010

Last August 22, I wrote a blog describing some lessons learned from autism therapy (2009/08/22/lessons-learned-from-autism-therapy/).  I listed ten common mistakes people make and I include one of them below:

Making the child the “King of the Household.”

A child has a disability, so parents feel sorry for him, letting him get away with bad behavior, and excusing him from acting appropriately.  Congratulations.  You are on your way to creating a monster who becomes the King of the Household.  You might as well start fitting the crown and the throne now.  On the bright side, everyone knows who rules the place.

The point is that people with disabilities, whether they are children or adults, whether their disabilities are physical, cognitive, psychiatric or developmental, should not be pitied.  Unfortunately, many people instinctively pity people with disabilities, treating them differently and letting them get away with anything, to the point that those people with disabilities consciously or unconsciously take advantage of the situation.  Of course people should have reasonable accommodations, or modifications to help them be successful.

What I’m about to say may seem extreme, but I strongly believe it.  If you have the choice of making fun of a person with a disability or pitying him, you should definitely make fun of him.  That’s right – given the choice of ridiculing people with disabilities and pitying them, you should definitely ridicule them.

Of course you’d never be faced with the situation of having to make a choice between pitying someone and making fun of him or her.  But I’m trying to illustrate a point.  I’m not advocating making fun of anyone with a disability.  Of course it’s a bad idea to make fun of anyone.  I’m just making the point that pitying someone with a disability is even worse, because then you’re not holding the person to high standards, for accomplishments or behavior or anything else.  You’re giving them too much slack, and they realize it, and if you give people an inch, they’ll take a mile.

Here’s another way to explain it.  Let’s use a person with a physical disability as an example.  Most people would look at a guy in a wheelchair and pity him.  However, studies have shown that people with disabilities are about as happy as those without disabilities.  They can also be jerks, and if you don’t believe it, then you’re not treating everyone fairly.  There are people who would say, “How can someone in a wheelchair be a jerk?  They’ve gone through so much – it must be so hard for them – it’s understandable for them to be a little rude.  Cut them some slack.”

But that’s exactly the wrong attitude.  That’s patronizing.  So when children grow up with disabilities and you excuse them for all sorts of behavior, as I said in my blog, you’re creating monsters.  And at some point, there’s no turning back.

A perfect example of this is Eric the Midget from the Howard Stern show.  Eric, 34, has Dwarfism, Nevus flammeus nuchae, and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.  He’s 3 foot 5 and in a wheelchair.  And he’s a completely arrogant jerk.  He never does anything for other people.

It’s a little more complicated for kids with autism, especially if it’s severe, because certain behaviors are often accommodations for the way they experience the world, they can have a hard time handling emotions, and they can be very slow in learning social skills.  I understand that.  From 2007 – http://www.coachmike.net/autism-faq.php#14_rtn:

How do you teach empathy to a child with autism?

It is well known that many children with autism have problems with regulating their emotions. What isn’t as well known is that many children with autism do feel emotions strongly. However, they just don’t have the ability to understand, regulate or express emotions as well as typically developing children. This is all the more reason to work on it. For example, if a tennis player has a backhand that is the least effective part of his or her game, you work on that skill because it’s the one that is needed most – you don’t ignore it because it’s the worst shot.

In other words, if someone is weak at something, you don’t say, “Johnny doesn’t understand how to play, so he can’t do playdates.”  That’s the exact reason that such a child should do playdates – to work on a weakness and make it better.

So you work on those skills.  You don’t use their weaknesses as excuses and then allow the children to scream and then get whatever they want as a result.  That’s rewarding bad behavior.  You wouldn’t let your typical child get away with saying he doesn’t want to learn math, so you shouldn’t let your autistic child do the same thing.

Speaking of parents of kids with disabilities, I’ve noticed that a lot of people sometimes cut parents a little too much slack as well.  It’s ok to say, “It must be so hard to be a parent of a child with autism,” and understand where they’re coming from.  That’s true, but it’s a fine line – I believe some parents will use that inch you give them and turn it into a mile, and frankly, behave badly and inappropriately, as if any of their actions can be justified just because they have a child with autism.

For example, I once witnessed a situation in which a therapist worked for a family for almost a year, doing excellent work.  The therapist recommended an additional person to come in to help teach the child and before long, the new person was there and the person who did the recommending was out.  That kind of reckless, short-term thinking on the part of the parents can’t be good for the child, not to mention the unethical implications.

This might be a good time for me to mention another one from the infamous top ten at (2009/08/22/lessons-learned-from-autism-therapy/).

Therapists are shuffled in and out and there is a lack of continuity.

In some cases, by the time a child is 10, he has been to several different schools, had several different home programs, and had turnover within each program so he has worked with more than 50 teachers and therapists.  It is not good for children to get attached to therapists and then have them taken away from them, because it teaches children that people are dispensable and interchangeable.  It’s also not good for the children psychologically to have people constantly shuffled in and out and taken away from them because they may develop problems in the future related to that.

If you want to hire a handyman to fix your windows, and then a different handyman to do some other jobs around your house, fine.  Every once in a while I hire someone from craigslist to clean my apartment, and it’s rarely the same person.  But it’s different for people who work with kids.  The relationship is important.  By making constant changes you’re teaching your child that people will leave them and you’re implying that your child is just a robot, not a thinking, feeling human being.

The relationship is crucial to learning, though it is intangible and not easily quantifiable.  I know a child with moderately severe autism who remembers people from when he was two years old.  Because I hear the details of those memories every time I see that child.

I’m not being globally critical of parents, I’m just telling it like it is, which is my philosophy.  In fact, three years ago on http://www.coachmike.net/autism-faq.php#7 I wrote that parents know more about autism than anyone else:

Who are the foremost experts on autism?

Parents are the greatest experts on autism. Everyone else is second. This includes, alphabetically: ABA Therapists, DIR Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Medical Doctors, Physical Therapists, Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Scientists, Social Workers, Speech Therapists and others. Parents know more about autism than anyone else and they should be respected by doctors and other professionals accordingly.

So to sum up, you should never pity people with disabilities.  You should hold them to a high standard and have high expectations of them so that they are held accountable.  Understand that they can be jerks.  Again, I use the example of an adult rather than a child, and someone with a physical disability rather than a developmental one to avoid confusion.  But if you don’t realize that people with disabilities can be jackasses then you’re not treating them fairly, or equal with other people.

The same idea applies for children with autism, it’s just that there is a fine line – you have to understand the reasons why they do the things they do, but you also have to understand that they are very capable of learning and shouldn’t get a free pass to do anything because of their disabilities.  The children should not rule the household.  They should be held to a high standard and learn appropriate social skills.

Finally, parents of children with autism or other disabilities shouldn’t be given a free pass to behave inappropriately or recklessly just because they have a tough situation.  They should be held to high standards as well.

Sports for Children with Autism

July 23, 2009

There was a good article in the Washington Post yesterday about a boy with autism who swims on a local swim team.  Kids with autism can benefit a lot from playing sports, as can their neurotypical peers from having them on the teams.  Swimming is one of the better sports for kids with autism because it is both individual, without a lot of complex requirements, yet still social in that kids are still part of a team.

Participating in sports can help kids with autism and other disabilities in many ways.  Sports give kids with disabilities confidence, improve socialization, get more oxygen to the brain, improve coordination, help them stay in shape, help them sleep better, improve cognitive function by improving proprioception (the body’s sense of where it is in space), and reduce inappropriate behaviors.  Improvements in fine and gross motor skills often go hand in hand with improvements in academic and cognitive function.  Certain exercises can relax kids and even help align both hemispheres of the brain.  And of course, sports are also a lot of fun.

Kids with autism often like swimming, trampoline, and swinging.  This gives us clues on what kind of sensory input they need.  What is the best sport for children with autism?  I tried to answer the question a couple of years ago at http://www.coachmike.net/autism-faq.php#12.  I think the real answer is, “Whatever they like best.”  In order to find out whatever they like best, we need to get rid of our preconceived notions and expose them to as many athletic opportunities as possible.  I learned this after coaching a child in soccer a few years ago who ultimately ended up playing hockey.  I never would have thought hockey would be a great sport for kids with autism because of the need to skate and handle a stick simultaneously, but it turns out that it can be great, and it just goes to show that we shouldn’t put limitations on anyone.

Sports can be more effective for kids with disabilities when they are mixed in with academics and social skills.  You can do a half hour of sports followed by a half hour of schoolwork, followed by a half hour of social skills.  Each area helps the child generalize and build on the previous one. Sometimes people make the mistake, though well intentioned, of segregating each activity to the point where each one is facilitated by different specialists who, worst-case scenario, don’t coordinate and communicate with each other.  In any case, each activity should transition and relate to the others, and ideally, you can do some academic work while moving at the same time.  One example is to play catch or jump on a trampoline while answering questions.  This helps with sensory integration.  Yoga is also great for balance and relaxation, and deep breathing and meditation exercises can help improve the attention spans of children and reduce unwanted behaviors at the same time.

For a high functioning child, you can have him or her play in a league with typical peers, preferably a couple of years younger than the child who has autism.  The child has a “shadow” who helps integrate him or her with the other children athletically and socially.  I’ve facilitated in this way, and also coached Special Olympics soccer, and both can be great depending on the situation.  See www.soccerideas.net for ideas on drills.  It’s the same concept as in school – sometimes it’s best for kids to be mainstreamed into the typical school environment, and other times it’s best for them to be in a self-contained (special education) classroom, and often the best of both worlds is a combination of both, depending on the situation.

Exercises are great, but it’s best to do ones that are meaningful in the context of sports, so that children can eventually be part of a team, or at least play in impromptu games after school, or even use imagination to make up their own games.  It’s how kids learn best – not just sitting at a desk doing work, but getting along with others, being spontaneous, thinking on the fly.

A lot of people are familiar with the amazing story of Jason McElwain, an autistic teenager who scored 6 three-point baskets for his high school team a few years ago.  This type of success doesn’t happen a lot, but it would never happen if too many limitations are put on children who have autism and other disabilities who want to play sports.

I’d like to add one other thing.  While parents shouldn’t push their kids too hard into sports, they should expose them to sports and in some cases kids may need a nudge.  You wouldn’t tell your child who says, “I don’t want to do math” that it’s ok to avoid homework just because he or she doesn’t want to do it.  Math is necessary and good for kids.  Sports may be good for them as well, so don’t be so quick to say, “He doesn’t want to do it.”  In any case, it’s better to try something new that to do the same things over and over.  Sometimes I think parents are more autistic than the kids themselves – not willing to try anything new, just doing the same old x number of hours of therapy sitting at a desk in a vacuum.  And playing sports is certainly better than sitting inside and watching TV.

Ok, that reminds me, I have one other thing to add.  Today, a lot of kids play video games, and one video game that can be beneficial is the Nintendo Wii, which has simulated sports that can create an interest in real sports (tennis, bowling, baseball), as well as fitness (yoga, exercises, and running).

For people in the Bethesda/Montgomery County, MD/Washington, DC areas, there are several sports-related opportunities for children with autism.

  • Kids Enjoy Exercise Now (KEEN, www.keenusa.org) is a free, volunteer-run sports program for kids with disabilities.  There is a waiting list that was up to a year long the last time I checked, but they don’t turn anyone away unless they are over 21.  KEEN has a general sports program, a swim program, a music program, and a Teen Club for higher functioning children to do outings.  KEEN has chapters in Bethesda, Washington, DC, and several more across the country, and even a few in England, where KEEN began.
  • Sports Plus, based in Germantown, MD, has sports leagues for kids with high functioning autism (www.playsportsplus.org).
  • Fitness for Health in Rockville has some excellent equipment and specializes in one on one training sessions.  See http://www.fitnessforhealth.org/.
  • Special Olympics provides sports for not only children but also adults with disabilities: http://www.somdmontgomery.org/.  The Special Olympics national website is http://www.specialolympics.org/.
  • There are a few youth hockey programs in the area such as the Montgomery Cheetahs (www.montgomerycheetahs.org).

Elsewhere, check with your local schools and governments, or search the web to see what is out there.

The Daily Show: Samantha, Bee Nice

July 15, 2009

I love the Daily Show but a couple of weeks ago Samantha Bee was making a joke about the House of Representatives, saying, “They eat paste and wear a helmet.  It’s the one that likes bright colors and hates loud noises.  I’m saying that they’re dumb.”

I don’t get offended too easily, but this is inappropriate and I would think very insulting to people with disabilities.  Here are a couple of examples:  Some people may need to wear helmets because they are prone to seizures.  And certain children and adults with autism may have very sensitive hearing so they hear things much more loudly than most people do, so it’s not their fault if they are startled by loud noises.

President Obama Should Know Better

March 20, 2009

President Obama’s gaffe last night on the Tonight Show was unfortunately all too reminiscent of the federal government’s attitude toward people with disabilities.

First of all, when Obama said of his bowling, “It was like the Special Olympics or something,” it was obviously very insulting to people with intellectual or cognitive disabilities.  It’s very possible that Obama talks this way among his peers.  To not understand how offensive that statement is shows a glaring unawareness.  I’m sure there are a lot of Special Olympians who could beat Obama in bowling.

If Obama had made a racist or religious joke, the media would have been all over it.  But a joke against people with special needs?   That’s acceptable. 

I volunteered for two years as a soccer coach for the Special Olympics in Maryland, and I went to a Special Olympics event in California last year (see the two photos I took).  I started volunteering for sports programs for kids with disabilities 10 years ago, and I currently work with kids with autism (www.coachmike.net), so I know a little bit about this subject. 

Special Olympics, Long Beach, California, summer 2008

Special Olympics, Long Beach, California, summer 2008. Photo by Mike Frandsen

 

(Obama sits up there, trying to be smooth and cool.  In fact, let’s face it.  The reason that Obama got elected really isn’t any different than why every U.S. president has gotten elected in the last 40 years.  He was a better speaker than his opponents and people vote mainly on image.  Look it up – of the past 10 presidential elections, it is ALWAYS the candidate who has a better image – the one who is more friendly, possesses more charisma, and is a better public speaker.  The only possible exception was in 2000 when you could argue that Gore had a better persona than Bush [it was about even because while Gore was a much better speaker, he was more stiff and Bush was much more folksy], but many say Gore actually did win that election and he did get half a million more votes anyway. 

It’s why Obama beat Hillary – he was “cooler.”  Experience didn’t matter – funny – it always matters when I apply for a job but it doesn’t for the presidency.  I’m not saying people don’t vote for who they think will be the better president, I’m just saying that people vote for candidates who they like the most based on their personality and charisma.)

I personally believe that Obama is one of those people who is somewhat fake and unauthentic because he constantly says things and does things that are calculated to improve his image.  Not that you would expect anything other than that from a politician.

I’m not anti-Obama – I agree with Obama and the Democrats on most issues – for example, people should have a fair chance at health care – the U.S. policy on that is shameful (in fact, if I ever run for office you can look back at this statement:  “I am NOT proud of my country because of our health care situation.”  And I will never retract that statement).  And we need a clean environment to reduce the incidence of autism, breast cancer, and other disorders and diseases.

But back to the point.

There is a startling unawareness in the federal government with respect to hiring people with disabilities.  It starts at the top with the President, filters down to the cabinet members, down to the directors of the federal agencies, and down to the management and hiring personnel.  I’m not saying Obama is worse than other presidents in giving a fair chance to people with disabilities, but I’m not sure he’s any better.  See my report at http://www.coachmike.net/special_report.php.  I concluded that “The federal government’s Schedule A program intended to facilitate the hiring of people with disabilities is severely underutilized, especially in hiring people with cognitive and psychiatric disabilities.”  

Schedule A is a hiring authority set up by the government to help level the playing field and make it easier to hire people with disabilities, whether they be cognitive/intellectual (the government still uses the outdated “mental retardation” terminology), psychiatric, or physical.  (There still isn’t a developmental category to cover autism). 

The Office of Personnel Management created the Schedule A program more than 20 years ago to allow for greater recruitment and hiring of individuals with disabilities.  It allows federal agencies to bypass the competitive process to provide disabled

Special Olympics, Long Beach, California, summer 2008

Special Olympics, Long Beach, California, summer 2008.

 individuals a unique opportunity to demonstrate their ability to successfully perform the essential duties of a position with or without reasonable accommodation.  OPM states that the Schedule A certification is used to “appoint persons who are certified that they are at a severe disadvantage in obtaining employment…Certification also ensures that they are capable of functioning in the position for which they will be appointed, and that any residual disabilities are not job-related.”

In almost all cases in which the hiring authority was used, hires of people with physical disabilities outnumbered those with cognitive and psychiatric disabilities by a very wide margin.

People with disabilities have a 70% unemployment rate.  This figure only includes people who are willing and able to work and it’s still 70%. 

The only problem is that Schedule A isn’t mandatory, so it’s woefully underused except by a few agencies.  Take the National Institutes of Health as an example.  You would think this organization would be better, not worse, than other agencies at hiring people with disabilities through the Schedule A hiring authority.  In fact, I believe that the facts show that NIH discriminates against people with disabilities in their hiring process.  

From 1998 to 2008, NIH, with nearly 18,000 full-time employees, hired just four people with cognitive disabilities and one with a psychiatric disability through the Schedule A program.  I learned this information through Freedom of Information Act requests.

I first notified NIH in 2004 that they had been negligent in hiring Schedule A employees with disabilities.  I also notified them in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008.  Their response was almost always no response.  Each year I contacted the NIH Director, Equal Employment Office, Human Resource Officials, Selective Placement Coordinator, Institute Directors, and Ombudsman multiple times.  I have 200 pages of documents to prove it.  When I brought the subject up, several times speaking at the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, parents applauded but scientists and NIH leaders laughed at me. 

To this day, NIH refuses to comment on the report, and refuses to take any action to improve the situation.  After eight years at NIH (the last five as an employee), I threatened to quit in December 2006 if NIH did nothing to improve the situation.  They did nothing, I quit, and two years later NIH still hasn’t taken any action.

(This is a little off topic, but now I need a federal job again because the kidney transplant I will need soon will cost $180,000 including medications for the first year, and my insurance currently only covers 80% of it whereas the federal insurance covers 100% – see www.mikeneedsakidney.com.  But NIH is treating me like a private company would treat a whistleblower.  Instead of trying to improve the situation that I brought attention to, they are ignoring it, and holding the fact that I brought it to their attention against me.).

When I contacted Congressman Chris Van Hollen’s (D-MD) office, they promised to respond.  They ignored the issue for more than a year and then stonewalled until they thought I went away. 

You may say that it costs too much to include people with disabilities in the workforce.  But in fact, it costs too much not to do it.  You can get productivity at a relatively low price by hiring people with disabilities, and prevent them from relying on government programs like Social Security disability when possible.  (Same with health care – a little bit of preventative care goes a long way to save money in the long run).

The success or failure of any organization starts at the top.  The President’s remarks were dismissive of the abilities of people with special needs.  There is an attitude throughout the government that people with disabilities are to be ignored.  Taking action would be to admit that there is a problem, and agencies such as NIH are more concerned with their image than doing the right thing, so they would never admit that they have been deficient in hiring people with disabilities through the Schedule A hiring authority.  

The media doesn’t care either.  As I write this at 2:30 p.m., I just saw an interview on MSNBC with Chuck Todd about Obama’s appearance last night on the Tonight Show.  Todd said the show went great for Obama.  Not once in this ridiculously long interview did they bring up the President’s remarks about the Special Olympics.  The interview went so long that it delayed the Presidential Press Secretary’s press conference.  If Hillary had made those remarks, you can bet that MSNBC would be all over it. 

As for NIH, if they can’t handle hiring people with disabilities through the Schedule A program, and they were made aware of this problem five years ago, I’m sorry to say but you have to question whether they can handle other important initiatives such as stem cell research.  Don’t get me wrong – I think stem cell research is critically important to save lives and improve the quality of lives, and as much research should be done as soon as possible.  However, it would be a mistake to just throw a ton of money at the problem like the government did for the banks just because they are supposedly smarter than us. 

If there are competing organizations that can get the job done, they should be considered as well.  Either way, there should be a stringent process that funding goes to the programs that are most deserving and will be held accountable for what they do.  This process should be stringent but also expedited so that bureaucratic red tape doesn’t delay research.  You can argue that stem cell research is more important than ensuring that people with disabilities get a fair chance to contribute to the missions of government agencies.  I would say they are equally important – but they are not mutually exclusive.  The government should do both. 

This blog entry has been a little scattered, but I thought it was important to address the subject quickly.   In summary:

1.  The NIH and other federal agencies must do a better job of hiring people with disabilities using the Schedule A hiring authority.  The only way to do this is to make it or a similar program mandatory because otherwise, the government will discriminate.  

2.  President Obama (“Teflon Barry”) should set an example by hiring people with disabilities to work in the White House.  He should also give a better apology.  He should also ensure that the federal government is held accountable for giving people with disabilities a fair chance, otherwise, hiring officials and management will do the same things they have always done about this situation:  ignore it or laugh about it. 

Please see my websites:  www.coachmike.net and www.mikeneedsakidney.com.  

Finally – I reviewed this post and was going to tone it down because I thought it might be a bit harsh, but I actually decided to add to it and make it stronger.  I think Obama is a good person and a good president – we shouldn’t be afraid to criticize him, though, when he deserves it.  I’m a big Redskins fan but I’ve criticized them mercilessly for the last 15 years.  As for this and other blog posts, I try to be honest and tell it like it is.  Hopefully you appreciate it but if not, it is what it is.  


Hiring People with Disabilities – the Federal Government Needs to do Better

December 30, 2008

The federal government needs to do a better job of ensuring that people with disabilities can contribute to their missions.  The government should also revise its classifications of disabilities, and ensure that people on the autism spectrum are given fair opportunities for employment in the government.

Most federal agencies have virtually ignored the Schedule A hiring authority, a federal program used to “hire people who have a severe disadvantage in getting employment.”  Schedule A was developed by the government to help reduce the more than 70% unemployment rate of people with disabilities.  These are people who want to work and are more than capable of working.  Several years after federal agencies were made aware of their lack of action on the Schedule A issue, there has been little if any action taken.

I submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to all federal agencies asking how many times the Schedule A was used to hire people with disabilities.

According to my survey at http://www.coachmike.net/special_report.php, most federal agencies underutilized the Schedule A program or did not use it at all.  In almost all cases in which the hiring authority was used, hires of people with physical disabilities outnumbered those with cognitive and psychiatric disabilities by a very wide margin.  Here are a few examples:

  • HHS reported that it hired 213 people with disabilities through Schedule A from 2000 to 2008. 198 had physical disabilities; 15 had cognitive disabilities, and not one had a psychiatric disability.
  • The Department of the Interior, which has 75,000 employees, used the Schedule A to hire exactly three people with disabilities.
  • From 2003 to 2008 the Department of Commerce hired 36 employees with disabilities under Schedule A. All were in the physical category except for one in the psychiatric category (none were hired with cognitive disabilities). Commerce has 36,000 employees.

The government needs to be proactive in hiring people with disabilities, including those with developmental disabilities.  In the hundreds of pages of responses I received from government agencies, not once was there a mention of someone hired who had autism.

In the descriptions of disabilities listed by agencies in their responses, the term “autism” never came up, though many agencies did not go into detail.

The classification of disabilities under Schedule A excludes most people on the autism spectrum. The government lists people with disabilities in three categories. The first, “severe physical disability,” would only sometimes apply to a person with autism.

The second category, “mental retardation,” may apply to a percentage of people on the spectrum, but it is now believed by many experts that far fewer people with autism than previously believed have mental retardation.  By the way, this term still used by the government is being phased out in favor of “intellectual disability” or “cognitive disability.”

Finally, the third category, “psychiatric disability” does not cover all those with autism, which should be classified as a “developmental disability,” a term that would be much more accurate and inclusive.

The government should ensure that people with autism and other disabilities are adequately represented in federal agencies.

Please spend one minute of your time and go to www.coachmike.net, click on the special report, and look for yourselves.

You may say that it costs too much to include people with disabilities in the workforce.  But in fact, it costs too much not to do it.