New Civil Rights – Disability Rights, Wars, & the 7% Affirmative Action Solution

rainbow dove

“One of the sadder, stupider pieces  . . . about the Navy Yards killings last week was the almost automatic categorization of Aaron Alexis, the shooter, as a ‘troubled veteran’ with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) . . . Alexis had never been deployed overseas . . . .”

While this blogger got it right — this is “blatant discrimination” — it’s not the fact that Tom Perez is our newly appointed Labor Secretary that inspired him to revise federal rules so that 7 percent of all employees working for federal contractors and subcontractors must be persons with disabilities.

No, this is consistent with Obama’s collaborative worldview, or his common-good(s) and common-solutions approach to advancing a state and a nation-state that mediates and facilitates change.*  In this case, Obama does it by combating discrimination against persons with disabilities, whether they are persons with long- or short-term mental, physical, or intellectual disabilities under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and going further with the Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA) of 1974.

With 22 percent of the workforce being federal contractors alone (not including subcontractors), this is no drop in the bucket but an important step that gives persons with disabilities a real shot at employment. After all, who is footing the bill for federal contracts (and subcontracts) anyway?  We are.

There has long been a strong correlation between wars and giving persons with disabilities help in fighting for their dignity and against discrimination.  Be they civil rights, human rights, or economic rights, it all began with the Civil War.

Indeed, in Crippled Justice, I traced the correlation between World War II, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.  Former Surgeon General William Menninger, who conducted research during World War II in several theaters on persons with mental disabilities such as PTSD, was so widely recognized as a hero that Time made him Person of the Year in 1948.  Though he headed back to Kansas to help his brother Karl run the Menninger Clinic, they both helped pass significant legislation for community mental health and persons with disabilities.

We may be a war-weary nation, given the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But the one positive, productive fallout is the executive action that Obama is following through on – which, in its latest incarnation, is fighting to help persons with disabilities gain employment despite tragedies like the Navy Yard.


* See Partnering for Impact, which summarizes Obama’s vision, breaking it down into 11 easy steps that can be applied to many different domestic-policy issues:

Here are my excerpts:

“1. No one is to blame for the current condition of the government-nonprofit contracting system . . . [which] has developed over many decades. . . . [There is] no value in focusing on blame because it prevents progress.

“2. Everyone recognizes the need for reform. Governments and nonprofits are hampered by the cumbersome, redundant, and antiquated processes, and all are eager for improvement, effectiveness, and cost savings.

“3. Everyone’s concerns are valid . . . potential conflicts must be identified so solutions can be developed that are mutually beneficial.

“4. Establish clear common goals.

“5. Representational diversity, [meaning] 1st, “governments came to the table in a nonpartisan manner not with just one agency represented, but with several because the problems — and solutions — extend far beyond the expertise of just one governmental agency. 2nd, a common denominator for all the task forces was participation, directly or indirectly, of the state association of nonprofits, which by their nature are both statewide and sector-wide, allowing them access to a broader pool of insights.

“6. Collaboration is a process, not an event. Trust is a necessary component of collaboration. . . . It is not uncommon for participants of any group to initially come with baggage related to their past relationship with another participant that may take time for them to overcome. However, trust can be built by sharing important information.

“7. Although the “storming stage” can feel difficult, embrace it as a sign of progress because the best solutions flow from constructive conflict.

“8. A collaborative effort needs public support from government leaders.

“9.-The successful implementation of any plan includes changes to the organizational culture.

“10. Everyone must be open to doing things differently. Participants must be willing to make adjustments mid-stream because nothing ever goes exactly as planned.

“11. Meaningful change takes time. Decades of evolving problems cannot be solved overnight.”

Published by *Ruth Frick O'Brien

Professor Ruth Frick O'Brien, City University of New York, Graduate Center, 1st "professorette" nicknamed by Rush Limbaugh nickname. Ruth Frick* O'Brien & Frederic Halper* O'Brien, Dep.M.E. @ National Review *(honoring our mothers)

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