A Washington, D.C. newspaper is facing rebuke after an editorial written by its own staff criticized federal efforts to hire more people with disabilities.
The opinion piece from The Washington Times editorial board focused on a recent U.S. Department of Justice memo informing employees about the agency’s plan to hire more people with so-called targeted disabilities including cerebral palsy, deafness, blindness and severe intellectual disability.
“Most employers would balk at even minor mental disabilities in hiring a lawyer, let alone severe ones. But the policy states that the Cabinet department run by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. must ‘achieve a work force from all segments of society,’ which includes those who are teetering on the edge of sanity,” The Washington Times said in its Aug. 22 editorial.
The commentary is drawing strong backlash from disability advocates who say the criticisms are baseless and rely on untrue information.
“While the Times editorial suggests applicants with disabilities would be fast-tracked into jobs at the DOJ without due screening and assessment, the DOJ memo clearly states otherwise,” said Jonathan Young, chair of the National Council on Disability. “To mischaracterize the DOJ initiative with fear-mongering and hyperbole misses the point.”
Under a 2010 executive order signed by President Barack Obama, all federal agencies are supposed to dramatically increase hiring of people with disabilities. The presidential initiative calls for an additional 100,000 employees with disabilities in five years.
“The fact is that since the 1970s, the law requires federal agencies to be model employers and hire qualified people with disabilities. This practice has had bipartisan support ever since President Nixon signed it into law,” said Julie Ward of The Arc. “It is still needed today as people with disabilities face staggeringly low employment rates and discrimination in hiring practices.”
A recent Government Accountability Office report found that federal agencies have a long way to go toward meeting Obama’s goal, with just 20,000 new hires added under the policy in 2010 and 2011.
The Justice Department did not respond to requests for comment on the newspaper editorial and the agency’s hiring practices.