Disability Rights are Civil Rights

by Kathy Martinez on July 30, 2014 · 9 comments

President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964

President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Earlier this month, we as a nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Just minutes before putting pen to paper on that historic day, President Lyndon B. Johnson went on television to address the nation, articulating the law’s fundamental purpose: to create a better, more inclusive society for all Americans.

“Those who founded our country knew that freedom would be secure only if each generation fought to renew and enlarge its meaning,” he said in his address, going on to acknowledge the many leaders, both black and white, who worked tirelessly to get what he often referred to as “an American bill” onto his desk.

At the time, I was 5 years old and 3,000 miles away in southern California, doing the typical things 5-year-olds do. But, there were others older than me listening who took those words to heart in a way that would have a profound impact on my life. In the 1960s, the unified disability rights movement was just emerging, and its leaders learned a great deal from those who brought the Civil Rights Act to fruition.

Twenty-six years later, those leaders found themselves at the White House looking on as another president signed landmark civil rights legislation renewing and enlarging America’s ideal of equality — the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which was authorized by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990, and closely modeled on the Civil Rights Act.

President Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

President Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

That moment I do remember well. By that time, I had become active in the independent living and disability rights movements in California, advocacy work that laid the foundation for my career going forward. Indeed, today, the ADA underpins all we do at the department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.

Earlier this year, the LBJ Presidential Library in Texas held a summit to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. In President Obama’s speech at the event, he reflected on this continuing legacy, to both America at large and him personally:

Because of the Civil Rights movement, because of the laws President Johnson signed, new doors of opportunity and education swung open for everybody — not all at once, but they swung open. Not just blacks and whites, but also women and Latinos; and Asians and Native Americans; and gay Americans and Americans with a disability. They swung open for you, and they swung open for me. And that’s why I’m standing here today — because of those efforts, because of that legacy. And that means we’ve got a debt to pay.

On multiple levels, I too am where I am today because of that legacy. And as Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy, I too am committed to paying it forward — to renewing and enlarging it — for future generations of Americans with disabilities, and all Americans.
Kathy Martinez
Kathy Martinez is the assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kevin Ohlandt July 31, 2014 at 11:47 pm

Children with special needs have disabilities. If they have an IEP, they are protected under federal guidelines under IDEA. The I in IEP stands for “individualized”. How can they be granted these rights, yet have them under attack with common core? They are being taught in inclusive classrooms with regular children at the same pace as the other children. They have to take the same standardized tests. This impedes on their federal right of “individual” education. Would the ADA protect these children with these types of circumstances Ms. Martinez?

2 Toni Holliday August 1, 2014 at 1:37 pm

My husband, who has paid into the Social Security Disability for over 35 years has been denied, time and again. I find it quite disturbing that someone who has worked all of their lives and paid into these required programs, are forced to wait 2-3 years; obtain an attorney (at cost), and go to federal court to see a return on this “insurance” government ponzi scheme while drug addicts are approved right away (even when they have paid in nothing).
When are we going to address this issue, pray tell?

3 razzledazl@aol.com August 1, 2014 at 5:32 pm

After 23 years of working for the US Attorneys Office with Outstanding or Exceeds Expectation Reviews for 22 of the 23 years I was diagnosed as having a Panic Disorder, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic Pain Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Attention Deficit Disorder, Depression and Carpel Tunnel Syndrome. I evoked my right to take FMLA after being hospitalized in 2012. Upon my return I was removed from my office and position and transferred to a different unit. This new unit only took me on the condition that the expense of having me did not come out of their budget. They did not want me either because of the type disabilities I suffer with and because of the slander that went along with my being transferred. I was never given a chance to succeed. I was actually never given a job. I was given random tasks as a gofer to fill my time. I was not given a Performance Review for two years. In November of 2013, I received a Performance Review for 2012, a year late. A week later I received a Performance Review for 2013. I was put on Leave Restriction, even though I was out of work no more than anyone else in my position, and placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). I was not given any feedback during this PIP period or any other time, I only had evidence collected against me. I had put in requests for reasonable accommodations in 2012 which were denied in part and granted in part, and what I had put in place as an accommodation to save the office money and to help me do my job was removed by my supervisor as punishment for having told personnel that “this unit might need sensitivity training to understand my disability and my need for a reasonable accommodation”. I had been bullied, disgraced, ostracized and humiliated by my supervisor and other support staff for 2 years. I was removed from my position in May of 2014. So, I think people are still discriminated against for having disabilities, it just depends what disability you have. It’s very sad.

4 Saundra Rodgers-Walker August 3, 2014 at 12:31 pm

I read with interest your blog, but need to point out that there needs to be more legal ramifications for companies and others that partake in business with the federal government, i.e. hospitals (especially private institutions) and discriminate against their employees, at any time. Time limits for filing cases are sometimes very difficult to adhere to, and hospitals know just how to skirt around them. The scare tactic and fear of job loss is usually what keeps disabled people from approaching the EEOC because finding another job is more difficult (if it comes to that) that it is for non-disabled citizens. I experienced blatant discrimination and retaliation at a private hospital in Georgia just a few years ago which concluded with my being laid off. As they receive funds from CMS and other agencies, I view them to be business partners with the federal government. The hospital tied it up neatly on their end (cover up) and left me with no possible way to bring this all to light. Because the discrimination occurred during a period of time when the US was in an economic downturn (jobs were scarce and homes were selling at a fraction of their cost), after reporting to a Human Resources Manager and getting no feedback, I kept silent (as advised by the support group GACHI and HLAA) in an effort to keep my job (HLAA said discrimination is very hard to prove and most cases are not won). After the layoff, I sought advice from a trial attorney in the investigative unit, Disability Rights Section, Civil Rights Division, of the US. Dept. of Justice. He advised me to report to the EEOC and I did. The intake questionnaire did not allow for full discussion of the events (nor the sharing of emails and documents that I had which proved discrimination had occurred), and the case was not accepted. Like you, when the laws were being signed in 1964, I was a kid, playing and enjoying life. I did not have thought that that law, at that time, would mean so very much to me in my adult life, but it has. Shortly after losing my job, Senator Edward Kennedy passed and as I watched the new clips of his achievements on TV, I wept because there I was with a disability and recent discrimination and there was nothing that could be done about it. As the major financial resource in my home, I was obligated to use savings to pay the mortgage (which was in my name) and other bills (health insurance) until I could locate another position, instead of hiring a lawyer. Once again, I sought the help of the Depart of Labor, Department of Rehabilitation Services to assist me in locating a position. It took 6 months for me to find a job and later an eventual move of my family (I rented a room for 2 years to see if the employer would treat me “fairly” regarding my disability before I planned to move my family to the new location and also earned money to make the move with) to the area of my new job before things stabilized. All of this occurred due to discrimination (and retaliation because it was reported to an HR manager who reacted with body cues that he knew it had occurred, but yet nothing was done, except wait for the lay off to be planned), just a few years ago. Is there any group or activity that I can participate in that may help voices be hard that more needs to be done for disabled people who face situations like this? As I speak with other disabled people who have experienced discrimination, they are all saying the same thing: “It is very hard to prove that discrimination occurred and also expensive to file a case with a lawyer. I did not have the resources to do it, especially since I no longer had a job.” I am pretty sure I, nor my family will ever forget this traumatic experience during our lifetimes. Our entire lives were disrupted and negatively impacted due to this situation. Thank you for allowing me to make these comments. I am hoping to be able to make a difference, by sharing this. If you need any additional info please do not hesitate to contact me.

5 Robbi Cooper August 3, 2014 at 4:02 pm

Look forward to the largest disability group under IDEA, Dyslexia being included in the national dialog on disability. There continues to be no one representing Dyslexics on the National Council on disability. Dyslexia is a hidden disability in that their are no outward signs and they are all too often hidden in our nations priorities. Dyslexia currently is the largest group under Specific Learning Disabilities, the have the largest drop out rates due to unmet educational needs and opportunities for this group are narrowed tremendously by policy that overlooks this group in a serious way. We hope that the Department of Labor Disability Employment looks at this group and to the Department of Ed when setting future goals and initiatives. We also hope that Dyslexics will have a voice at the disability table, with out one they cannot expect to be well served. Dyslexia is a recognized disability and needs to be included in the national discussions in a big way. It is easy for me to say this, Dyslexics, the largest disability group are discriminated against by blatantly leaving them out of disability initiatives and it just goes down hill from there.

6 Katherine Perez Enriquez August 6, 2014 at 3:25 pm

Keep up the great work, Ms. Martinez!

7 Jose Antonio Franco August 8, 2014 at 4:21 pm

I am a retired OFCCP official who is still consulting, coaching, and advising federal contractors about actions that they must, can, and should take to comply with their nondiscrimination and affirmative action obligations.

When I was the OFCCP’s Phoenix District Director, I cited the State of Arizona’s Department of Economic Security (DES) for its failure to establish an affirmative action program and signed an agreement with DES and the state Department of Administration, but later learned while working as a volunteer consultant for the Governor’s Office of Equal Opportunity that this program was discontinued.

My understanding is that DES is one of the largest employers in Arizona and am aware that the Department of Corrections, ADOT, Department of Health Services, and other state agencies have contractual obligations to comply with the Acts. In many rural areas of the state, the jobs that these agencies provide are highly sought after.

I believe that people with disabilities and covered veterans living in rural areas will tangibly benefit if state and local government federal contractors implement the new outreach and documentation requirements and are audited like other federal contractors.

My perspective is that that this noncompliance is nationwide and that many state and federal officials are apparently not aware of their contractual obligations.

As Director Shiu has declared,”what gets inspected gets done”.

The OFCCP has not and does not plan to audit state agencies.

If not us, who ? If not now, when?

Please share your perspective regarding state and local governments’ contractual obligations under Section 503 and VEVRAA.

I will gladly expand, expound, and assist with this important issue, as you wish.

José Antonio Franco
aka The EEO Doctor

8 John Alfred Panzer August 16, 2014 at 10:21 am

as a formerly homeless recovering addict now student of public policy at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School i can see the and experience the disconect between public and policy.

9 Maria Pacheco October 5, 2014 at 2:32 pm

It’s great that the federal govt. is trying to improve the US for disabled Americans but it really needs to start with it self. Unfortunately discrimination in the federal govt in regards to hidden disabilities or visible disabilities is still very prevalent. It does not have anything to do with policy but with local upper and front line management who have the mentality this is a business we have no room to accommodate a disabled employee.

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