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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Obama: Who Does the Federal Government Hire?

The Federal Employment of People with Disabilities report was released March 31, 2009 by the National Council on Disability. And to answer the question I have titled to this post the answer is... Not people with a disability! According to the Executive Summary of the very official, long (66 pages) document this what I discovered.

In 2007 the Federal Government employed 2,608,172 people.

In 2007 only 23,969 people employed by the Federal Government had a disability.

In 2007 the percentage of those employed by the Federal Government with a disability was 0.92%

Think about this for a second: 0.92% of Federal Employees had a disability. This is staggering. Less than 1% of the people hired by the Federal Government had a disability. To coin one of the most famous lines to emerge from NASA "Houston we have a problem". Let me highlight this number:


Is this stunning figure mentioned in a newspaper or other media outlet? Nope, not a word. Did Obama have some sort of reaction? Nope, not a word. Did CNN pick up on this? Nope, not a word. The Wall Street Journal? Nope, not a word. The TV morning shows? Nope, not a word. Worse yet, I did not think much about it until I had coffee this morning and started planning my day and thought I need to got to the post office--a place where Federal Government employees work. Then I thought about all the other places I visit where Federal and State employees work and it dawned on me: I have never, not once, ever observed a visibly disabled person working for the government. Not a one. Isn't the government supposed to reflect the people? If so, where is the largest minority group in the country? Invisible as in unemployed. Perhaps we can learn a very basic lesson here for the economic stimulus package: have the federal government hire people with a disability. Obama need not be shy--nearly 70% of people with a disability are unemployed and desperate for work. Don't worry we don't bite.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

An Ancient Skull Makes Me Think

It is not often anthropologists make the news and when they do it is usually an archaeologist. Today was one of those days when yet another archaeologist gets all the glory, a headline, and we cultural anthropologists are left to ponder the larger significance of their find. Here I am referring to a report published by researchers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A newly reconstructed child's skull of a prehistoric human who lived 530,000 years ago indicates the child had a profound cognitive disability. It is estimated the child reached the age of five years. In reconstructing the skull from many pieces researchers determined the child had craniosynostosis, a debilitating genetic disorder in which pieces of the skull fuse too quickly causing pressure to build in the brain. It is impossible to know the level to which the child was cognitively disabled but it would have been significant and required "large amounts of extra care from the prehistorical human community". The original report is not exactly a page turner but that one sentence got me thinking.

530,000 years ago prehistoric humans had a child. How we care for others, the sick, elderly and disabled, is thought to be uniquely human. This is part of who we are, a measure of our very humanity. Researchers will never be able to determine if the child in question born so very long ago was well cared for or loved. Researchers will never know what sort of society this child lived in or how these prehistoric humans lived their daily lives. This is exactly why I gave up my first love of archaeology--there were just too few answers for so many excellent thought provoking questions. But on this dreary day I cannot help but wonder about this child's life. What sort of life did this child's parent have? What did they expect when the child was born? What did they think when routine developmental stages were not reached? Did they worry? Did society support their child? Was there any stigma attached to the child when it was obvious something was profoundly wrong?

The above questions puzzle me. We have proof a child, a prehistoric human, had a profound cognitive disability 530,000 years ago. Here I sit, pun intended, over half a million years later and we as humans have yet to acknowledge the humanity of those whose bodies do not work as they were designed. We need laws such as the ADA to protect the civil rights of people with a disability. We relegate too many people with cognitive disabilities to a life in an institution. We ship off the elderly to nursing homes when their minds and bladders begin to fail. We pass assisted suicide laws in state after state and insurance companies quickly figure out how to cover this sort of "health care". We cut service to disabled people when budgets get tight. We ignore a global problem that has cost the lives of untold numbers of people with disabilities. Surely we humans, even at a time of great economic despair, can do much better given the fact we have had 530,000 years to work on this human rights issue.