Thursday, January 21, 2021

Joy and Inclusion: Open Letter to President Biden


During your campaign and at your inauguration you offered messages on inclusion that were strengthened by your past and promised actions. My heart is filled with joy and a sense of hope. Hope that real lives will be changed for the better because of the actions of your administration and our collective commitment to help. I come to these beliefs as a person with a disability who has promoted disability rights for most of my life, spanning 76 years.

 You understand that for government to be enlightened requires leadership that reflects diverse perspectives. Your leadership team includes accomplished individuals who come from backgrounds and have had life experiences that equip them to bring America’s diversity to decision-making tables in Washington, D.C. What we have yet to see is the inclusion of people with perspectives of those who have lived with disabilities. You may say those appointments will come, and they should. But what I urge is something broader than appointing people with disabilities to run disability programs. You need people with disabilities at all levels throughout government. I especially propose appointing people with first-hand experience with disability to decision-making ranks of all departments and units that touch the lives of human beings. Such people are some of the best problem solvers and team players on the planet.

If we want meaningful inclusion throughout American society, then disability perspectives must be present at all decision-making tables in government. People with disabilities may need accommodations, but those should not be solely understood to mean separate or special treatment or programs or disability-related appointments.

 I recommend five things to build into your ongoing appointment process. 

·      Consider qualified individuals with disabilities when filling positions in the Departments of Defense, State, Agriculture, Treasury, Transportation, Energy, and Interior as well as in the Departments of Education, Labor, Veteran Affairs and Health and Human Services

·      Consider people with disability perspectives for appointments to all kinds of input groups such as committees, boards, and commissions 

·      Ask all government leaders to promote and consider disability perspectives in hiring

·      Mount targeted recruitment campaigns by reaching out to disability organizations for qualified candidates

·      Recognize that disability perspectives are available to you from leaders in the disability community, everyday citizens with disabilities, and their parents, siblings, other relatives, friends, and advocates

 I know you and your administration are thoughtful and include persons with disabilities in any list you give referring to race, sex, gender and other characteristics. This is very important. But much more is needed and expected in this new chapter in American history that people with disabilities want to participate in writing. They have seen discrimination and fought against it. They have experienced abuse yet maintained their dignity. They have witnessed inequity and changed laws to overcome it. They have faced barriers to opportunities and access and knocked them down. They are represented in every subgroup in America, 60 million people wanting to contribute to a new, vibrant America where opportunity, choice, and prosperity are within reach of everyone. They know the need for and value of partnering with others. They accept compromise when diverse strategies lead to shared goals. They are patient and practical, respect facts, recognize honesty, they are smart and creative, and seek and offer respect. These people could and should flourish within and partner with your administration. The results of their full inclusion will mean greater speed of implementation and broader impact of the goals you have set for us to achieve together. You and the First Lady have direct experience with disability. Make sure others in your administration come to understand its value and use it to reflect an inclusive federal work force, a model for others to replicate.



Patricia Morrissey