Instead of Being Used in Cutting-Edge Disability Technology, It Gets Sent to War

The Intersection of Disability Rights and Corporate Power: AbilityOne’s Link to the Department of Defense

In 1971, Senator Jacob K. Javits made amendments to the original Wagner-O’Day Act, which ensured that people with significant disabilities were included. This led to the establishment of an independent federal agency called AbilityOne, which oversaw the mandatory source of supply for the federal government. This source was awarded to qualifying workshops on a noncompetitive basis. AbilityOne has positioned itself as an economic stronghold and a fortress of opportunity, aligning itself with the Department of Defense (DOD), its largest contractor. They associate the employment of intellectually and developmentally disabled people, as well as blind individuals, with patriotism, using slogans like “Serving those who serve our nation.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) brought newfound relevance to the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities (PCEPD). The PCEPD has a history dating back to a Truman-era resolution calling for the observance of “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” At a 1992 ADA Summit, the committee hosted the PCEPD Annual Awards to acknowledge employers who had exemplary approaches to ADA compliance. These awards laid the foundation for a new era of inclusion that aimed to protect corporations that had benefited from disabled labor under the New Deal.

One notable organization within the AbilityOne network is LCI (Lighthouse Family International), which claims to be the largest employer of blind people in the world. In 2010, LCI acquired Tactical Assault Gear (TAG), a leading tactical gear marketplace. However, concerns have been raised about their social media presence and whether it caters well to their target audience. For example, their Instagram page is filled with images that often do not focus on accessibility and inclusivity but rather use propaganda phrases such as “working hard for those who continually shoulder the hard work.” As such, LCI may need to reevaluate its approach if they want to continue promoting disability rights and supporting those in need.

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