April 23, 2024

In 1971, Senator Jacob K. Javits amended the original Wagner-O’Day Act to “include people with significant disabilities.” It also established an independent federal agency, later named AbilityOne, to administrate the mandatory source of supply for the federal government that was awarded to qualifying workshops on a noncompetitive basis.

AbilityOne has adopted the identity of the DOD, which is its largest contractor, by posturing as “an economic citadel” and “a fortress of opportunity.” Harkening back to World War I, AbilityOne and its network of affiliates conflate the employment of intellectually and developmentally disabled people, as well as blind people, with patriotism, using taglines such as, “Serving those who serve our nation.” One organization in particular, LCI, which bills itself as “the largest employer of people who are blind in the world,” acquired Tactical Assault Gear, or TAG, “a worldwide best in class” tactical assault gear marketplace, in 2010. Like many AbilityOne organizations, the TAG Instagram page is filled with images that are inexplicably inaccessible to those it purports to champion, instead incorporating propaganda, such as “working hard for those who continually shoulder the hard work,” into its captions.

The passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990 brought new teeth to the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, or PCEPD, which can be traced back to a Truman-era joint resolution calling for an annual observance of “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” During a 1992 Americans With Disabilities Act Summit, which “brought together leaders in business, labor, government and the disability community,” the committee hosted a PCEPD Annual Awards to honor “employers that have developed exemplary approaches” to ADA compliance. These awards planted the seed for a genre of inclusion that shields the very corporations to which the New Deal supplied disabled labor.