Council on Disability’s Jonathan M. Young To Give Thornburgh Series Lecture Oct. 4

Issue Date: 
September 24, 2012

High rates of unemployment and underemployment are some of the most persistent challenges facing people with disabilities in the United States, especially in the context of current budget debates that focus on spending cuts. Jonathan M. Young, chair of the National Council on Disability, will address these issues in a lecture titled “Beyond Budgets: From Policy to Progress in Disability Employment” at the University of Pittsburgh.

The lecture, presented by Pitt’s Thornburgh Family Lecture Series in Disability Law and Policy, will be from 1 to 2:15 p.m. Oct. 4 in Ballroom B of Pitt’s University Club. Although it is free and open to the public, seating is limited and preregistration is requested.

Young, who is partially paralyzed from a spinal cord injury after breaking his neck in a high school wrestling match in 1986, once saw disability as the enemy. “I did not identify as a person with a disability, nor did I view myself as part of a disability community,” he testified in 2010 before the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on the Judiciary. “My goal,” Young said, “was to pass for ‘normal’ as best I could. I had internalized social stigma about disability.”

Young’s view—and life—changed in 1996, when he began work as a contractor on the Equality of Opportunity: The Making of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) report of the National Council on Disability.

“My preconception that disability was a debilitating weakness, an enemy to be overcome, ran headlong into the life stories of disability rights advocates whose power and pride both individually and collectively laid the foundation for passage of the ADA,” said Young.

By the time the council released the Equality of Opportunity report in 1997, Young had emerged from a deep depression and regained his self-confidence, “no doubt largely because my inability to embrace my identity as a person with a disability had contributed to my depression in the first place,” he said. “Identity as a person with a disability was liberating rather than stigmatizing. It gave my life new purpose and meaning.”

In 2010, President Barack Obama appointed—and the U.S Senate confirmed—Young as chair of the National Council on Disability. An independent federal agency charged with advising the president, Congress, and other federal agencies on policies, practices, and programs that affect people with disabilities, the council called for enactment of the ADA in its groundbreaking report Toward Independence: An Assessment of Federal Laws and Programs Affecting Persons with Disabilities—With Legislative Recommendations (1986). Once the ADA was signed into law in 1990, the National Council on Disability’s mission reflected the national disability policy goals now enshrined in the ADA: equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and financial security for all people with disabilities.

During his lecture, Young will discuss the history of U.S. government policies on disability employment. From President Harry S. Truman’s creation of the President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped through the ADA’s prohibition against employment discrimination to the creation of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, increasing employment for people with disabilities has been a top disability policy priority. “There are no easy answers,” said Young, “but true progress begins with making disability employment policy part of the national discourse.”

In addition to holding the title of chair of the council, Young is a partner and general counsel at FoxKiser, a firm specializing in strategic collaboration and counseling in law, science, and medicine. He previously served in the Executive Office of President Bill Clinton as associate director of the White House Office of Public Liaison and was the cofounder and former chair of the nonprofit Committee on Disability Power & Pride.

Young earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in history at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa.; MA and PhD degrees in American history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and a JD degree at Yale Law School. His publications include Equality of Opportunity (National Council on Disability, 1997), which subsequently became the foundation for his doctoral dissertation on the disability rights movement, and “Disability and Politics,” which was published in the Oxford Companion to American Politics (June 2012).

To preregister for the lecture, visit For accessibility needs or questions, call 412-648-1418. In addition, the lecture has been approved by the Pennsylvania Continuing Legal Education Board for 1.5 hours of substantive credit, for which there is a $25 fee.

The Thornburgh Family Lecture Series in Disability Law and Policy was created through the generosity of Pitt alumnus and trustee Dick Thornburgh (LAW ’57) and his wife, Ginny Thornburgh, who together received the 2003 Henry B. Betts Award from the American Association of People with Disabilities and donated the award funds to help establish the series. The fund has been supplemented by grants from the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of the Chancellor, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, and School of Law.

Sponsored by the Dick Thornburgh Forum for Law and Public Policy at Pitt, the lecture series attracts a diverse audience of students, advocates, and national spokespersons for the rights of people with disabilities. Previous speakers have included Iowa’s Senator Tom Harkin, the chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, who led the fight to ensure equality for the millions of Americans with disabilities since first being elected a U.S. Congressman in 1974 and then a U.S. Senator in 1984; and I. King Jordan, the first deaf president of Gallaudet University, the world’s only university with programs and services specifically designed to accommodate students who are deaf or hard of hearing.