The Department of Housing and Urban Development has decided to produce a 30-minute television special to make the public more aware of discrimination against the handicapped. The proposed special, however, has outraged several handicapped employes at HUD, according to an independent newsletter called IMPACT Journal, which monitors the agency.
The television special, which HUD wants to broadcast free on cable networks, would feature Hollywood stars (including the Muppets), sports celebrities and politicos all repeating the same theme: "People who are disabled are no different from any other American: Are people who wear eyeglasses any different from those who don't?"
Handicapped employes at HUD describe the special as "demeaning" and a cheap way for HUD to meet its obligation to implement Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. That section prohibits discrimination against the handicapped in federally assisted programs.
Congress provided HUD with $900,000 in fiscal 1981 and again in fiscal 1982 to train its staff about Section 504, study ways to implement it, and alert the public to the problems of handicapped Americans. The agency, however, recently decided it didn't need that much money. "We can do this job for a lot less," explained John Putman, the HUD official who is supervising the television special. "With one sentence, Miss Piggy can do more to change the attitude toward the handicapped than any other American figure."
HUD said it can produce an employe training manual, brochures and its television special for less than $100,000, which would allow the agency to return the remaining $1.7 million funds allocated by Congress for both fiscal years.
Returning the money shows "HUD is not really committed to the dignity and civil rights of disabled workers," one handicapped HUD employe complained. "Having Miss Piggy say that handicapped people are just like everyone else is an insult. If we weren't different, we wouldn't need Section 504."