Rights For People With Disabilities? Elizabeth Warren Is Here To Help
Elizabeth Warren keeps cranking out the policy proposals, because she has this funny notion that ideas matter, and being able to put them into action does too. Her latest proposal takes on rights and equality for people with disabilities, which only sounds like a niche issue to people who've never tried to get around with a wheelchair or a walker or to get through a college class -- or just a badly-designed website -- with dyslexia. Like all of Warren's plans, it's an impressive look at how the machinery of government can be used to make life better and fairer for everyone -- and to fit together seamlessly with Warren's other proposals. And just like her other plans, this proposal is designed to work as a blueprint for governing, whoever the nominee is.
As always, the depth of research and awareness of unmet needs is impressive. Hell, I like to pretend that having had people with disabilities in my family makes me fairly sensitive to issues of accessibility and discrimination, but time and time again while reading this proposal, I kept saying, holy crap, I didn't know that. Which is really the first step toward fixing problems, isn't it?
In one brief paragraph, Warren and her policy team call attention to several interlocking instances of why this all matters:
Right now, people with disabilities are excluded from economic opportunity and denied financial security. Adults with disabilities are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as those without a disability. The unemployment rate of people with disabilities seeking employment is also more than twice the unemployment rate of individuals with no disability - and Black and Native American people living with disabilities have the lowest rates of employment. Those that are employed are more likely to have part-time and hourly jobs, subjecting them to abusive scheduling practices, no benefits, and inadequate leave policies.
Warren points out that seriously outdated policies allow some employers to get away with paying workers with disabilities absurdly low wages, citing a 2013 NBC News investigation that found Goodwill Industries paid some workers with disabilities as little as 22 cents an hour, and some franchises paid even less, as low as four cents an hour. Yes, in this century. And it's still legal under the loophole in employment law the company exploited.
Warren offers a broad range of ideas to more fully flesh out the goals of the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act: "equal opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self sufficiency." For starters, she would create a National Office of Disability Coordination to make sure all aspects of governmental policy are protecting rights and opportunities for folks with disabilities.
Her proposals touch on several key areas: economic security and equal opportunity in the job market, education, making sure technology is used appropriately wherever possible, protecting rights and civil liberties, universal healthcare, and promoting "affordable, accessible, and green living." Damn straight the plan aims to be comprehensive, since disability affects so many aspects of daily life -- not to the exclusion of all else, but it's a factor.
As with some of her other plans, Warren would make sure the government workforce promotes inclusion and diversity. She notes that
When President Obama prioritized recruiting and hiring individuals with disabilities for federal jobs, he was able to raise the level of people with disabilities in federal service to 14% of the overall workforce.
Warren wants to go a step further and mandate better policies for government contractors, too. And here's another of those things I just never had any idea of:
To make the economy work for people with disabilities, we must also take aim at the ways that the financial industry targets people with disabilities, who can face higher risks of identity theft, financial abuse, and financial fraud, as well as limited incomes, making them less likely to be banked and more likely to borrow from payday lenders.
To address that, she'd create a job at her baby, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to coordinate policy and enforcement affecting folks with disabilities. (And wouldn't it be nice if the CFPB actually protected consumers again?)
Warren would also overhaul outmoded eligibility rules for the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs, since in their current form, they can trap people in poverty by eliminating all benefits if someone has income over a certain threshold; the same bureaucratic rules can keep people from marrying. Warren offers a whole bunch of fixes to rules that have been counterproductive, like the current two-year wait between someone qualifying for SSDI and their being able to access Medicare -- which of course, Warren also wants for all.
In education, Warren would expand funding to make sure kids with disabilities get services that will help them early on, and so kids in elementary and high schools get the support they need. Yes, she goes into quite a bit of detail on the kinds of aides and resources needed, from elementary classroom aides to programs to help high schoolers transition to college or work.
And here's one more thing that's only surprising for half a second, and then you say, Oh shit, that's not right:
The high school graduation rate for students with disabilities is still 18 points lower than the graduation rate for students without disabilities. And even among students with disabilities, there remain substantial racial gaps in graduation: whereas 74% of white students served under IDEA received a high school diploma in the 2016-2017 school year, only 70% of Latinx students with disabilities and 64% of Black students received a diploma.
Again, she has proposals, starting by reversing the Trump/DeVos gutting of the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights, which eliminated discrimination by refusing to notice any. That's a problem, since Warren notes students with disabilities are far more likely to get `out-of-school suspensions, and again, that gets even worse for students of color.
In some instances, Warren's radical plan involves simply following existing law, like funding infrastructure so schools will finally comply with the ADA. Another unsurprising example: Only 17 percent of New York City's public schools are ADA-compliant.
Warren wants adaptive technology to be made more affordable and available, and she'd use the Bayh-Dole Act to do it:
If companies that used government funding to develop their products are unwilling or unable to offer key assistive technologies at reasonable prices, my administration will use its authority [...] to license patented innovations to companies that will ensure that technologies are available to the public on reasonable terms.
She's already proposed legislation to do much the same for overly expensive prescription meds, so yeah, she's big on taking existing law and making it work for people.
One last example, though the full plan covers far more than we've mentioned, from accessible polling places to inaccessible public housing. Warren wants to make sure having a disability isn't treated as a crime. How about training cops so they won't shoot deaf people for "failing to comply" when cops shout orders? And how about we fully fund mental health care so cops are no longer America's "de facto first mental health providers"?
And again, there are the stats we didn't know about:
People who are incarcerated are three times more likely to report having a disability, and while incarcerated, individuals with disabilities often lack access to critical health and mental health services, as well as necessary accommodations.
Why yes, those problems are worse in private prisons. For fuckssake.
1990 'Capitol Crawl' for the ADA
Thirty years ago, 60 activists set aside their wheelchairs and other assistive devices and crawled up the steps of the US Capitol to demand passage of the ADA. It's kind of criminal that even now, there's so much more that needs doing.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.