RespectAbility is asking all presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle to fill out a questionnaire on disability issues.
During this presidential campaign, we have had the pleasure of covering all the candidates and their views on disability issues. Coverage of all the candidates can be found here: www.TheRespectAbilityReport.com. We have large email lists of thousands of people in each of the early primary and caucus states who have disabilities and/or a family member with a disability. As you probably know, 20 percent of the U.S. population has a disability, coupled with all of the family members, that percentage increases exponentially to include one in every three households in America.
We are preparing a questionnaire for all presidential candidates on a variety of disability issues. The #PwDsVote Presidential Campaign Questionnaire will be electronic and thus it is vital for candidates to put their positions on their website and give us the specific links to the places you want us to share with the disability community. Candidates may choose to answer each question individually for people with disabilities (PwDs), or to mention PwDs within a larger plan (i.e., jobs, national security and crime plans) for the entire public.
The deadline is January 25, 2016. However, we advise candidates to start building this now and getting it online as they develop their answers to these questions. We will provide more information later as requested, but have already given them background information. A key resource as they create their plans also can be the umbrella organizations of the disability community. Two great resources are the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities and the National Disability Leadership Alliance. We also are happy to connect campaigns to issue specialists and/or to review plans before posting them.
Here are the questions for which campaigns will need to provide links. Campaigns should first start by answering YES or NO regarding if they have a plan/answer on this issue or not. Then link to their answer.
Information Provided to All of the Campaigns:
Fully one in five of Americans has a disability, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. PwDs are America’s largest minority group and the only one that, due to an accident or illness, anyone can join at any time. Indeed, America has 56 million PwDs. Of these 56 million, approximately five million live with developmental disabilities. More than 20 million Americans with disabilities are working age, and 70 percent of them are outside of the labor force. This hurts employers who have talent needs, PwDs who want jobs, and taxpayers who support the 11 million PwDs who do not pay taxes but instead may live on government benefits.
Polls show that the majority of voters have either a disability or a loved one with a disability. Voters with disabilities and their families are up for grabs – and the actions your campaign takes to reach out to these voters can make the difference between winning and losing.
We stand ready to answer your questions and have given you some key information below to help you in answering the questions above.
Question 2: What have you done in the past or plan to do to improve the lives of PwDs? Here are some things for you to consider covering in that question:
If you are a governor or senator, you have had the opportunity to pass laws and work on disability issues first-hand. Do not just say what you are going to do in the future; talk about what you have done in the past. For example, elected officials should talk about their voting records and people who have not served in elected office should write about if they support the laws below or not.
Key disability legislation:
For candidates who are or were governors, here are some questions you may want to address in the section on what you have done for PwDs:
Question 3: Employment for people with disabilities (PwDs)
Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life. All PwDs deserve to be able to work to achieve the American Dream, just like anyone else.
One in five Americans has a disability. In the quarter century since passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), many important barriers have been lifted including, but not limited to, physical architectural barriers and educational opportunities. However, only 30 percent of working age people with disabilities are in the workforce. This leads to poverty, prison and worse.
Studies show that fully 70 percent of working age PwDs want to work. Today, with assistive technologies such as screen readers and sophisticated software, it is easier than ever for PwDs to achieve results on behalf of employers. Moreover, about11 million working age Americans with disabilities are living on government benefits, despite the fact that most want to become independent.
Successful implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act will be key. Thus, RespectAbility, along with a number of other disability groups, has created the Disability Employment First Planning Tool. This document details best practices and effective models that are proven to work, be cost effective to implement, and be successful. We suggest you and/or a member of your team review this. Check out our webinar.
The answer to employment challenges will not be found in Washington programs alone. It will take public-private-nonprofit-disability community partnerships that are based on win-win-win policies that will benefit PwDs, employers and taxpayers alike.
Early work experiences should be a critical part of a fully accessible education, and an internship should be a part of the Individual Educational Plan for every student with a disability. There are already many best practices that show how to achieve successful transitions from school to work for students with disabilities. Project SEARCH, which is a one-year school-to-work program that takes place entirely at the workplace, is an excellent example of a program that truly helps individuals with disabilities succeed in job placement and retention. This innovative, business-led model features total workplace immersion, which facilitates a seamless combination of classroom instruction, career exploration, and worksite-based training and support. The goal for each program participant is competitive employment. Their employment outcomes are phenomenal: with programs in 43 states, and more than 2,000 young adults served each year, they have a 70 percent success rate for the participants who complete their program and securing an integrated, competitive job. Programs like this show us how to create transition plans suited to the specific needs of individuals with disabilities and connect them with the post-secondary resources that will enable them to make the most of their lives. They are also fantastic for employers and taxpayers alike.
Improving post-secondary education opportunities for PwDs is critical to empowering more PwDs to become independent and successful. Beyond college affordability, there is another critical barrier that keeps many PwDs from succeeding – the fundamental disconnect in most college programs between disability services and career services. Disability services often only look at accommodations on tests and classwork and not on how to transition into the workforce upon graduation. There needs to be better integration that brings awareness of the learning and working opportunities that are critical for successful transitions. The post-graduation transition plan should not be limited to a certain number years post-graduation. PwDs often take additional time finding employment, and if they are still seeking employment two or three years post-graduation they may be excluded from these opportunities. Actively encouraging work experience through internships is a critical part of supporting the success of students with disabilities.
High expectations and family engagement are key parts of promoting independence and improving employment outcomes.High expectations about employment and success among PwDs need to begin early. Expecting and working toward success are motivational factors that can support the ultimate entry of a student with disabilities into the workforce. For far too long, PwDs have faced stigma, myths, and misconceptions about their capacity to work, to become independent, and to pursue careers. Setting high expectations for success needs to begin with families and their involvement in the schools. There are many examples of how this can be done successfully. Our nation needs to radically expand the innovative work being done through the Promoting Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income (PROMISE) grant. A key part of the success this model has had is the fact that family becomes engaged in career training and job preparation.
Encouraging entrepreneurship and small business creation among PwDs is also key. Entrepreneurship is a profound part of living the American Dream. Empowering PwDs to become self-employed and start their own small business is something that our nation can accomplish together. Improving and expanding grants that train PwDs to start their own business is something the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Small Business Administration can do as a part of this plan. Likewise, expanding affirmative action and anti-discrimination protections for disability-owned businesses also are important steps that can help to employment opportunities. At the same time, it is critical to help aging workers who are acquiring a disability to be “re-homed” in a new job so that they don’t need to exit the workforce prematurely.
Question 4: Busting the stigmas, myths, and misconceptions around people with disabilities should be part of America’s overall workforce/jobs strategy.
Low expectations and misconceptions are critical barriers to employment for people with disabilities. A Princeton study shows that while PwDs are seen as warm, they are not seen as competent. Similarly, a study published by Cornell Hospitality Quarterly found that companies share a concern that PwDs cannot adequately do the work required of their employees. We therefore want to see your jobs policy include a strategy for communications/public relations to reduce such stigmas.
A great example of the business case for disability inclusion is provided by Walgreens, which has demonstrated that workers with disabilities in their distribution centers are as productive, safer, and turn over less when compared to peers without disabilities.
Governors have been incredible role models on this front – bringing media to best practices of inclusive employment. Govs. Jack Markell of Delaware, Jay Inslee of Washington and Scott Walker of Wisconsin have all done this extensively. The media appearances made by these governors have been vital in demonstrating the business case for hiring people with disabilities. This type of systematic and ongoing communications campaign must continue if you want to maximize your success.
Today we have curb cuts, more accessible transportation, and more high school graduates with disabilities, but sadly, negative attitudes and stigmas still exist. Myths and misconceptions about people with physical differences, intellectual disabilities and mental health challenges prevent far too many people from entering the workforce. We live in a world where perceptions are shaped at lightning speed by social media, entertainment and news. Any stigma reduction campaign needs a multilayered approach in order to change the narrative around workers with disabilities so that they are seen for the abilities that they bring to the table.
Already, great things are happening in this space. Recently, A&E Network premiered a new original docu-series called “Born This Way,” which stars seven real people with Down syndrome. This show was a landmark project for the simple fact that it showed above all else that PwDs, including those with Down syndrome, can work successfully and live relatively independently. The USC Annenberg Hollywood, Health & Society program (HH&S), which helps scriptwriters get health and humanity issues right, can be utilized to bring characters with disabilities into scripted television in a positive way. See https://hollywoodhealthandsociety.org. Since 2001, through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HH&S has informed hundreds of aired storylines across dozens of network, cable and online streaming channels on topics like obesity, diabetes, cancer, HIV testing and more. Your leadership could inspire specific work so that scriptwriters also put PwDs into job roles of responsibility and respect in the future. School textbooks also should avoid stigmatizing people with disabilities, and should show success for diverse populations including PwDs. It is vital for the public to get used to seeing PwDs as doctors, police, teachers, store employees, nurses and much more.
Questions 6 and 7: Healthcare and Personal Care Assistants
Likewise, the transition from school to work in the community for PwDs needs to address other barriers to employment. For many PwDs, it is not the lack of a job or job skills that preclude them from having a job but rather it is the lack of healthcare services that may only be covered by Medicaid, and issues with Medicaid eligibility that is the problem. The asset and income restrictions placed by Medicaid should be waived for individuals with documented disabilities that want to transition into the workforce in an effort to incentivize people to work rather than incentivizing people to remain on government support. For example, a person with a serious spinal cord injury should not lose the personal care assistant who helps them eat and get dressed in the morning if they take a job. More states need to offer a “Medicaid buy-in” to help people move into paid work while maintaining the health-related supports they need.
There is a workforce shortage for home and community-based care across all disability populations. While the rates for these workers need to be increased, it is still cheaper to have a personal care assistant than the cost of institutionalization – the only alternative when workers are not available for hospitals, nursing facilities, residential placement for children with medically high needs, and in similar situations. There is a critical need for home and community-based providers especially among the elderly as baby-boomers age.
Personal care assistants are primarily funded through Medicaid, and eligibility is restricted based on assets and income. This is a significant disincentive to finding employment for PwDs who require personal care assistants. PwDs should be able to receive the care they need to live on a daily basis, and have that care available should they need assistance getting ready for work in the morning. There is no point in getting a job if you lose the ability to have someone help you get ready for work in the morning.
Another issue is the lack of portability of benefits, particularly if a person with a disability receives Medicaid benefits such as personal care assistance but finds employment in another state. They are not able to easily transfer benefits without a lapse in coverage. This makes the transition nearly impossible when people require medical care or personal care assistance on a daily basis. This also is an issue if family caregivers pass away and other caregivers are not in the same state.
Questions 8 and 9: PwDs More Likely to be Victims of Crime and Police Brutality
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 32 percent of all federal inmates say they have a disability. Forty percent of those in jails are PwDs!
In the most recent statistics available – released in 2015 with data from 2013 – the rate of violent crime against PwDs was more than twice the rate for people without disabilities, while PwDs aged 12-15 and 35-49 were three times more likely to be victims of violent crimes.
PwDs also are more likely to be victims of police attacks. A Supreme Court amicus brief filed by the ACLU in San Francisco v. Sheehan stated, “A review of available reports indicates that at least half of the estimated 375 to 500 people shot and killed by police each year in this country have mental health problems.”
While the vast majority of officers only want to protect the community they patrol, officers not properly trained in dealing with PwDs are bound to make mistakes.
This does not even take into account people with other disabilities who were improperly handled by police, due to insufficient officer training. For example, police may think people with epilepsy, diabetes, cerebral palsy or disabilities resulting from a stroke are instead intoxicated or using drugs – and therefore subjected to unnecessary force by officers.
Likewise, too many innocents of all abilities and races are being killed. Still, we recognize and value the role of police and the good intentions of the vast majority of those in law enforcement.
Police must be trained in how to respond to individuals with developmental disabilities of all races. People who communicate, think, learn and emote differently must have the accommodations, supports and guidance needed to level the playing field. This also means that civil workers in a city like Baltimore in which hundreds of children have sustained lead poisoning must receive training to ensure public safety for all citizens. It is also vital for children of ALL backgrounds to get the testing and services they need to determine if they have a disability and to enable early intervention that can bring successful outcomes.
Ongoing low employment expectations, negative stereotypes and a lack of appropriate transition services combine to lead to lives of isolation, poverty, poor health outcomes and higher rates of both victimization of, and crime by, PwDs. Additionally, students with disabilities are far more likely to drop out.
Question 10: Medical Cannabis for Epilepsy and Other Disabilities
Citizens with serious medical conditions are seeking safe and legal access to medical cannabis when it is medically appropriate. Organizations like Iowans for Medical Cannabis are working for the ability for people with severe medical conditions to access medical cannabis with no fear of legal retaliation or incarceration. In addressing this issue, it is important to have policies that allow controlled access to safe, affordable medical cannabis within each state and nationally to reduce the suffering of people living with debilitating chronic conditions. In addition, removing cannabis from Schedule I recognizes its medicinal benefits and allows for academic research and medical use.
Question 12: Veterans’ Healthcare Reform – From Paralyzed Veterans of America
Contact Susan Prokop for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org
The long-term vision is to provide high-quality health care closer to home by seamlessly combining the capabilities of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system with public and private health care providers in the community. To achieve this outcome, reform must address four fundamental ideas:
Restructuring the system in a way that establishes integrated health care networks designed to leverage the capabilities and strengths of existing local resources will provide more efficient, higher quality and better coordinated care. If this new structure is coupled with a shift in the access eligibility paradigm to one of clinical need and patient/doctor decision-making instead of a national arbitrary time and distance analysis, it will further enhance the quality and convenience of care.
Beyond the VA policies above, veterans with significant disabilities and military family members with significant disabilities are affected by a broad range of federal programs and policies in addition to those administered by the VA and U.S. Department of Defense – from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to the U.S. Departments of Labor, Housing and Education to state vocational rehabilitation programs. Yet children of disabled veterans covered by CHAMPVA were left out of the Affordable Care Act’s expanded coverage up to age 26. Proposed cuts in Social Security disability insurance would affect more than one million veterans. Mobile military families often find themselves at the bottom of Medicaid waiting lists and unable to get coverage for their dependents with disabilities. When improvements and changes are proposed to programs affecting PwDs, ensure that veterans with disabilities and military family members with disabilities are not overlooked or adversely affected.
Question 13: Nation’s Housing Crisis for PwDs
The “Priced Out in 2014” study documents the severity of our nation’s housing affordability crisis:
As a result of the crisis, millions of non-elderly PwDs have limited housing options and therefore, reside in homeless shelters, public institutions, nursing homes, unsafe and overcrowded board and care homes, at home with aging parents, or in segregated group quarters which, in some cases, are much more costly options and strip our fellow citizens of their basic human and civil rights.
It is critical to assure accessible, affordable, and safe housing options not only for PwDs (particularly those who experience intellectual disabilities), but also for our elderly citizens. Our nation is aging and this issue also impacts older adults who may experience disability challenges in later life as well as veterans who have disabilities.
Question 14: Lack of Transportation
Once a person with a disability finds a job, it is vital that they be able to go to that job. Many PwDs do not drive because of their disability or they cannot afford private transportation. As such, we need to find easy solutions that will enable people to get where they can work at internships, apprenticeships and other work opportunities. For many people, the solution will be public transportation and ensuring that bus routes take passengers to place where they can work. In a place where that is not possible, people should be able to look at UBER and other new transportation solutions. Indeed, for PwDs who do drive, such companies as UBER also can provide a way to enter into the workforce with flexible hours. As Tony Coelho, former U.S. congressman and an author of the ADA said, “For too long, people with disabilities have needed to rely on others for their transportation needs. With ridesharing options…millions more can now get to work on their own, visit friends, or enjoy an evening out.”
Question 16: Standing up for PwDs Around the World
The ADA, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, government services and opportunities, public accommodations (applies to retail space of any kind) and telephone service, was the catalyst for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a human rights treaty adopted by the members of the United Nations in December 2006. More than 150 countries have signed and ratified the treaty. The United States has signed but not yet ratified it. Nonetheless, U.S. nongovernmental organizations, the U.S. Department of State, and USAID, and individual experts from the United States continue to be sought by the nations of the world to help them achieve the level of disability rights and broad opportunities available to PwDs in this country.
Please do not hesitate to contact RespectAbility if you have questions about any disability issues. We are happy to do our best to answer your questions ourselves and to connect you to other subject matter experts.