Disability Campaign Questionnaire – Senate and Gubernatorial Candidates

RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization working to empower people with disabilities to achieve the American dream, is preparing a nonpartisan voter guide of all viable candidates in several Senate and gubernatorial elections on a variety of disability issues. This is being done in conjunction with our online publication, www.TheRespectAbilityReport.org, which is the definitive place for voters who care about the intersection of disability and electoral politics. Fully twenty percent of the U.S. population (56 million people) has a disability. With the addition of family members of people with disabilities, that percentage increases exponentially to include one in every three households in America affected by disability.

We have email lists of people in each state who have disabilities and/or a family member with a disability. We will share unedited responses with these lists as well as with members of the press who cover these issues in each state.

Our voter guide 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 they want us to share with the disability community. They may choose to answer each question individually for people with disabilities (PwDs), or to mention PwDs within a larger plan (i.e., your jobs, national security and crime plans) for the entire public.

Demographics/Our Numbers:

One in five of Americans has a disability, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. People with disabilities (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. Of the 22 million working age (18-64) people with disabilities in our country, fully 70 percent of them are outside of the labor force. This is despite the fact that most want to work. 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 the campaigns take to reach out to these voters can make the difference between winning and losing.

Our email release to more than 70,000 followers will occur shortly after August 29 and will make note of any candidates who chose not to submit a response. The questions are below. Below the questions are facts and information that can help campaigns fill out the questionnaire.

Please first start by answering YES or NO regarding if you have a plan/answer on this issue or not. Then include specific details of your plan up to 250 words for each answer. In addition, if you have more to say on an issue, please link back to the appropriate place on your website for people to learn more.

1: Do you have designated advisors and clear processes for making decisions on disability issues? If yes, please describe.

2: Is your campaign accessible and inclusive to people with disabilities? If yes, please describe.

3: Do you have a proven record on improving or a plan to improve the lives of people with disabilities? If yes, please describe.

4: Do you have a plan/commitment to reduce the stigmas about people with disabilities that are barriers to employment, independence and equality? If yes, please describe.

5: Do you have a proven record on enabling, or a plan to enable, people with disabilities to have jobs, careers and to start their own businesses? Do you have specific strategies for youth employment for people with disabilities and/or sector strategies such as jobs and careers in STEM, hospitality, healthcare and elder care? If yes, please describe.

6: Do you have a plan to enable students with disabilities, including those from historically marginalized communities and backgrounds, to receive the diagnosis, Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and accommodations/services they need to succeed in school and be prepared for competitive employment? If yes, please describe.

7: Do you have a plan to reform the benefits system (Medicaid, Medicaid buy-in) to enable people with disabilities to work to the best of their capacities without losing supports they need to work? If yes, please describe.

8: Do you have a plan to ensure people with disabilities are eligible for affordable health insurance regardless of pre-existing conditions? If yes, please describe.

9: Do you have a plan to provide home and community-based services to people with disabilities who would rather live in their own homes instead of institutions, and have the community attendant supports they need to work? If yes, please describe.

10: Do you have a plan to ensure that individuals with disabilities receive services that would prevent them from being swept up into the criminal justice system, divert individuals with disabilities who are arrested to treatment options in lieu of jail where appropriate, receive needed accommodations in the criminal justice process and while incarcerated, and offer appropriate re-entry support to help individuals with disabilities leaving jails and prisons re-integrate into their communities and secure jobs? If yes, please describe.

11: People with disabilities are twice as likely to be victims of crime as those without disabilities. People with disabilities also are far more likely to suffer from police violence, partially because manifestations of disability can be misunderstood as defiant behavior. Do you have a plan to address these issues? If yes, please describe.

12: Both children and adults with disabilities are more likely to be victims of rape or sexual assault. Do you have a plan to address this issue? If yes, please describe.

13: Do you have a plan for veterans with disabilities facing barriers transitioning from active duty to civilian employment? If yes, please describe.

14: Do you have a plan for accessible, affordable, integrated housing to allow people with disabilities to live in the communities where they work or are seeking work? If yes, please describe.

15: Do you have a plan to address the lack of accessible transportation options that is a barrier to work for people with disabilities? If yes, please describe.

16: Do you have a plan to advance innovations (i.e., assistive technologies, devices) that can help people with disabilities become more successfully employed, productive and independent? If yes, please describe.

17 (SENATORS ONLY): In your foreign policy and national security plan, do you plan to continue America’s tradition of standing up for the rights of oppressed people, including people with disabilities, around the world? If yes, please describe.

BACKGROUND AND RESOURCES FOR COMPLETING THE QUESTIONNAIRE

This is the first-ever candidate questionnaire on disability issues for Senate and gubernatorial races. However, very similar questions were asked in the presidential primary. We urge you to review the answers from those candidates:

Below we have given you lot of information to help you think through your answers to the questions. Two other key resources as you create your plans are the umbrella organizations of the disability community: the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (http://www.c-c-d.org) and the National Disability Leadership Alliance (http://www.disabilityleadership.org/). We also are happy to connect you to issue specialists and/or to review your plans before you post them if you would like.

1: Do you have designated advisors and clear processes for making decisions on disability issues? If yes, please describe.

For example, how do you know/learn about disability issues and make decisions on the many policies that impact the one in five of Americans who have a disability? Have you studied the issues? Do you have a disability or a family member with a disability? Have you done meetings with disability leaders or citizens with disabilities? Do you have a disability advisor and/or advisory committee?

2: Is your campaign accessible and inclusive to people with disabilities? If yes, please describe.

Are your website and documents accessible for people who are blind and use screen readers? For more information: http://therespectabilityreport.org/2015/07/21/presidential-candidates-web-accessibility-is-easier-than-you-think/.

Do your videos have captions for the 37.5 million American adults who are deaf or hard of hearing? For more information: http://therespectabilityreport.org/2015/07/20/making-youtube-videos-more-accessible-add-captions/.

Are your events ADA accessible, including parking, entrances and bathrooms? Do you have ASL interpreters, CART services and materials in alternative formats available upon advance request? Do you have a dedicated person on your team to address these issues? Do you have an ADA checklist? For an example, please see: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/mental_physical_disability/Accessible_Meetings_Toolkit.authcheckdam.pdf.

3: Do you have a proven record on improving or a plan to improve the lives of people with disabilities? If yes, please describe.

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:

  • Have you been active in disability issues? What have you done?
  • Have you hired people with disabilities, and if so, for what kind of roles?
  • Do you have a disability advisor and/or advisory board?
  • Have you volunteered and/or donated to disability causes?
  • Do you have a disability and/or a loved one with a disability?
  • What are other things you have done for PwDs?
  • Have PwDs helped you in your career or life?

As a governor or senator, you have 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:

1986 – The (American) Air Carrier Access Act
1990 – The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
1990 – The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
1992 – Amendments to the (American) Rehabilitation Act of 1973
2002 – Help America Vote Act (HAVA)
2004 – The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
2006 – UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
2008 – The Americans with Disabilities Act  (ADA) Amendments Act of 2008
2008 – Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008
2009 – The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act
2010 – The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act

2013 – The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)
2014 – The Stephen Beck, Jr. Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014 (ABLE Act)
2014 – Every Student Succeeds Act

For candidates who are or were governors, here are some questions you may want to address:

  • Did you appoint employ PwDs in your cabinet or other high-ranking offices?
  • Have you hosted events that showcase the benefits of employing PwDs?
  • Do you have a solid plan for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) that will dramatically improve employment opportunities for PwDs?
  • Did you have a state department or agency on disabilities? Did you create the department, and was its director a high-level member (i.e., cabinet) of your administration?
  • Did you expand or shrink Medicaid eligibility and funding while in office, including Medicaid buy-in programs?
  • Did you expand or shrink other disability services like your state’s vocational rehabilitation services?
  • Did employment of PwDs rise or fall while you were in office?
  • Did the gap between employment of PwDs vs. without disabilities rise or fall while you were in office?
  • Have you implemented specific initiatives focusing on employment of PwDs in you state, including veterans with disabilities, like Employment First?
  • Did you match all of the federal dollars for disability services? If not, what federal dollars were left on the table?

4: Do you have a plan/commitment to reduce the stigmas about people with disabilities that are barriers to employment, independence and equality? If yes, please describe.

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. A successful jobs policy would 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 safer than workers without disabilities, as productive as workers without disabilities and have a lower rate of turnover than workers without disabilities.

Governors have been incredible role models on this front – bringing media to best practices of inclusive employment. Governors Jack Markell of Delaware, Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota, Jay Inslee of Washington and Scott Walker of Wisconsin all have 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 disabilities/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.

5: Do you have a proven record on enabling, or a plan to enable, people with disabilities to have jobs, careers and to start their own businesses? Do you have specific strategies for youth employment for people with disabilities and/or sector strategies such as jobs and careers in STEM, hospitality, healthcare and elder care? If yes, please describe.

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 other sophisticated software, it is easier than ever for PwDs to achieve results on behalf of employers. Moreover, about 11 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 on this topic for more information.

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 every student with a disability’s Individualized Education Program 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 have secured 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, success and obtainment 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 of 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. The PROMISE grant is a joint initiative of the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the U.S. Departments of Education (ED), Health and Human Services, and Labor to address many of the barriers to economic independence faced by youth SSI recipients and their families. 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 also is 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.

6: Do you have a plan to enable students with disabilities, including those from historically marginalized communities and backgrounds, to receive the diagnosis, Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and accommodations/services they need to succeed in school and be prepared for competitive employment? If yes, please describe.

Many students with disabilities, especially minorities and new immigrants, do not receive the services they need to succeed in school and/or are never identified as needing help due to their disability. As a result, many are relegated to segregated schools, suspended or pushed out of school altogether.

Some facts to consider:

  • Students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive an out-of-school suspension as students without disabilities.[1]
  • Male African American and Latino students with disabilities have the highest suspension rates of all students with disabilities.[2]
  • Youth with disabilities only graduate high school at a rate of 61 percent, compared to 81 percent for people without disabilities – a 20-point gap in outcomes.[3]
  • Youth with disabilities who do not complete a high school education are far more likely to interact with the criminal justice system than those who complete their degrees.[4]
  • Two-thirds of inmates in state prisons failed to complete high school and seven out of ten people in jail are high school dropouts.[5]
  • Recent studies have found that only one third of undergraduates with learning disabilities were receiving accommodations. This research confirms that wealthier students have an easier time getting proper diagnoses and receiving appropriate accommodations than those with fewer financial resources.[6]
  • More than 60 percent of all prison inmates are functionally illiterate. They will not gain literacy unless their disabilities are addressed appropriately as a part of their education.[7]
  • The newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act provides for improved assessments upon entry for justice-involved youth including disability screening. However, that is not yet happening, and similar requirements are missing in the adult system.[8]

7: Do you have a plan to reform the benefits system (Medicaid, Medicaid buy-in) to enable people with disabilities to work to the best of their capacities without losing supports they need to work? If yes, please describe.

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.

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.

When an individual is collecting Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits based on disability, an SSI applicant or a current SSI recipient who is single cannot have more than $2,000 in assets. SSI claimants who exceed the $2,000 limit ($3,000 if married) are ineligible for benefits. And, in fact, claimants who are over the resource limit will not even have their disability claim fully evaluated to see if they are medically eligible for disability benefits. They will get a “technical denial” of benefits.

8: Do you have a plan to ensure people with disabilities are eligible for affordable health insurance regardless of pre-existing conditions? If yes, please describe.

Under the Affordable Care Act, plans must cover treatment for pre-existing conditions from the first day of coverage. This applies to coverage through private health plans in the Marketplace, Medicaid and Medicare. Marketplace plans cannot put annual or lifetime limits on your coverage.

Regardless of support for the Affordable Care Act, healthcare coverage for people with disabilities – which fall under pre-existing conditions – is important for the disability community. If you are for removing or changing the Affordable Care Act, please explain how you will ensure people with pre-existing conditions will still be able to obtain and afford health care.

Even under the Affordable Care Act, people with disabilities often are denied necessary accommodations such as wheelchairs. How will you ensure that people with disabilities are fully covered for all of their needs?

9: Do you have a plan to provide home and community-based services to people with disabilities who would rather live in their own homes instead of institutions, and have the community attendant supports they need to work? If yes, please describe.

There is a shortage of home and community-based care across all disability populations. While the pay rates for these workers and coverage caps 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.

10: Do you have a plan to ensure that individuals with disabilities receive services that would prevent them from being swept up into the criminal justice system, divert individuals with disabilities who are arrested to treatment options in lieu of jail where appropriate, receive needed accommodations in the criminal justice process and while incarcerated, and offer appropriate re-entry support to help individuals with disabilities leaving jails and prisons re-integrate into their communities and secure jobs? If yes, please describe.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 32 percent of all federal inmates say they have a disability and 40 percent of prisoners in our jails have at least one disability. Our new report, Disability & Criminal Justice Reform: Keys to Success, shows that at least 750,000 people with disabilities are behind bars and offers specific recommendations to include the disability lens in the criminal justice reform process.

Some facts to consider:

  • People with disabilities in the corrections system routinely have their rights violated. Inmates who are deaf, hard of hearing or have another disability frequently are put in solitary “for their own protection,” which can cause significant mental health challenges.[9]
  • The experience of prison or jail can worsen pre-existing mental health conditions and can create new mental health disabilities among inmates who leave the system.[10]
  • Some people with mental health issues are completely stabilized with medications and therapy while incarcerated. However, if they do not have access to Medicaid when they leave, many will be unable to receive the treatment they need.
  • Ninety-five percent of the prison population will be released and each year nearly 600,000 people leave incarceration. Within five years, three quarters of people who are paroled will be re-arrested and two-thirds will ultimately return to the prison and jail systems.[11]

11: People with disabilities are twice as likely to be victims of crime as those without disabilities. People with disabilities also are far more likely to suffer from police violence, partially because manifestations of disability can be misunderstood as defiant behavior. Do you have a plan to address these issues? If yes, please describe.

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.

When Freddie Gray died in police custody in Baltimore, much attention was paid to his race but less was paid to the fact he was an individual with a disability. It is well documented that Gray had lead poisoning as a child. While we are still trying to understand the full ramifications of lead poisoning, advocates and studies say it can diminish cognitive function, increase aggression and ultimately exacerbate the cycle of poverty that is already exceedingly difficult to break. In Gray’s case, unaddressed disability issues helped put him on a life path that involved the criminal justice system. In addition, Gray’s death was not an isolated incident, with similar cases across the country.

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 innocent people 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 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 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 expectations for employment, 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.

12: Both children and adults with disabilities are more likely to be victims of rape or sexual assault. Do you have a plan to address this issue? If yes, please describe.

Consider these facts:

  • Children with disabilities are three times more likely to be victims of rape or sexual assault than children without disabilities.[12]
  • Every nine minutes an adult with a disability is sexually assaulted or raped.

According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) and other studies, there is a correlation between individuals with disabilities and rates of sexual violence. Estimates show that around 59,000 adults with disabilities are raped or sexually assaulted each year. Those same studies show that adults with disabilities (hearing, vision, cognitive, ambulatory, self-care limitations, or inability to live independently) are 68 percent more likely than persons without disabilities to be a victim of rape or sexual assault.

These horrific statistics bespeak a reality of victimization that needs to be fought. Teaching children with disabilities self-advocacy skills also must include training in self-defense and education about how to seek assistance in the event of an assault. It is wrong enough that someone can be raped once but the fact that some people with disabilities experience repeated assaults is catastrophic. The necessary first step for addressing a horrific injustice such as sexual assault and people with disabilities is to understand the scale of the problem.

One study called Courage Above All: Sexual Assault Against Women with Disabilities found that “83 percent of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.” Approximately half of adults with cognitive disabilities will experience 10 or more sexually abusive incidents in their lifetime. Lastly, to quote the Department of Justice’s report on Crime Against Persons with Disabilities, “39 percent of all violent crimes committed against adults with disabilities were serious violent crimes…compared to 29 percent for those without disabilities.” These horrific statistics bespeak a reality of victimization that needs to change. Our report, Disability & Criminal Justice Reform: Keys to Success, outlines many solutions on this issue.

13: Do you have a plan for veterans with disabilities facing barriers transitioning from active duty to civilian employment? If yes, please describe.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in recent years, the percentage of veterans who report having service-connected disabilities (i.e., disabilities that were incurred in, or aggravated during, military service) has risen. About twenty-five percent of recent veterans report having a service-connected disability, as compared to about thirteen percent of all veterans. Common injuries experienced by veterans include missing limbs, spinal cord injuries, burns, post-traumatic stress disorder, hearing loss, traumatic brain injuries and other impairments.

There are several federal laws that provide important protections for veterans with disabilities who are looking for jobs or are already in the workplace. Two of those laws –the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act – protect veterans from employment discrimination.

Federal agencies also may use specific rules and regulations, called “special hiring authorities,” to hire individuals with disabilities outside the normal competitive hiring process, and sometimes may even be required to give preferential treatment to veterans, including disabled veterans, in making hiring decisions.

Veterans return with a unique skill set that is a benefit to employers. Veterans with disabilities need job training and job assistance programs to help ensure they and their families are able to live with respect and dignity. Organizations like DAV connect veterans with meaningful employment and resources to utilize their legal rights.

14: Do you have a plan for accessible, affordable, integrated housing to allow people with disabilities to live in the communities where they work or are seeking work? If yes, please describe.

The “Priced Out in 2014” study documents the severity of our nation’s housing affordability crisis:

  • The national average rent for a modestly priced one-bedroom apartment is greater than the entire maximum SSI payment of a person with a disability. The average annual income of a single individual receiving SSI payments was $8,995 – equal to only 20.1 percent of the national median income for a one-person household and about 23 percent below the 2014 federal poverty level.
  • In 162 housing market areas across 33 states, one-bedroom rents were more than100 percent of maximum monthly SSI payments. Rents for modest rental units in 15 of these areas were more than 150 percent of maximum SSI payments.
  • Our housing crisis severely impacts PwDs -the most vulnerable people with the lowest income.
  • Aging parents supporting an adult child with a disability feel pressured to find safe housing that maximizes their son or daughter’s independence and dignity.

As a result of the housing 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.

15: Do you have a plan to address the lack of accessible transportation options that is a barrier to work for people with disabilities? If yes, please describe.

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 and affordable 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 accessible public transportation and ensuring that bus routes take passengers to place where they can work. In a place where that is not possible, new transportation solutions like Uber or Lyft may or may not be an option for some people with disabilities. While ride-sharing services can be of assistance for individuals with hearing or sight disabilities, both services have limited options for wheelchair access. On the other end, for PwDs who do drive, such companies as Uber or Lyft 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.”

16: Do you have a plan to advance innovations (i.e., assistive technologies, devices) that can help people with disabilities become more successfully employed, productive and independent? If yes, please describe.

Assistive technology promotes greater independence by enabling people to perform tasks that they were formerly unable to accomplish, or had great difficulty accomplishing, by providing enhancements to, or changing methods of interacting with, the technology needed to accomplish such tasks. This includes assistive, adaptive and rehabilitative devices for people with disabilities from wheelchairs and hearing aids to screen readers and voice recognition software.

Assistive technology, mobility devices and other supports can enable many individuals to look beyond receiving services and instead into pursuing their dreams. Technology is a rapidly evolving element in the environment in which services are delivered and people with functional limitations live their lives. As such, the use of technology to mitigate limitations or the role of assistive technology in facilitating communications is importance to consider. Examples include screen readers for people who are blind or visually impaired, voice recognition software and various communication devices to enable people with disabilities to communicate with co-workers – and their co-workers to effectively communicate with them.

17 (SENATORS ONLY): In your foreign policy and national security plan, do you plan to continue America’s tradition of standing up for the rights of oppressed people, including people with disabilities, around the world? If yes, please describe.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, 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 answer your questions and to connect you to other subject matter experts, as requested.

CONTACT:
Lauren Appelbaum: LaurenA@RespectAbilityUSA.org, 202-591-0703
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi: JenniferM@RespectAbilityUSA.org, 202 365 0787

THANK YOU!

 


[1] DOED Civil Rights Data Collection – Data Snapshot: School Discipline – http://1.usa.gov/11RJsyN

[2] Are We Closing the School Discipline Gap? – The Civil Rights Project-UCLA – http://bit.ly/1OBJDWT

[3] Public High School Four-Year On-Time Graduation Rates and Event Dropout Rates – http://1.usa.gov/1R6n9rs

[4] The Post-High School Outcomes of Young Adults With Disabilities – http://1.usa.gov/24Xe0uV

[5] The National Guard Foundation – http://www.ngyf.org/

[6] Financial status affects success of students with learning disabilities – AAAS! EurekAlert – http://bit.ly/1qx4jDT

[7] Literacy Statistics – Begin to Read – http://bit.ly/Yu6dbj

[8] What the “Every Student Succeeds Act” Means for Youth in and Returning from the Juvenile Justice System – http://bit.ly/1W2HhTf

[9] #DeafInPrison Campaign Fact Sheet – HEARD – http://bit.ly/250gvg0

[10] GoodTherapy.org – The Effects of Incarceration on Mental Health – http://bit.ly/1XmrlKF

[11] Offender Reentry – Congressional Research Service 7-5700 – http://bit.ly/1smMrNt

[12] Disability Justice – Abuse and Exploitation of People with Developmental Disabilities – http://bit.ly/1TXsTYV

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