A Disability Rights Platform
July 25, 2003
The ADA is one of the most important civil rights laws ever passed by Congress. By requiring public buildings to be accessible and by outlawing discrimination on the basis of disability in employment and public accommodations, the ADA has provided new opportunities for more than 54 million people living with disabilities.
Above all, the ADA has changed attitudes. It has led to new respect and dignity for individuals with disabilities. It has empowered citizens to confront discrimination and recognize their civil right to be treated fairly. This law holds out the promise that individuals with disabilities will be welcomed as full members of the American community.
The best way to mark the anniversary of the passage of the ADA is to build upon its success by expanding the horizons of Americans with disabilities.
First of all, we need to restore the full promise of the ADA itself. Right wing judges, led by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Scalia and Thomas, have narrowed the scope of the ADA. They have severely limited the employment protections in the Act, dismissing cases brought by qualified disabled people, and interpreting the Constitution to shield state governments from lawsuits seeking to enforce rights under the ADA. President Bush has nominated judges like Jeffrey Sutton and William Pryor whose advocacy has undermined the ADA and other civil rights laws.
If I am elected President, I will appoint judges who understand that civil rights laws must be interpreted broadly, and who do not erect imaginary constitutional barriers to the enforcement of civil rights. Congress may also need to amend the ADA to overcome adverse court decisions.
Looking beyond the ADA, there is much more that can be done to enhance the status of Americans with disabilities. As
President I would pursue a bold and aggressive disability agenda, including the following:
• Fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). When IDEA was enacted, Congress promised to pay 40 percent of the average per-pupil expenditure educating children with disabilities. Federal funding has never come close to meeting that promise; in FY 2002, federal funds constituted 18 percent of this cost. This has been a burden on local ratepayers and has led to diminished services many note takers, interpreters and other individuals hired to assist persons with disabilities in the classroom have been terminated. The federal government should fully fund its promised share of IDEA.
• Enact the Medicaid Community Attendant Services and Supports Act (MiCASSA). MiCASSA would provide a new Medicaid benefit allowing individuals eligible for nursing home care access to community-based attendant services instead. As I testified before the Senate Special Committee on Aging in July, 2001, “If a long-term care system were being designed from scratch today, I do not think we would conceive of building a system in which a bias is shown for institutional care, rather than for services designed to keep people independent in their homes or the community.” Home health aides allow people to live more independently and relieve pressure on the family of individuals with disabilities.
• Enact the Family Opportunity Act. This proposal would expand Medicaid coverage to children with severe disabilities living in middle income families. Currently, such families face an untenable dilemma: stay impoverished, place their child in an out-of-home placement, or relinquish custody to secure needed health care services. My health care plan would expand insurance coverage for children up to 300% of poverty and this Act would address the remaining need.
• Provide technical support as states implement “Olmstead” plans to provide viable, sustainable options for community-based living. In the 1999 case L.C. vs. Olmstead, the Supreme Court interpreted the ADA to require that individuals with disabilities be offered state services in the most integrated community-based setting appropriate to their needs. States are now modifying programs and activities to comply with Olmstead. The federal government must assist states make this transition by providing technical assistance and funding innovative models for full integration.
• Ensure adequate resources for civil rights enforcement. The EEOC and the civil rights offices in the Departments of Justice, Education and HHS need the tools to vigorously enforce laws that integrate people with disabilities into society. Funding is also crucial for the recently enacted Help America Vote Act that improves access to the ballot for Americans with disabilities.
• Require every federal agency to demonstrate full compliance with laws protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities. The federal government should be a model of civil rights compliance; each federal agency should demonstrate on an ongoing basis that it respects the rights of people with disabilities. For example, agencies should ensure that newly purchased electronic equipment is compatible with existing assistive technologies such as screen-reading software and Braille display units.
• Appoint a “Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy.” This staff member would be responsible for implementing my disability agenda and ensuring agency compliance with existing laws.
• Include people with disabilities in a wide spectrum of executive appointments. Individuals with disabilities provide a valuable perspective on federal policy and contribute immeasurably to the fabric of our nation.
• Hold a White House Conference on People with Disabilities. This conference would develop a long-term agenda to modernize federal programs serving individuals with disabilities so that they achieve full participation, independent living, economic self sufficiency and equality of opportunity.
My campaign is about restoring community. For too long, individuals with disabilities have been on the outskirts of their communities, unable to fully participate in civic life. Thirteen years ago, Congress enacted the ADA to bring Americans with disabilities into the mainstream. As President, I will work to strengthen the ADA, add new protections, and ensure that disability is no barrier at all to full participation in the American community.