President Elect Barack Obamas Plan to Empower Persons with Disabilities
Author: Disabled World
Published: 2008-12-14 : (Rev. 2016-06-12)
Synopsis and Key Points:
President Elect Barack Obamas plan to increase access and opportunity for persons with disabilities in America.
President Elect Barack Obama, in his outline of actions promised to American's with Disabilities located on his campaign website, stated many things that have the potential to enhance the lives of persons with disabilities in our nation.
The four areas Barack Obama covers related to persons with disabilities include:
- Provide Americans with the educational opportunities they need to succeed.
- End discrimination and promote equal opportunity.
- Increase the employment rate of workers with disabilities.
- Support of independent, community-based living for Americans with disabilities.
President Elect Obama has stated that he will work closely with individuals and disability rights advocates in order to achieve this vision of an American society where everyone can live with respect and dignity. The vision that President Elect Obama has for persons with disabilities is both challenging and honorable. What follows is a more detailed presentation, based on his outline, of the plans that he has for us; Americans with disabilities.
I.) Provide Americans With The Educational Opportunities They Need To Succeed.
In the first portion of President Elect Obama's plan for American's with disabilities, he promises several actions related to giving us the educational opportunities we need in order to succeed in America. President Elect Obama's stated intended actions are as follows:
Fully Funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act:
As President, Barack Obama will fully fund and ensure effective implementation and enforcement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Act. Congress promised to, "shoulder," forty percent of each state's, "excess cost," of educating children with disabilities; however, it has never lived up to its obligation. At this time, the federal government provides less than half of the funding it promised; about seventeen percent. Children are being very shortchanged, their parents are being forced to with school districts that are struggling financially as well in order to obtain the free and appropriate education the IDEA promised their children.
Barack Obama's presentation states that fully funding IDEA would provide students with disabilities with the public education that IDEA promises them and they have a right to; it would give school districts the ability to provide services without cutting into their general education budgets.
In addition to fully funding IDEA, Barack Obama would ensure both implementation and enforcement of IDEA.
Early Intervention for Children with Disabilities:
Barack Obama will invest ten billion dollars each year in early intervention educational and developmental programs for children between zero and five years of age. His plan is to help expand Early Head Start to serve more children with disabilities, and he is hopeful that it will provide incentive for states, through programs such as the Early Learning Challenge Grants, to expand on programs for children with disabilities like IDEA. Barack Obama is hopeful that they will integrate these programs with other early childhood programs.
Support Universal Screening:
Around ninety percent of the infants in America today are screened for a number of disabling or life-threatening conditions. Less than half of the states in this nation screen every infant for the American College of Medical Genetics' full recommended panel of twenty-nine disorders. If many of these conditions are caught early they can be treated before they result in permanent impairments or even death. Many parents in America are unaware that these tests are available.
Barack Obama believes that we should make sure that every state has comprehensive infant screening programs, as we as a goal to provide re-screening for every two-year old. He believes that this screening is needed so disabilities can be identified while children are still young enough to help them and their families get the support and resources they need.
Support Vocational Rehabilitation Programs:
There are vocational rehabilitation programs in existence in every state that have provided successful counseling to help high school students with disabilities and high school graduates with disabilities to develop the life skills they need to continue on to college, as well as pursue independent lives. Barack Obama supports vocational rehabilitation programs and will assure that there is sufficient funding to empower Americans with disabilities to succeed in college and beyond.
Improving College Opportunities for High School Graduates with Disabilities:
Student with disabilities need more opportunities to get a college education if they are going to succeed in the labor market. Today students with disabilities are less likely to attend college than non-disabled students. They are also less likely to complete a degree program when they do pursue a college degree. Students with disabilities who graduate from college find that their first year in the labor market is roughly equivalent to their classmates without disabilities. Barack Obama will do several things to improve college opportunities for persons with disabilities, to include:
Making College More Affordable:
Barack Obama will make college more affordable and accessible through creation of a new American Opportunity Tax Credit which will ensure that the first $4,000 of a college student's education is completely free for most Americans, and will cover two-thirds of the cost of tuition at the average public college or university.
Strengthening Community Colleges:
Barack Obama will create a Community College Partnership Program to strengthen community colleges. The program will provide grants to conduct more thorough analysis of the types of skills and technical education that are in high demand from students and local industries. Grants will be provided to implement new associate of arts degree programs that cater to emerging industry and technical career demands. Grants will reward institutions that graduate more students and also increase their number of students who transfer to four-year institutions. Grants will also support students through facilitation of transfers from two-year to four-year institutions.
Authorization of a Comprehensive Study of Students with Disabilities and Transition to Work and Higher Education:
As President, Barack Obama will initiate a comprehensive study of students with disabilities and their ability to transition to higher education or the workforce. He will task this study out to the Secretary of Education. The study will involve the barriers that prevent students from making a direct transition to work, the extent to which students with disabilities are able to access loans and grants, the reasons college students with disabilities drop out at higher rates, and the best practices from schools that have effectively recruited and graduated students with disabilities that can be implemented more widely.
End discrimination and promote equal opportunity:
In the second portion of President Elect Obama's plan for American's with disabilities, he promises several actions related to ending discrimination against persons with disabilities in America, and providing persons with disabilities with equal opportunity. President Elect Obama's stated intended actions are as follows:
Restoring the Americans with Disabilities Act:
As President, Barack Obama will ensure the restoration of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Supreme Court has severely restricted the application of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by narrowly defining what it means to have a disability. Because of this, lower courts in America have held that people who have diabetes, epilepsy, cancer and heart disease can be fired from their jobs simply because they have those particular disabilities. Barack Obama supports Senator Tom Harkin's (D-IA) ADA Restoration Act which would overturn the Supreme Court's decisions limiting the ADA coverage and effectiveness, and he will sign it into law as President.
Appointing Judges and Justices Who Respect Laws Designed to Protect People with Disabilities:
As President, Barack Obama will appoint judges and justices who respect the role of Congress as a co-equal, democratically elected branch of government and who exhibit empathy with Americans with disabilities.
Increased Funding for Enforcement:
The Bush Administration cut funding for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). These agencies worked with enforcing anti-discrimination laws that protected workers with disabilities in America, and the result of the cut funding was not only a reduction in staff, but the number of charges resolved by the EEOC has declined. More than one hundred thousand charges were resolved in 1997 and 1998, but in 2006 fewer than seventy-five thousand were resolved.
Barack Obama will fully fund and increase the staffing for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) to reduce charge backlogs and to prosecute efforts to remedy systemic discrimination. President Obama will appoint a Chair of the EEOC and nominate commissioners who are committed to enforcing anti-discrimination laws.
Supporting the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act:
Advances in the field of genetics has led to testing that is increasingly useful in diagnosing and treating certain health conditions. To take advantage of these advances, citizens need assurance that their genetic code will not be used against them in a discriminatory way. Barack Obama co-sponsored the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), that prohibits discrimination based on genetic information by employers and health insurers. The Act applies health information privacy regulations to the disclosure and use of genetic information.
Guaranteeing Healthcare Coverage:
Numbers of persons with disabilities do not look for work, or leave the workforce because the need the guaranteed health insurance that the federal government's programs provide to them. Many persons with disabilities stay on programs such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) because they include Medicare or Medicaid coverage, instead of taking a job that might cause them to this healthcare coverage. Barack Obama has pledged to sign universal health care legislation by the end of his first term in office which will assure that Americans with disabilities will have quality, affordable, portable coverage that will allow them to take a job without fear of losing coverage. Under his plan, insurers will not be able to deny coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions.
Improving Mental Health Care:
One in five families in America have a member who experiences a form of mental illness. War in Iraq and Afghanistan finds veterans returning home with record levels of combat stress. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that untreated mental illnesses cost the United States more than one hundred billion dollars a year ($100,000,000,000 per year). As President, Obama will support mental health parity so that coverage for serious mental illnesses is provided on the same terms and conditions as other illnesses and diseases, a needed and very refreshing perspective. For Veterans, Barack Obama will improve mental health care at every stage of military service from recruitment, deployment, and reentry into civilian life.
Increase the employment rate of workers with disabilities:
In the third portion of President Elect Obama's plan for American's with disabilities, he promises several actions related to increasing the employment rate of workers with disabilities. President Elect Obama's stated intended actions are as follows:
Increasing Executive Branch Hiring of Workers with Disabilities:
Barack Obama believes the federal government should be a model for other employers in the United States where hiring and accommodating employees with disabilities are concerned. The federal government is America's largest employer. He believes the federal government must recruit, hire, retain and advance workers with disabilities; this would provide an excellent example to other employers in America. Barack Obama will reinstate Executive Order number 13173, which President Clinton issued before he left office. The order failed to achieve its mandate of hiring an additional one hundred thousand federal employees with disabilities within five years. Barack Obama will issue this executive order early in his first term and designate a senior White House official to assure that all federal departments and agencies meet the mandate. The official he designates will be responsible for integrating disability policy into major presidential initiatives as well. Barack Obama will ensure that all electronic and information technologies used by the federal government are fully accessible to federal employees and members of the public with disabilities; it is required by Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Effective Implementation of Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act:
Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act requires the federal government and any employers who are federal contractors to, "Take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment qualified individuals with disabilities." At this time, affirmative action in employment of adults with disabilities is not enforced with goals and timetables like the affirmative action requirements for persons of color and women which is found in Executive Order Number 11246 and its progeny. Because of this, affirmative action under the Rehabilitation Act is very ineffective.
Barack Obama will direct all of his department and agency heads to bring their agencies into full compliance with every aspect of the Rehabilitation Act and to adopt regulations which assure that result. He will direct his Secretary of Labor to make changes to the regulations implementing Section 503 so that they more closely resemble the ones implemented in Executive Order Number 11246.
Provide Private Sector Employers with Resources to Accommodate Employees with Disabilities:
President Obama will direct his Secretary of Labor, the Labor Department's Office of Disability Employment Policy and its Job Accommodation Network, to join employers, their associations, human resources professionals, disability advocates, service providers, and the labor movement to identify, promote and disseminate best practices in accommodating workers with disabilities.
Encourage Private Sector Employers to Use Existing Tax Benefits to Hire More Workers with Disabilities:
Current tax code contains a number of provisions designed to encourage employers to hire persons with disabilities. Some of these provisions include the Disabled Access Tax Credit, a Tax Deduction for Architectural and Transportation Barrier Removal, and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit. Despite these provisions, very few employers actually take advantage of them. Barack Obama will launch an aggressive effort to educate employers about these tax benefits related to the hiring of persons with disabilities, so that more employers will use them to hire greater numbers of employees with disabilities.
Establishing a National Commission on People with Disabilities, Employment, and Social Security:
As President, Barack Obama will announce the creation of a National Commission on People with Disabilities, Employment, and Social Security which will include Presidential Appointees, Congressional Appointees and the Commissioner of the Social security Administration and the Secretaries of Labor and Health & Human Services as ex officio members. The President's charge to this commission will include the following:
- Examining and proposing solutions to work disincentives in the SSDI, SSI, Medicare, and Medicaid programs.
- Revisiting the Ticket to Work Act to assess how it can better provide SSDI and SSI beneficiaries with the supports they need to transition to work.
- Considering opportunities to improve the results produced through the relationships between the SSDI and SSI programs and the workforce investment and vocational rehabilitation systems.
- Examining the sufficiency of SSDI and SSI benefit levels in light of available work opportunities and whether it should be indexed to average hourly wages or some other measure.
- Studying programs that would help young people join the labor force rather than the SSI rolls
Supporting Small Businesses Owned by People with Disabilities:
Barack Obama will direct the Small Business Administration to amend regulations under the Small Business Act that provide preferences in federal contracting to small businesses owned by members of socially and economically disadvantaged groups to include individuals with disabilities.
Assuring Workers with Disabilities and Family Caregivers Get the Flexibility at Work They Need:
Persons with disabilities are sometimes unable to take or keep jobs, or even remain in the workforce due to scheduling flexibility issues related to healthcare needs. The need for scheduling flexibility is both appropriate and even essential, and is an accommodation that employers can provide. More than fifty-million family caregivers provide support to seniors and family members with disabilities or who have illnesses and pay thousands of dollars out of their own pockets for extra expenses, on average. Added responsibilities expose family caregivers to substantially greater risks for both physical and mental health challenges such as stress, depression, alcohol abuse, heart disease, arthritis and high blood pressure. Women comprise approximately sixty percent of these family caregivers and more than half are them are employed. Family caregivers need the flexibility of workplace accommodations to help them navigate both work and caregiving, while also struggling to pay bills and maintain their households.
In order to provide the flexibility in the workplace caregivers need, Barack Obama will do several things, to include:
Expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) - The FMLA provides eligible employees of larger employers, those with fifty or more employees, with twelve weeks of unpaid leave to care for family members or their own health. Barack Obama will guarantee that millions more workers will have access to FMLA leave by reducing the threshold for which employers are covered from companies with fifty or more employees to those with twenty-five or more.
Encouragement to States to Adopt Paid Leave - The National Partnership for Women and Families has stated that seventy-eight percent of employees covered by FMLA who have needed leave, but have not taken it, reported that it is because they could not afford to take unpaid leave.
Of the employees who could not afford to take FMLA leave, almost eighty-eight percent reported that they would have taken leave if they had been able to receive some pay while they were away from work. Barack Obama will initiate a fifty-state strategy to encourage every state to adopt a paid-leave system. Barack Obama will provide a $1.5 billion dollar fund to assist states with start-up costs and to help states to offset the costs for employees and employers. Barack Obama's Department of Labor will also provide technical information to the states on methods of crafting paid-leave programs that are consistent with their local needs.
Mandating a Reasonable Amount of Paid Sick Leave - Half of America's private-sector workers do not have paid sick leave days. The problem is made even worse for employees who are in low-paying positions where less than one-quarter receive any paid sick days. Sick days can be crucial for workers with disabilities. For example, employees who have been diagnosed with cancer and need to attend chemotherapy sessions or other forms of intermittent treatment for their physical or mental health disabilities, sick leave days are imperative. Barack Obama will require employers to provide seven paid sick days per year for employees, which may be taken on an hourly basis; so that Americans with disabilities can take the time off they need without the fear of losing their jobs or their paychecks.
Protection Against Caregiver Discrimination - Workers who have family obligations often times find themselves discriminated against in workplace environments; it is a growing problem evidenced by rapidly rising numbers of discrimination suits which are being filed. There has been a four-hundred percent increase in the number of family responsibility discrimination lawsuits in the last decade. Barack Obama has recognized this issue, and will prevent family members from being discriminated against because of caregiving responsibilities. Barack Obama will commit the United States government to enforcing recently enacted Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines on caregiver discrimination.
Support of independent, community-based living for Americans with disabilities.
Assuring the Rights Affirmed in Olmstead Vs. L.C.:
Barack Obama believes we still have a considerable amount of progress to make where ensuring that the rights of Americans with disabilities in the Olmstead Vs. L.C. decision, requiring states to place persons with disabilities with mental health disabilities into community settings instead of placing them into institutions when treatment professionals determine that community placement is appropriate is concerned. In addition to supporting the Community Choice Act of 2007 and the CLASS Act of 2007, he believes that we should provide further incentive to the states to provide Americans with disabilities with the ability to choose the most appropriate care for their own individual needs. Barack Obama believes that the federal government should help the states to increase the supply of high quality community-based settings for individuals with disabilities by providing additional grants for new communities and community expansions. Barack Obama believes the federal government needs to be diligent where making sure that the states enforce the rights affirmed by the Olmstead decision.
Supporting the Community Choice Act and Direct Care Workers:
Barack Obama supports Senator Tom Harkin's (D-IA) Community Choice Act of 2007, which would allow Americans with significant disabilities the choice of living in their community rather than having to live in a nursing home or other form of institution. The legislation would expand community direct care services, a much needed thing, with the goal of ensuring the high-quality care Americans with disabilities need and deserve. There is currently a shortage of community direct care attendants which is related to shortages in other sectors of the economy, such as low pay, limited or no benefits and inflexible work hours for these workers. Barack Obama supports the Fair Home Health Care Act, which would extend the minimum wage and overtime protections for direct care attendants. It is also why Barack Obama supports raising the minimum wage and providing direct care workers, along with other Americans. Barack Obama supports providing access to high-quality, affordable health insurance as well, and believes that we should strengthen ties between community direct care settings and federal, state and local job training programs to ensure that individuals receive information about job openings.
Support of the CLASS Act:
There are currently ten million Americans who require long-term care and that number is expected to rise to fifteen million by the year 2020. Americans who need long-term care are often times forced to give up their very homes in order to obtain the care they need. Barack Obama strongly supports the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act to create a voluntary, budget-neutral, national insurance program to help adults who have or develop functional disabilities to stay independent and in their communities. Employees would have the option to enroll through monthly payroll deductions of thirty dollars. People over the age of eighteen who have contributed premiums for five or more years would then be eligible for benefits of they are unable to perform two or more activities of daily living such as eating, bathing or dressing. The benefits could bused for assistive technology, housing modifications, transportation, personal assistance services, or other supports to increase their ability to find or keep jobs and remain in their homes and communities.
Streamlining of the Social Security Approval Process:
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has been consistently under funded; this has resulted in a level of delays in initial claims determinations and hearings that is unconscionable for persons who have applied for both Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Social Security Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. The SSA's backlog of disability claims has reached a backlog of seven hundred and fifty-five thousand claims, up from three hundred and eleven thousand in the year 2000! The average wait time for an appeals hearing is averaging five hundred and five days in some cases, and can exceed three years. Barack Obama believes that this is unacceptable to have a system where people are losing their homes, or are forced to declare bankruptcy because the federal government cannot process their claims quickly enough.
Barack Obama is committed to streamlining the current application and appeals procedures to reduce the confusion surrounding these important programs, and will ensure that the SSA has the funding it needs to hire judges and staff members, as well as to invest in the technology to expedite final decisions. Barack Obama supported the one hundred and fifty million dollar increase in the SSA's budget that was vetoed by President Bush. As President, Barack Obama will continue to work to ensure that the SSA has the resources needed for hiring and to more effectively process its caseloads.
Protection of Voting Rights:
All Americans have the right to vote, including persons with disabilities. Polling places need to be physically accessible and all voting equipment must allow Americans with disabilities to vote with privacy and independence. Last year, more than one-third of the states in America still had not provided at least one machine that would allow voters with disabilities to cast a ballot privately and independently. Barack Obama believes that this is unacceptable, and will fully support the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) so we can ensure that all polling places are accessible.
Barack Obama's administration will also assure better enforcement of federal disability rights laws, from HAVA to the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act to the ADA, to make sure the rights of Americans with disabilities to vote is fully protected.
Barack Obama strongly opposes voter ID laws requiring mandatory photograph identification at polling places. He feels that these laws have the effect of disproportionately disenfranchising Americans with disabilities, more than three million of whom do not have government issued forms of identification. Barack Obama believes that voter identification requirements are unconstitutional, and violate the twenty-fourth amendment. During Barack Obama's administration, the voting rights of people with disabilities and all Americans will be protected with the full force of the law.
Amending the Medicare, "Homebound," Rule:
Barack Obama supports amending the Medicare, 'homebound,' rule so that persons with disabilities have the freedom to leave their homes without fear of having their government benefits taken away. They believe that Medicare policy must reflect the common sense notion that community engagement and support is a vital component of a meaningful life. He is looking forward to amending the law to remove arbitrary measures regarding, "acceptable," time away from home, and to further ensuring that people do not have their benefits removed unfairly.
Investing in Assistive Technologies:
Barack Obama believes that we need to use technology in order to make community based living a reality for increased numbers of people with disabilities. He supports the Fostering Independence Through Technology Act which offers twenty-first century solutions, such as communications technologies and home monitoring technology to overcome barriers for people with disabilities. Additionally, amending the Medicare, 'homebound,' rule will assure that persons with disabilities are not denied certain vital assistive living technologies simply because they might occasionally be used outside of the home.
Protecting the Safety of Individuals with Special Needs:
Too many states and cities do not have adequate plans in place to care for special needs populations. Barack Obama passed legislation to help states properly plan the evacuation of individuals with special needs during emergencies. He believes that it is a first step towards ensuring that America's most vulnerable citizens are adequately guarded during national emergencies.
Supporting Americans Living with Autism Spectrum Disorders:
There are more than one million Americans living with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a complex neurobiological condition that has a range of impacts on thinking, language, feeling, and the ability to relate to others. An increase in awareness and the broadening of research has led to recognition of more cases of ASD in America. Barack Obama believes we will need to research more treatments and search for the causes of ASD, and has been a strong supporter of more than one billion dollars in federal funding for ASD research on the root causes and
treatments. Barack Obama believes we need to work to guarantee that Americans with ASD can live independent, fully productive lives and to assure that their families understand and are able to support a loved on with ASD. He will fully support the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to ensure that no child with ASD or any other disability is left behind. He will also fight to assure that the government and communities in America work together to provide assistance to people with ASD and their families.
Strengthen VA Specialty Care:
Technological advances mean that the survival rate for United States service members are higher now than in any previous conflict. There will be a need for stronger specialty care in the VA including polytrauma centers, aging, women's health, centers for excellence for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), vision impairment, prosthetics, spinal cord injury, and other specialized rehabilitative care. Barack Obama supports the expansion of PTSD and TBI centers of excellence. He co-sponsored an innovative, bipartisan measure to encourage students specializing in vision care and rehabilitation to work in the VA. As President he will expand the number of these centers of excellence, and invest in specialty care for America's veterans.
*Barack Obama and Joe Biden's Plan to Empower Americans With Disabilities
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