Where are We?
As we file our tax returns this week it is time for the disability community to take stock of our position in this Republic. Looking at the evidence, the picture is not good on many fronts where our participation in the life of the Republic is concerned. Parts of Congress, the Judicial and the Executive branches of our own government appear to have declared war on us.
Looking at elections, The General Accounting Office Report issued in 2017: found continued barriers and that 60% of polling places surveyed had one or more impediments to the participation of voters with disabilities. The Congressional response was to pass HR620 the ADA Notification and Education Act virtually stripping the teeth out of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
On elections, approximately $380 million in funding for states (and hopefully local election authorities) was recently appropriated by Congress. These funds, administered under Section 101 of the Help America Vote Act, will provide a much-needed cash infusion into elections. The National Disability Rights Network is calling for at least 10% of this money to be spent on accessibility.
Accessible absentee voting is a hot issue. Ohio was just ordered to provide accessible absentee voting for the blind and other states will surely follow. Some have also pointed out that voter check- in systems or new electronic poll books may not be accessible for many voters.
The California Council of the Blind announced the final settlement of their federal lawsuit against the County of San Mateo and the State of California challenging the unlawful and discriminatory exclusion of blind and low vision voters from the County of San Mateo’s absentee voting program.
The National Council on Independent Living is celebrating a 12 million dollar increase in funding for Centers for Independent Living. Part of the most recent budget bill to pass Congress this money was a hard-fought victory.
At the White House, unlike many Presidents before him, this President still has no Special Assistant or recognized Policy Advisor on disability. Perhaps, like in all other things, he considers himself an expert on disability. That would explain why he believed gutting disability services in his budget proposal was the right thing to do.
The Presidents vast understanding of disability may come from his and his company’s history with the Americans With Disability Act. We have not had much public review of that history. Is that because there is none or is it because like in other “affairs” there have been gag orders put in place to keep plaintiffs silent?
With all the issues, questions and bureaucracy Americans with disabilities must face every day, we must admit that things are better than they once were. There are no more forced sterilizations or involuntary medical experiments. Children with disabilities go to the same failing public schools as every other American child and can incur the same level of student debt as well.
Many public office holders with disabilities ignore us with the same level of commitment as their non-disabled counterparts. With all that being said, we still have the same basic rights as every other American which allows me to write this article in the safety and security of the knowledge that I am protected by the Constitution as an American citizen. May God bless America.
Douglas George Towne
Chair/Chief Executive Officer – Access Ready Inc.