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Change and Hope

Posted Jan 07 2009 4:39pm

Change and Hope—the catch words of the Obama campaign.

You may recall that I was pretty hopeful of the change that Mr. Obama was promising to the disability community. We are only a few weeks away from the Inauguration and I thought it might be a good time to review some of the promises made during the campaign.

The Obama/Biden Disabilty Plan and Autism Plan were impressive for doing what most politicians run from: they make clear commitments.

Since we have commitments, it is definitely worth checking in on those commitments from time to time. Now is as good a time as any, as we prepare for the new administration to come to power.

Item number 1 on the Disability Plan is one I think every U.S. parent would welcome: fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). For any who might be aware, this law mandates special education in the U.S., and requires that the Federal Government fund 40% of the cost. While the law “requires” the Feds pay 40%, they’ve never come close. Truly, it is a disgrace that we as a nation could leave such a promise unfulfilled. I hope that Mr. Obama can make good on this commitment.

But, the Disability Plan is much larger than this one item. Let’s take a quick look at the headings—the outline, if you will—for the Obama/Biden Disability Plan. Let’s take a look and remember the commitments made. The actual document is about eight pages long, so the headings make a good summary for blogging.

I. PROVIDING AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES

Fully Funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
Early Intervention for Children with Disabilities
Support Universal Screening
Support Vocational Rehabilitation Programs
Improving College Opportunities for High School Graduates with Disabilities
Make College More Affordable
Strengthen Community Colleges
Authorize a Comprehensive Study of Students with Disabilities and Transition to Work and Higher Education

II. ENDING DISCRIMINATION AND PROMOTING EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY FOR
PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES

Restoring the Americans with Disabilities Act
Appointing Judges and Justices Who Respect Laws Designed to Protect People with Disabilities
Increasing Funding for Enforcement
Supporting the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act
Guaranteeing Health Care Coverage
Improving Mental Health Care

III. INCREASING EMPLOYMENT RATE OF WORKERS WITH DISABILITIES

Increasing Executive Branch Hiring of Workers with Disabilities
Effectively Implementing Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act
Providing Private-Sector Employers with Resources to Accommodate Employees with Disabilities
Encouraging Private-Sector Employers to Use Existing Tax Benefits to Hire More Workers with Disabilities
Establishing a National Commission on People with Disabilities, Employment, and Social Security
Supporting Small Businesses Owned by People with Disabilities
Assuring Workers with Disabilities and Family Caregivers Get the Flexibility at Work They Need
Expand the Family and Medical Leave Act
Encourage States to Adopt Paid Leave
Mandate A Reasonable Amount of Paid Sick Leave
Protect Against Caregiver Discrimination

IV. SUPPORTING INDEPENDENT, COMMUNITY-BASED LIVING FOR AMERICANS WITH
DISABILITIES

Assuring the Rights Affirmed in Olmstead v. L.C.
Supporting the Community Choice Act and Direct Care Workers
Supporting the CLASS Act
Streamline the Social Security Approval Process
Protect Voting Rights
Amending the Medicare “Homebound” Rule
Investing in Assistive Technologies
Protecting the Safety of Individuals with Special Needs
Supporting Americans Living with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Strengthen VA Specialty Care

Again, remember that’s just the headings. The entire document is eight pages, and includes many concrete commitments. Much (very!) stronger than anything the McCain/Palin campaign had to offer.

One thing that impressed me greatly in the Disability Plan was the emphasis on adult issues. Yes, I realize that this is the general disabilities document and not the autism document, and that the Autism Plan might focus more on children, but it is clear from this document that the people advising Mr. Obama on disabilities were keenly aware of adult issues.

Take a quick look at the section from the Disabilities Plan on autism (it’s second to last in the headings). There is a good mix of adult and child issues represented:

Supporting Americans Living with Autism Spectrum Disorders: More than one million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a complex neurobiological condition that has a range of impacts on thinking, feeling, language, and the ability to relate to others. As diagnostic criteria broaden and awareness increases, more cases of ASD have been recognized across the country. Barack Obama and Joe Biden believe we need to research treatments and search for the causes of ASD. Obama has been a strong supporter of more than $1 billion in federal funding for ASD research on the root causes and treatments. Barack Obama and Joe Biden believes we must work to guarantee that Americans with ASD can live independent and fully productive lives and to assure that their families understand and are able to support a loved one with ASD. They will fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to ensure that no child with ASD or any other disability is left behind. They will also fight to assure that the government and our communities work together to provide a helping hand to people with ASD and their families.

Obama has a long record supporting people with ASD. In the state senate, Obama sponsored legislation that became law to create the ASD Program – a systems development initiative designed to promote the implementation of evidence-based practices. And in the U.S. Senate, Obama is also a cosponsor of a measure that would expand federal funding for life-long services for people with ASD, authorizing approximately $350 million in new federal funding for key programs related to treatments, interventions and services for both
children and adults with ASD.

We all will read that through our own perspectives on autism. For example, I bet some groups will key in on “neurobiological” and others will key in on “as diagnostic criteria broaden and awareness increases…” But, the above short blurb is much more concrete than anything I’ve seen from a politician in recent years. And…that’s just the short version. There is a full document on autism by itself.

It is important to remind ourselves from time to time of the commitments made by Mr. Obama. He is inheriting a very bad economy and a difficult war. It will be very easy for people with disabilities to slip through the cracks, yet again.

I hope that doesn’t happen.

I hope.

Hope was a big word for the Obama campaign. Hope is a huge word for families with disability. We are familiar with the roller coaster that hope can bring. Note that I said “familiar”. It is not a roller coaster one gets “used to” or “accustomed to”. Mr. Obama may be the one chance in my lifetime for real change in the lives of adults with disability. I really don’t want to see that hope crushed.

So, we will watch. We will offer input and monitor progress.

We will hope for change.

Thanks to CS for this comment which gave me the impetus to get this post out.

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