December 11, 2007
Obama Unveils Disabilities and Equal Opportunities Plan
Senator Barack Obama today unveils his plan to ensure that Americans with disabilities have an equal opportunity to achieve the American Dream and pledged to make implementing this plan an Obama administration priority.
In a video released on his web site, Obama said: "we must build a world free of unnecessary barriers, stereotypes, and discrimination," and "policies must be developed, attitudes must be shaped, and buildings and organizations must be designed to ensure that everyone has a chance to get the education they need and live independently as full citizens in their communities."
Despite the federal government's promise to shoulder 40 percent of each state's "excess cost" of educating children with disabilities, it has never lived up to this obligation. Restrictive Supreme Court decisions have undermined the force of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the employment rate of workers with disabilities continues to lag behind other workers. And recent reports show that the Social Security Administration's inability to deal with its backlog of disability claims has cost individuals their homes and economic security.
Barack Obama believes the United States should lead the world in empowering people with disabilities to take full advantage of their talents and become independent, integrated members of society. In addition to reclaiming America's global leadership on this issue by becoming a signatory to -- and having the Senate ratify -- the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Obama's plan has four parts that are designed to provide Americans with disabilities with the greatest possible access to the same opportunities as those without disabilities.
Click HERE (http://www.barackobama.com/pdf/DisabilityPlanFactSheet.pdf) to view a fact sheet on Senator Obama's plan and HERE (http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/awdplan) to view the web ad.
First, provide Americans with disabilities the educational opportunities they need to succeed. Obama will:
Fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act so that students with disabilities will get the public education they have a right to;
Ensure that all states have the support to adopt comprehensive newborn screening programs and set a national goal to provide voluntary re-screening for all two-year-olds -- the age at which some conditions, including autism spectrum disorders, begin to appear;
Expand Early Head Start to serve more children with disabilities and spur states, through Obama's Early Learning Challenge Grants, to expand programs for children with disabilities, such as IDEA Part C, and integrate these programs with other early childhood programs; and
Help more students with disabilities attend college by funding Vocational Rehabilitation programs to provide better counseling and offering a new, fully refundable $4,000 American Opportunity Tax Credit to make college more affordable.
Second, end discrimination and promote equal opportunity. Obama will:
Restore the Americans with Disabilities Act by supporting legislation reversing Supreme Court decisions that have narrowed it and appointing a judiciary that will respect Congressional intent;
Fully fund and increase staffing at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs so they have the resources to enforce anti-discrimination laws that protect workers with disabilities;
Secure affordable, quality, portable health care for all by the end of his first term in office so people with disabilities can enter and/or re-enter the workforce without fear of losing their government-provided health insurance; and
Support mental health parity so that coverage for serious mental illnesses is provided on the same terms and conditions as other illnesses and diseases. Obama passed Illinois' mental health parity law as a state senator.
Third, increase the employment rate of workers with disabilities. Towards that end, the Obama plan would, among other things:
Increase the number of federal employees with disabilities and require the hiring of an additional 100,000 federal employees with disabilities within five years.
Provide workers with disabilities and caregivers with greater workplace flexibility by expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act, mandating seven days of paid sick leave for all workers, and encouraging states to provide paid leave, and also by protecting caregivers from workplace discrimination; and
Encourage more hiring of workers with disabilities in the private sector, including by educating employers about best practices in accommodating workers with disabilities and the availability of tax benefits for providing accommodations, including the Disabled Access Tax Credit, the Tax Deduction for Architectural and Transportation Barrier Removal, and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit.
And fourth, support independent, community-based living for Americans with disabilities. To further this end, Obama will, among other things:
Streamline the current application and appeals processes to reduce the unacceptable delays experienced by individuals applying for Social Security disability benefits, and ensure that the SSA has the funding it needs to hire additional judges and staff and to invest in technology to expedite final decisions;
Assure that Americans with disabilities' right to choose the most appropriate setting in which to live, affirmed in Olmstead v. L.C., is fully vindicated;
Support the Community Choice Act and direct care workers so that Americans with significant disabilities have the choice to live in their community rather than a nursing home or other institution;
Support the CLASS Act to create a voluntary, budget-neutral national insurance program to help adults with disabilities to remain independent and live in their communities;
Protect the voting rights of people with disabilities by fully funding the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) so that all polling places are fully accessible, better enforcing the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act, the ADA, and the Voting Rights Act, and opposing Voter ID laws;
Amend the Medicare "homebound" rule so that those with disabilities have the freedom to leave their homes without fear of having their government benefits taken away;
Invest in assistive technologies to develop 21st century solutions, such as home monitoring and communications technologies, that will help people with disabilities overcome stubborn barriers;
Research treatments and search for the causes of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and guarantee that Americans with ASD can live independent and fully productive lives; and
Strengthen specialty care within the Veterans Administration by creating additional polytrauma centers as well as centers of excellence for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), PTSD, vision impairment, prosthetics, spinal cord injury, aging, women's health and other specialized rehabilitative care.