Here is my own personal wish-list of domestic issues I’d like to see the winning presidential candidate take a strong pro-disability stand on:
1. Social Security Act. DON’T privatize it. DON’T weaken it. DON’T keep slicing and dicing Medicaid and Medicare – which are programs of the Social Security Act -- but instead let’s have some true reform and get this law to do what it was passed by Congress to do. For instance, people who receive SSI and SSDI ought to actually be able to live decently on their checks, and people ought to be able to get quality DME for that matter, rather than what’s cheapest.
As a Gen-Xer who sometimes resents the heck out of all you Baby Boomers and, for the record, hates the Beatles, you’d think I’d be one of the, “Oh, just let the New Deal die already!” advocates, but that’s just silly. I’ve been paying into Social Security all my adult life and would love for it to be solvent by the time I’m done working – which, given that MS generally doesn’t get better over time, most likely will be long before I’m 65.
Now I’m no economist, but I figure if the problem is there are too many Baby Boomers out there, then why don’t the rest of us just pay out until they’re, er, out of the hopper so to speak and then the system should be OK again. If we can pay trillions for a war that makes no sense to anyone but a handful of fringe neocons, then surely we can pay for our own citizens to have decent lives.
2. And how about some affordable health care for those of us who work? I’m tired of my premiums going up, and I work for a great company that hires a bunch of disabled folks like me, and does all it can to protect us from rising healthcare costs. Yes, I have MS. Yes, that means eventually I might be pretty dang expensive (I would be now, if I took my medicine), but so what? That’s why I got insurance in the first place.
I’m starting to think of all the extra expenses we pay due to our disabilities as a sort of “crip tax.” Pay more for health care because you have MS? Crip tax. Higher life insurance premiums? Crip tax. Wheelchair lift-equipped van? Grab-bars? Boxes of adult diapers in your linen closet? Crip tax, crip tax, crip tax. I think it’s time for a tax break.
3. If only we had a law to protect us from discrimination … oh right, there’s the ADA. Yes, the ADA has changed the landscape of American businesses in that there is more access than ever before. And yet, 17 years later, many businesses act like they think all this time we meant the American Dental Association.
The problem with the ADA – and I’m serious here – is there aren’t enough lawyers willing to take ADA lawsuits. I’m talking straight-up ADA lawsuits, not lawsuits in states like California that do it right and allow for punitive damages.
Another problem with the ADA is that lawsuits can only be filed by “injured parties,” and then in most states those “injured parties” can’t sue for punitive damages, but instead just for legal costs. And we have people out there who even want to keep the few lawyers who will take ADA lawsuits from being able to collect their fees!
And while I’m at it, Title I of the ADA is as good as dead. Only 3 percent of ADA discrimination lawsuits are found in the plaintiff’s favor these days, according to the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities. That ain’t right. The ADA Restoration Act promises to fix that. Guess who’s against it? That’s right … the business community. Go figure.
4. Are you noticing a theme here? I’d like our next president to declare war on disability-related poverty. Continuing in that vein, let’s beef up education. More student loans for kids with disabilities, more campus accessibility, more outreach programs encouraging high school students who use wheelchairs to pursue higher education, that’s what I’d like to see. I have a very good bureaucrat friend who likes to use the word “incentivize” in sentences, I suspect to drive me nuts, since it’s such a made-up word. But maybe it has a place here. Let’s incentivize colleges and universities of all sizes to invite, welcome, matriculate and GRADUATE our community’s best and brightest. Then let’s sit back and watch what our whiz kids do next.
5. Last, but far from least, as much as it pains me to say it – and this really does hurt – the Bush administration has done a decent job on reforming long term care so that more people with disabilities than ever before can live where they want to live. Whoever the next guy – or gal – is, we should urge them to keep on track with Bush’s LTC reforms. We shouldn’t keep leaving it up to ADAPT to do our work for us on this one, folks.
So call the candidate you support – and if it’s a different candidate than the one you think will most likely win your party’s endorsement, call that one, too -- and ask them what they plan to do on disability issues. Maybe you have your own wish list. That’s fine, but while you’re on the phone, maybe you can throw in a few from mine as well.