Congress is currently debating a $1.8 trillion COVID-19 relief package aimed at easing the financial burden of the crisis on businesses, corporations and the American people. And disability advocates are fighting to make sure that legislation includes the needs of America’s largest minority group.
A coalition of cross-disability organizations have come together to press Congress to address the unique ways that COVID-19 is affecting the disability community. Their #DisabilityDemands include increasing funding for Medicaid and homecare workers and ramping up production of critical medical supplies, such as ventilators. Advocates also want the legislation to include a strong statement affirming protections from disability-based discrimination for disabled people who seek medical treatment. “It is critical, now more than ever, to band together, to support the disability community during this latest crisis and to save our people,” says James Weisman, CEO of United Spinal Association.
Disability organizers say that to advocate effectively, our community must strengthen our online voice. “We can’t show up [at the Capitol] with signs and protest and be dragged out … we can’t flood the Senate and House with phone calls right now. There’s no one taking calls because no one is there,” says Rebecca Cokley, director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress. “Email the House and Senate, repeatedly, and tell them it’s imperative that they use these coronavirus packages to help the disability community and not hurt us.”
Advocates are also urging social media visibility. Many legislators now use Twitter as an essential tool for connecting with constituents. In addition to email, activists recommend tweeting and messaging your senators and representatives using the hashtags #DisabilityDemands, #SaveOurPeople, #HighRiskCOVID19 and #WhatWeNeed.
Timing is short on any changes or additions to the massive funding package — the House and Senate are currently in fast-paced negotiations to get a funding package passed. Fortunately, legislators are stepping up to work with and fight for the disability community. Longtime allies like Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) sponsored a bill aimed at providing increased funding and protection for homecare workers. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) has introduced a bill to increase the manufacturing of vital medical equipment using the Defense Production Act.
Cokley says we’re also seeing newer allies — like Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kirsten Gillabrand (D-NY), and Representatives Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Katie Porter (D-Calif.) — step up to center the needs of the disability community in policy proposals. “Just as we’re seeing all hands on deck with the disability community, I feel like we’re seeing the next wave of disability champions on the Hill really doing the same thing,” she says.
United Spinal Association has set up an easy-to-use system — found here — to message your representatives and tell them to support the disability community through this crisis.