People with disabilities give so much to our country and to the world. They have throughout history. People like the abolitionist Benjamin Lay, artist Frida Kahlo, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, athlete Wilma Rudolph, activist & author Helen Keller, physicist Stephen Hawking, and so many more, have all overcome adversity the rest of us can scarcely imagine and left legacies that will last long after their deaths. I believe it is the duty of policymakers to work with and on behalf of people with disabilities so they can live in dignity and security and reach their full potential.
As a Congressman, I always worked hard to help people with disabilities. From introducing legislation that secured the first increase in funding for autism ($27 million) in 12 years to having braille business cards as a Congressman, I have made serving people with disabilities a top priority. It is why I co-sponsored a bill to amend the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), making it broader and more inclusive (in response to court decisions that had limited it), and why I supported legislation to ensure that qualified workers do not experience discrimination due to a disability. I strongly supported the Affordable Care Act, which enshrined the right to coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, including people with disabilities. And my Presidential campaign website is ADA compliant at the AA level.
As President, I will continue to fight for people with disabilities. I will pass the Disability Integration Act, which would prevent people with disabilities from being forced into institutions against their wishes by providing home and community-based services as alternatives. I will ban the use of aversive treatments like electric shocks, which are shamefully still in use in some government-regulated residential group homes. Food insecurity and housing insecurity are perpetual issues in the disability community, and I will increase nutrition assistance for all people who need public assistance while also increasing funding for public housing. I will increase funding for higher education and job training, and support for small business development, especially among historically marginalized communities, including people with disabilities. And — key to increasing employment of people with disabilities — I will significantly raise the monthly income limit to qualify for both Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments, because both are currently too low, at levels that discourage people who need the supplemental income from taking on more work hours or accepting a promotion, or even taking a job in the first place. We should also extend the “trial work” time period, so people with disabilities seeking to re-join the workforce can try full-time employment for up to two years without risking their benefits.
And I will work hard to increase voting rights for people with disabilities, because they are their best advocates, they deserve full participation in our democracy, and their participation will doubtless improve their lives and the lives of other people with disabilities in the future. Shamefully, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report, some 60% of polling places in the United States have at least one impediment to accessibility for people with disabilities — though any such impediments are legally prohibited. The federal government must use its power to guarantee voting rights to all Americans, and as President I will ensure that it does.
As a Congressman, I supported legislation to address court decisions which had reduced the number of people covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. I will work to make sure everyone who should be covered by the ADA is covered by it. I will also work to protect and expand the rights enshrined in the ADA, including increased enforcement of the rules that require buildings, workplaces, and public accommodations to be accessible to people with disabilities. I will increase funding and do whatever is necessary to make sure the Justice Department and the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) have the resources necessary to enforce the ADA, and I will order the DoJ to work with states and municipalities to assist in enforcement efforts. I will also instruct the EEOC to increase public education on disability rights in employment so that more people with disabilities can know their rights and challenge employers or potential employers as needed.
I will also never allow legislation along the lines of the innocuously-named but dangerous “ADA Education and Reform Act”, which would undermine key portions of the law by denying people with disabilities the right to seek immediate relief in court when they are denied access to a building or public accommodation that by law should be accessible to them. It is wrong to subordinate the rights of people with disabilities to the rights of businesses, as the ADA Education and Reform Act did. The ADA is the most important civil rights legislation of the past four decades, and it must only be strengthened, not weakened.
Healthcare is a deeply personal issue for me. My daughter was first diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of 4, but the quality care that the American people provided my family through the military gave her a chance to beat the disease. When Alex’s cancer came back last year, more than a decade later, we were fortunate to have the same medical heroes who had saved her once, save her again — including a doctor who came out of retirement to perform the intricate brain surgery. I’m running for President so that one day soon all Americans will be able to feel the same sense of gratitude and good fortune my family feels when we think of my daughter’s care and treatment. We must finally make healthcare a right, not a privilege.
To this end, I support the immediate shoring up of the Affordable Care Act by, among other fixes, creating a public health option among a basket of private options which will demonstrate that government insurance can provide quality care at lower costs than private insurers that have greater administrative costs and are based upon a profit incentive. This approach will lead to people switching from private health insurance to the public option as a choice, a transition that would eventually lead us to the most cost-effective long-term health strategy for our nation: a single-payer system. I am in favor of this considered transition of choice rather than the quick dissolution of private health insurance because — as my family knows all too well — health treatments are often long processes, and it would be reckless, even dangerous, to impose upon everyone a sudden change to a new medical system, particularly as 255 million Americans have some form of private insurance today. Ultimately I favor a universal healthcare system modeled after the Veterans Health Administration — a national healthcare system for 9 million veterans — which authorities including the New England Journal of Medicine and the RAND Corporation have found actually provides better or equal healthcare outcomes compared to other providers.
In the short-term, I will take action to increase support for long-term at-home care, including addressing the shortage of home health workers, and I will work to address the general shortage of doctors and nurses as well. I also will seek to fix our broken mental health system, beginning with fully enforcing the Mental Health Parity Act and key provisions of the ACA dealing with mental health. There are 43 million Americans suffering from mental illness, but only 43% of them are receiving treatment. Among other mental health solutions, we need to incentivize more psychiatrists to accept Medicare and Medicaid (and even private insurance, which they often don’t accept), rather than just accepting cash. My healthcare plan also includes allowing Medicare to bargain directly with pharmaceutical companies for the best drug prices, and permitting re-importation of less expensive drugs from Canada, while stopping big drug companies from “paying-for-the-delay” of cheaper generic drugs (a practice in which drug companies pay generic drug manufacturers to not take their generic replacements of name-brand drugs to market; it costs us $3.5 billion annually). Additionally, I will increase funding for the National Institutes of Health to both address diseases that cause disabilities, and address quality of life issues for people with disabilities, such as pain management and prosthetics.
The United States of America is the richest, most powerful country in the world. We can afford to make healthcare a right, not a privilege, for all Americans, and we can afford to support people with disabilities and help them lead lives of dignity and fulfillment. As President, I will work every day to make that a reality.