President George W. Bush created the New Freedom Initiative, a program promoting full participation of people with disabilities by increasing access to technologies, education and employment opportunities.
The Obama Administration, which I proudly served, hired more than 100,000 people with disabilities into the federal government, supported disability employment with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and revised Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act to set an aspirational seven percent hiring goal for qualified individuals with disabilities for federal contractors. He also signed the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, creating tax-advantaged savings accounts for people with disabilities.
And then there is the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known as ObamaCare, which ensures protection of millions of Americans with disabilities under Medicaid and prevented exclusions of pre-existing conditions that had previously prevented individuals with disabilities from obtaining coverage.
So President Trump has a strong legacy of bipartisan action on this issue to live up to. The 59 million Americans living with a disability are watching very closely to see what his administration does.
President Trump said the GOP healthcare plan would “be every bit as good on pre-existing conditions as Obamacare.” During his campaign, President Trump expressed his support for Medicaid, including tweeting “The Republicans who want to cut SS & Medicaid are wrong.” But the GOP proposals have not met the President’s own assurances.
The latest Senate bill would’ve allowed insurers to offer skimpier plans that exclude pre-existing conditions, which was required under the ACA, as well as allow states to opt out of requirements for coverage for essential health benefits – a back door for insurers to offer plans that wouldn’t cover people with pre-existing conditions. This would leave Americans like me living with a disability vulnerable to vanishing coverage and skyrocketing costs.
The GOP bill also included substantial cuts to Medicaid, seemingly disregarding that nearly two-thirds of Medicaid spending goes to supporting people with disabilities and the elderly. With the current proposal lacking support, the President and Republicans in Congress should seek other ways to improve Medicaid rather than cut it.
For instance, Senator Schumer’s Disability Integration Act (DIA) would prevent states and insurance providers from denying community-based services so individuals can remain at home and live independently, as opposed to being forced into an assisted living institution. Medicaid is the primary supporter of these services, and in-home care has shown to be more cost-effective and could generate savings over time.
Beyond amending their current approach to healthcare reform to include disabled Americans, the Trump administration can also take steps to protect and strengthen the ADA.
This administration can help us ensure progress continues toward accessibility for disabled Americans to things like voting, government and corporate websites, and public transportation. These areas are essential functions that allow citizens to actively engage, work and fully participate in society.
Education is another critical area the Trump administration could support inclusion. The Supreme Court backed disabled student rights under IDEA with a unanimous decision earlier this year. But support also needs to come from the White House and the Department of Education. The Administration is currently supporting a “school choice” voucher program that negatively impacts many students with disabilities because it requires parents to waive their child’s educational rights, removing federal protections provided under IDEA.
Regardless of whether the 35 million eligible Americans with disabilities voted for Trump or against him, the President represents us all and his agenda impacts our lives. As we near the 27th ADA anniversary, I look for him to affirm his support of a bipartisan Inclusion Revolution and build on the work of his successors to keep progress moving forward.
I truly hope President Trump’s administration takes heed to President George. W. Bush’s words when he launched the New Freedom Initiative. “Wherever any barrier stands between you and the full rights and dignity of citizenship, we must work to remove it, in the name of simple decency and simple justice.”
Janni Lehrer-Stein is a disability rights advocate, policy expert and former appointee to the National Council on Disability under President Obama and senior policy advisor to the Hillary for America campaign. She was blinded by retinal degenerative disease. Follow her on Twitter @JLSAdvocate.