DemDaily: In Defense of the Disabled

July 30, 2018

The civil rights movement has had many faces throughout history, but among the lesser known soldiers are Americans with disabilities.

It was not until July 26, 1990 that the first comprehensive civil rights act for people with disabilities, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed into law.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.

Today there are 57 million Americans who live with disabilities, representing nearly one-in-five people in this country.  For the first time since the passage of the ADA 28 years ago, their rights are under outright assault.

The historic legislation was introduced by Senator Tom Harkin and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990.

History
"Nearly three decades ago, protesters with disabilities converged on the nation's capital to fight for one of the most important civil rights laws in our history - the Americans with Disabilities Act ... these brave protesters ascended the 83 steps of the United States Capitol - some even crawling to get to the top - so they could send a message to their representatives: no American should ever face discrimination based on their disability status."      -- former Congressman Tony Coelho (D-CA), ADA Sponsor, and Chair, DNC Disability Council

The goal was to provide disabled American the same protections afforded under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics illegal.

The ADA was revised in 2008 under the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) to expand the definition of disabled.

The ADA defines a person with a disability as "a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability."

Author of the bill, former Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)

Trump's ADA
Trump and his administration's disregard for the disabled is well documented.

In November, 2015 campaign speech, President Trump infamously mocked a disabled reporter who has arthrogryposis, a condition that limits joint function.

The American Healthcare Act (AHCA), the Republican's failed attempt last year to replace Obamacare, would have made significant cuts to services for the disabled under Medicaid.

In December, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded ten guidance documents on disability rights that the Justice Department found "unnecessary, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper."  They included protections against workplace discriminati on and standards for service animals and building accessibility.

Disability rights groups ADAPT staged a sit-in outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office. 6/22/17

Similarly, last Fall, Education Secretary Betsy Devos rescinded 70+ guidelines that protected disabled students, and under Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson, scaled-back fair housing laws have resulted in the delay or dismissal of discrimination cases by disabled groups.

In February, the Republican-controlled House passed the ADA Education and Reform Act (HR 620), which removes corporate incentives for adhering to ADA guidelines, and creates barriers for victims seeking legal action against offending companies. The bill has not progressed in the Senate, thanks to the the efforts of Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a wheelchair-bound Iraq War veteran and frequent voice for the disabled.

Numerous bills to strip the rights of disabled citizens through the legislative process are underway, as are those seeking to preserve their protections, including the bipartisan Disability Integration Act, introduced by Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in the Senate, and John Sensenbrenner (R-WI) in the House.  The DIA aims to ensure that disabled Americans have a right to live and receive services in their own homes.

It is ultimately up to the voters to protect the civil and human rights of all people, including those with disabilities.  Let your voice be heard.

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Kimberly Scott
Publisher

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Sources: The ADA National Network, ADA.gov, ADAPT, the Daily Dot, psmag.com, NDRN

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