The US Presidential Candidates’ Disability Policies: Information for Voters

For the benefit of those people (disabled or nondisabled) voting in the upcoming US election and anyone else who may be interested in the policy stances on disability of the various candidates in that election, I am posting a statement that Gail Landsman sent to DS-HUM on behalf of the American organization Disability Rights and Concerns Committee of United University Professions (UUP). 

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Whether one is currently disabled, raising a child with a disability, providing care to an elderly relative, or just getting older, most Americans are or will one day be affected by disability.  As there are significant differences in the disability positions and policies of the major presidential tickets, voters need to be informed on these issues of far-reaching importance.

Among the most important pieces of potential legislation for people with disabilities and their family members is the Community Choice Act. This Act would end the institutional bias of our current system (which currently filters about 63% of Medicaid payments toward nursing homes) and provide disabled people and their families the opportunity to choose how and where services would be provided; it would offer states assistance to provide services, including attendant care, in the most integrated setting.  Obama and Biden are co-sponsors of the bill.  McCain opposes the bill.  Asked by interviewer Judy Woodruff to explain his objection to the provisions of the bill, McCain’s response was “The primary thing is that we have to pay for them” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQ5ewmjhkZ4).

VP candidate Palin’s speech in which she told parents of children with special needs that she is their “friend and advocate” was received with enthusiasm and hope by some parents, and confusion by others.  Some feel
that by virtue of her having an infant with Down syndrome, a Palin vice-presidency would improve public attitudes about children with disabilities.  Palin’s record indicates no prior advocacy of disability rights.  According to the Anchorage Press, as governor, Palin did not reduce Alaska’s Developmental Disabilities Waiting List, which lists children whose needs qualify them for assistance but that the state doesn’t have adequate funding to help.  Palin agreed to accept children only up to 175% of the poverty level in Alaska’s version of the State Children’s Health Insurance  (Wall Street Journal, Sept. 4, 2008, A1).  Obama co-sponsored legislation that would allow states to enroll families with incomes at 300% of the poverty level.

The Obama-Biden eight-page “Plan to Empower People With Disabilities” can be found at http://www.barackobama.com/issues/disabilities/.  Among its features of particular importance to families of children with disabilities are: full funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, an investment of $10 billion in early intervention, the expansion of the FMLA to include more workers who need time to care for their children, protection of workers from discrimination against them because of their family obligations, support for the ADA Amendments Act, mental health parity, authorization of a comprehensive study of students with disabilities and transition to work and higher education, and investment in assistive technologies. The McCain-Palin educational platform does not mention children with special needs; it emphasizes parental choice of schools and a plan to allow educational service providers to market directly to parents of children who do not meet state standards.

Healthcare plans of the two presidential candidates vary widely and merit closer scrutiny than can be provided here.  The essential difference is Obama’s commitment to accessible healthcare in which insurers cannot deny coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions and in which healthcare coverage for all children is required; the McCain plan focuses on market principles and lowering health care costs.  McCain’s website states that under his plan, “if you are employed and insured you will build protection against the cost of any pre-existing condition;” the implicit assumption is that most people with disabilities obtain employment and/or can afford to purchase insurance.  For more, see this video clip of McCain responses to an ABC interviewer’s questions on healthcare policy for those with pre-existing conditions:
http://thinkprogress.org/2008/04/21/mccain-cheap-shot-health-care/.

The non-partisan group Disabled American Veterans (DAV) monitors legislators’ voting records on issues relating to disabled veterans.  Obama supported 80% of the legislative priorities of DAV, while McCain
supported 20%.   Biden and Obama each earned a rating of B+ from the non-partisan non-profit group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA); McCain received a rating of D (http://www.iava.org/full-ratings-list).   The IAVA ratings are based on voting records related to a variety of issues including the extension of free healthcare to Reservists and National Guardsman, and funding for research on traumatic brain injury.

The McCain-Palin website (www.johnmccain.com) does not have disability listed as one of its issues, nor has it responded to the candidate’s questionnaire of the American Association of People with Disabilities
(AAPD), making it more difficult to gather specific information on those candidates’ disability policies.  Obama’s responses to the AAPD can be found at (http://www.aapd-dc.org/News/election/070604sbo.htm). Paul Longmore, a professor of history and director of the Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University, and who has been disabled from childhood, has written an open letter to disability rights
constituency with a superb, detailed summary of the candidates’ policies
at http://www.patriciaebauer.com/2008/09/15/paul-longmore-open-lette/.  We encourage voters with interests in disability issues to take advantage of these resources to assist them in making an informed choice this November.

The Disability Rights and Concerns Committee of United University Professions.

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3 thoughts on “The US Presidential Candidates’ Disability Policies: Information for Voters

  1. Pingback: Hope and Politics « Don't Drink and Don't Die

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