After 25 years of Americans with Disabilities Act, still work to be done

On the 25th anniversary week of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the state of the disability community is not good with regard to employment, education, housing and healthcare.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the unemployment rate, for people with disabilities is 12.5 percent. Such a high unemployment rate is a clear indication, despite ADA employment incentives and protections for disabled workers, that the labor market does not value disabled workers. The Obama administration has done little to employ more disabled workers.

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A bipartisan coalition of congressional leaders asked President Obama to increase funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). When enacted in 1975, the Democratic-controlled Congress pledged to provide 40 percent of IDEA's funding. It is less than 20 percent today and Obama is not expected to increase it.

Teachers need better training for educating disabled children. According to news reports across the country, teachers employ cruel disciplinary methods like tying disabled students to chairs and taping their mouths. One Georgia teacher placed an autistic child in a trash can.

Lack of adequate IDEA funding and poor teacher training for the disabled is a clear indication, despite the ADA, that America still does not value disabled children. These were problems long before the ADA was passed and they remain so today. A view I often hear is that disabled kids are a "burden" or a "strain on the educational system." The ADA, IDEA and other laws were supposed to help change such views.

The disabled received further distressing news last week with a report on Social Security and Medicare. What people with disabilities learned was that the two main programs they depend on for income and healthcare are nearly broke.

This is hard news for the nearly 60 million disabled Americans with frail health, limited income and increasing healthcare needs. It is likely Social Security recipients will not receive a cost-of-living increase next year. It would be a burden to the U.S Treasury.

The solvency of Social Security and Medicare have posed problems for Congress and the White House for decades. Some politicians say the programs are not adequately funded. Critics says the programs reward those who won't work. The "P" word — privatization — often raises fears among the disabled. Meanwhile, the disabled, of all ages, continue to suffer.

Congress must do something to address the solvency of these programs and stop the government's threats to drastically cut the disabled rolls or abolish vital funding. One area Congress should review is the coordination of federal healthcare benefits, especially between the stressed Medicare system and the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Workers Compensation Programs (OWCP).

While most congressional offices have staff dedicated to "solving" Medicare problems, injured and disabled federal workers are largely on their own. In California and other states, few physicians participate in OWCP. Injured and disabled federal workers are advised by OWCP bureaucrats to use their Medicare for their work injuries.

What the OWCP bureaucrats never tell the injured federal workers is they must inform Medicare officials that they are being treated for OWCP injuries. Medicare has a system for medical services provided injured workers are repaid by OWCP. Injured workers should not be burdened with performing this administrative work for OWCP bureaucrats. Ergo, it goes undone and Medicare pays for worker injuries with the full knowledge of Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

Better coordination of federal healthcare benefits is policy, but largely talk and little action. Based on my simple economic calculations, OWCP owes millions to Medicare. This money returned to Medicare could help the stressed system better serve its patients.

OWCP reform is vastly needed. Bureaucratic inaction and abuse of injured and disabled federal workers rivals the abuses against veterans by the Veterans Administration. Congressional action is urgently needed.

The OWCP is sick. Congress can and should cure it with reform policies to serve those who proudly worked for their government yet are abused and mistreated by Labor Department bullies. Reforming OWCP would be a reason for injured and disabled federal workers to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ADA.

Patterson is a former diplomat who blogs at www.HumanRightsIssues.com.

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