Sanders vows to treat disability rights as 'civil rights' under new plan

Sanders vows to treat disability rights as 'civil rights' under new plan
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Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Energy: Treasury creates hub to fight climate change through finance | Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez introduce 'Green New Deal for Public Housing' | Don't attack Zoom for its Bernie Sanders federal tax bill Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez introduce 'Green New Deal for Public Housing' MORE’s (I-Vt.) presidential campaign unveiled a comprehensive plan for disabled Americans Friday morning, pledging to treat disability rights as "civil rights."

Sanders's plan vows to "incorporate disability issues into every other area of public policy," including the creation of a National Office of Disability Coordination to run policy and to ensure that all public resources are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Vermont senator also promised to use executive action to advance disability rights if elected president.


"It’s time for us to acknowledge that disability rights are civil rights, and that a society that does not center the voices and needs of people with disabilities has yet to fulfill its most basic obligations," Sanders said in a statement.

“This is an issue of fundamental civil rights," he added. "Every person with a disability deserves the right to live in their community and have the support they need to thrive. This right must be available to all, free of waiting lists and means tests. It is our moral responsibility to make it happen.”

The plan has multiple provisions, including one ensuring that "every American who needs it can be supported in their own home by workers that are compensated at fair wages."

The proposal would also ensure that the needs of people with disabilities as well as older people are met within his proposed "Medicare for All" plan and it would eliminate the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program's "marriage penalty," which reduces the amount two beneficiaries may receive if they are married.

Sanders also denounced "the criminalization of disability," saying that "instead of incarceration, we should be providing people with disabilities with the services and supports they need to stay in the community, including mental health care and home- and community-based services."

The candidate proposed to boost the Social Security disability insurance as well as the education opportunities available to disabled students, from kindergarten to higher education.


His plan would increase employment opportunities for disabled people, and expand the accessibility and availability of services such as affordable housing, transportation, nutrition and energy assistance, while also making it easier for the disabled to access voting facilities.

Sanders vowed as well to take executive action to reject state attempts to privatize care for disabled and elderly people, citing the "disastrous" Iowa privatization of Medicaid services that has been condemned by disability advocates. The Iowa program allowed private insurers to take over the state program.

It also addresses climate change as a disability issue, establishing an Office of Climate Resiliency for People with Disabilities within Sanders's proposed Climate Justice Resiliency Fund.

The office, to be headed by people with disabilities, would work "to ensure that nationwide, the needs of people with disabilities are consistently addressed during adaptation planning and that those efforts are coordinated throughout the federal government."

Disability advocates welcomed Sanders's plan.

"This is an extraordinarily far-reaching plan, made even more so by its willingness to take executive action on longstanding disability rights priorities stalled in Congress," said Ari Ne'eman, an Obama appointee who advised both the Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWorld passes 3 million coronavirus deaths Poll: 56 percent say wealth tax is part of solution to inequality Democratic senators call on Biden to support waiving vaccine patents MORE (D-Mass.) presidential campaigns on their disability policy proposals.

"Disability is playing a big role in the closing message of multiple campaigns - I think that speaks to the growing power of disability issues to reach voters," he added.

Victoria Rodríguez-Roldán, a disability justice advocate who previously raised concerns about mental health care provisions in Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBiden, Harris commend Mondale in paving the way for female VP Overnight Energy: Treasury creates hub to fight climate change through finance | Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez introduce 'Green New Deal for Public Housing' | Harris: Americans able to 'breathe easier and sleep better' under Biden MORE’s (D-Calif.) mental health care proposals, told The Hill she was honored to have helped the Sanders campaign.

“I'm honored to have helped the campaign in [the plan's] drafting. It is by far the most progressive disability plan in the field. It's particularly amazing how it takes such a firm stance against mental health institutionalization and coercive treatment,” Rodríguez-Roldán told The Hill.

Matthew Cortland, a disabled lawyer based in Massachusetts, told The Hill the plan particularly illustrated that calling for the elimination of the marriage penalty has moved to the mainstream of the Democratic Party.

“It has quickly become the consensus position in Democratic politics that SSI must be transformed from a brutal and punitive sub-poverty subsistence existence into a program that meaningfully supports the dignity of disabled Americans,” he said in a statement.

“Today, Bernie Sanders joins Elizabeth Warren and Julián Castro (no longer in the race) in releasing plans that call for tearing down the barriers to marriage disabled people face. And at a time when the Trump administration is relentlessly attacking the disability safety net that millions rely on, Senator Sanders’s plan calls for strengthening that safety net,” Cortland added.

Rebecca Cokley, director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the liberal Center for American Progress, told The Hill, “For a plan to be successful it needs to be a strategic combination of the community’s priorities and the flavor of the candidates and their campaign."

"This is very much a Sanders plan, it’s bold, visionary, and comprehensive,” said Cokley, who was consulted by the campaign while it was developing the proposal.

Sanders is the latest 2020 candidate to unveil a comprehensive disabilities plan amid rising attention in the Democratic campaign to the needs of disabled people.

Warren's plan, unveiled earlier in January, would also eliminate the marriage penalty and would raise SSI benefits to match the poverty line, among other action plans.

Updated at 11:11 a.m.