Biden unveils disability rights plan: ‘Your voices must be heard’

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Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign rolled out a wide-ranging disability-rights plan on Thursday, with provisions including appointing a director of disability policy and ensuring disabled people’s parental rights.

Biden, introducing the plan virtually on Thursday, invoked his own stutter, saying, “It never fully goes away but it turned out to be one of the greatest gifts God gave me.”

The former vice president also discussed his experience co-sponsoring the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 behind “the incredible moral leadership of my friends [Sen.] Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and [Rep.] Tony Coelho [D-Calif.].”

Biden also hit the Trump administration’s record on disability rights, including its attempts to overturn the Affordable Care Act and make cuts to Medicaid, saying “it is literally despicable, and I don’t use that word often.”

He vowed to make disability rights “central to my administration’s agenda,” adding “your voices must be heard, and not just heard, but listened to, because this is about an issue that matters to every American, equality and dignity.”

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) directly tied the coronavirus pandemic to disability rights, calling it an example of “what bad leadership” can do to the community.

Duckworth praised the Biden campaign for including in his plan policies she has championed, including “full inclusion of people with disabilities in policy development” and appointing a director of disability policy who would also engage with various stakeholders including community leaders, representatives of disability organizations and individual disabled people and their families.

“This is in the benefit of our nation as a whole and I really do appreciate how responsive the vice president has been,” Duckworth said.

“Disability rights are not a niche issue,” added the Illinois senator, who lost both legs and some mobility in her right arm in a helicopter crash in Iraq. Numerous Americans, due to accidents or simply aging, she said, “suddenly … find [themselves] needing to rely on the protections of the ADA to gain access to things.”

“The Biden campaign has been very receptive to input that I have given to them and I think that is the key part. They want to be champions for the disability community,” she added. “This is in the benefit of our nation as a whole and I really do appreciate how responsive the vice president has been.”

In the plan, the Biden campaign also vowed to pass legislation to turn the Supreme Court’s Olmstead v. L.C. decision into law. The ruling requires government programs to give disabled people the choice to “live, work, and receive services in integrated settings.” 

“As President, Biden will ensure every agency aggressively enforces Olmstead’s integration mandate, including in housing, education, health care, employment, and transportation,” the plan states.

The plan also pledges to direct the Justice Department to review guardianship laws that may interfere with disabled adults’ self-determination, while ensuring child welfare agencies and family courts respect the parental rights of disabled people and that they do not discriminate in assessing parental capacity.

The Biden campaign did not unveil a disability plan during the primaries, becoming a source of frustration among some activists.

Tags Joe Biden Tammy Duckworth Tom Harkin
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