Health Care

Lawmakers: Disability advocacy leaders, government agencies must work together to expand opportunities for people with disabilities

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., speaks at a Congressional Progressive Caucus news conference as the House meets to consider the Inflation Reduction Act, Friday, Aug. 12, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Lawmakers emphasized cooperation between leaders and agencies to provide necessary opportunities for individuals with disabilities during a panel hosted by The Hill Wednesday. 

Leaders and experts in disability advocacy spoke at The Hill’s Disability Summit, hosted by executive editor Bob Cusack and sponsored by SourceAmerica. 

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), said she became a proponent for disability policy reform when she was caring for her late husband, former Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.). Dingell is now co-chair of the House Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus and has worked on legislation to enhance support for home care workers. 

“It has made me a true advocate,” Dingell said during the event. “And I don’t think you realize how broken this system is until you have had to try to navigate it. And it’s made me a very loud spokesperson for this community.” 

The Biden administration has focused on advancing accessibility across the government workforce for people with disabilities. Multiple agencies issued a joint memorandum in 2022 to identify resources for individuals with disabilities to obtain employment as part of the administration’s larger goals.

In 2022, of more than 20 million people with disabilities in the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 21.3% were employed, up from 19.1% in 2021. 

Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), chairman of the Committee on Veterans Affairs, said that veterans, particularly those with physical or mental disabilities, often face difficulty in finding employment. 

“They’re the best employees you can possibly have,” Bost said. “They’re the best employees because they know the importance of showing up on time, seeing what their mission is, moving forward, and fixing and working on the mission that’s in front of them, and doing it efficiently.” 

Bost said he hopes to work with the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve availability and education so that veterans can access benefits through the VA. 

“There are so many companies out there that are aggressively pursuing to have veterans as their employees,” Bost said. “They’re great and we want to work with them as much as we can.” 

Day Al-Mohamed, director of disability policy for the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, said that effective cooperation and communication across the federal government is crucial to progress the rights and improve the lives of people with disabilities. 

“The idea is, we should look like the people,” Al-Mohamed said of government workers, adding that agencies should “make sure that as an entire federal system, we are pushing disability employment and inclusion forward together.” 

Al-Mohamed said that it is important for leaders to recognize  the many areas to target as they work on disability policy reform, including home care support, discrimination in the workplace, access to training and employment services and access to education, as well as fostering a culture of inclusion and ending stigma. 

“It is not the diversity worker, it’s not the disability employee whose job it is,” Al-Mohamed said. “It is everyone. Everyone has a piece of that. Because that’s the only way to guarantee success, is to make sure we all can move forward together. It’s not a zero sum game.” 

Dingell added that Congress needs bipartisan support to pass legislation and kickstart initiatives to improve conditions for those with disabilities who lack care or other support. 

“We don’t look at these issues as a Republican issue or a Democratic issue. These are issues that every family in this country or the world experience in some way.” 

Tags Biden administration Bob Cusack Bureau of Labor Statistics Debbie Dingell Debbie Dingell Department of Veterans Affairs employment John Dingell Mike Bost White House domestic policy council

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