You probably didn’t see them. Too few people did. News stories about thousands of people with disabilities facing life-or-death situations.
One reported that more than 10,000 people died waiting to hear the result of their Social Security Disability Insurance appeal in 2017. The other revealed that Delawareans with disabilities who rely on Supplemental Security Income can’t afford the rent on an average one-bedroom apartment.
Unfortunately, the stories appeared during the holiday rush. Bad timing. But you also likely didn’t see them because too few press outlets chose to give the topics the time of day. Then as now, the press was more interested in devoting space daily to Democrats taking control of the House, the government shutdown and the volatile stock market – important stories, surely, stories the media considers mainstream. Yet they also gave space, and plenty of it, to stories involving Meghan Markle and Lady Gaga, the weather, and, dare I say it and lose local readers of this post, the Eagles’ chances of making the playoffs.
With the midterm elections behind us, disability advocates face an opportunity to make significant legislative gains.
The conventional wisdom holds that gridlock will dominate the 116th U.S. Congress, which begins in January 2019. With a GOP majority in the Senate and a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, both parties are poised to block each other’s most polarizing bills. But because there will likely be little movement on contentious agenda items, space will open up for other issues to come to the fore. The disability community is uniquely poised to take advantage.
Many disability-related policies were not only front and center in the midterm elections – several unified Democratic and Republican voters.
Last month, federal immigration agents separated a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome from her mother at the border. Nine months before that, agents did the same to a 16-year-old boy with autism, taking him from his caregiver grandmother.
Unimaginably unconscionable, their separations and those of some 2,300 other children at the border from their parents and other caregivers came in the wake of president Trump’s zero tolerance policy against immigrants allegedly entering the country illegally. Though the president eventually signed an executive order June 20 calling for children to instead be detained with their families through the duration of immigration proceedings, the damage is done.
When the price tag was under $1 million, the 2017–2018 Delaware General Assembly overwhelmingly approved bills that should benefit the disability community.
Delawareans with disabilities no longer will face discrimination in organ transplant determinations. School resource officers will be trained to use de-escalation, not restraint and seclusion, as a disciplinary technique. State health services won’t be able to “claw back” funds from ABLE accounts upon the beneficiary’s death.
The Legislature also started a program to forgive as much as $10,000 in student loans for educators in short-staffed fields, including special education. And with a growing population of students diagnosed with autism, lawmakers created positions for autism specialists who will offer training and assistance in schools across Delaware. The new Delaware Advance Scholarship Program will reduce tuition costs for students with intellectual disabilities attending college.
When a bill’s price tag topped $1 million, though, state lawmakers stepped forward, rocked backward, or stood still.
I can’t shake the memory of Artfest. Don’t want to, really. The creative workshop and community celebration that the Center for Disabilities Studies and Art Therapy Express hosted a couple Saturdays ago lasted just two hours, but the wall-to-wall smiles, the camaraderie, the incredible artwork left an indelible mark.
Opportunities for Artfest participants – individuals of all ages, backgrounds and types of disabilities – to express their artistic sides appeared endless, thanks in no small part to the encouragement they