Elected Officials and Disability Issues
Politicians campaigning for elected offices today will determine future public policy. Public policy is important to all citizens. Who we elect to represent us and our concerns matters — a lot — to members and families of the National Down Syndrome Congress.
Major issues for persons with disabilities include getting a quality education, access to community-based quality residential living services (including housing and transportation) and getting a meaningful job, which offers some economic self-sufficiency.
As you decide who will get your vote in November, learn where candidates stand on these important issues by asking questions. Start by asking candidates if they have a written position statement on disability policies. (If they don’t have one, ask why and offer to share your expertise as a parent or family member of a person with Down syndrome on critical issues that your family faces.)
This piece is designed to help you formulate questions for candidates. We have included a brief statement on the issues of education, employment and community living with a few sample questions you may wish to ask. Don’t forget to share this with other family members and friends. Their votes matter, too!
Education and Employment
Prior to 1971, public schools had no obligation to educate children with disabilities and many did not. The Education for all Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (later renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act — IDEA) guarantees all children the right to a free and appropriate public education in the school they would otherwise attend if they did not have disabilities. The goal of education for all individuals is to prepare them for a meaningful career, economic self-sufficiency and a meaningful life in the community. Despite the fact that this law was passed over 30 years ago, the unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities remains at about 90 percent.
Question for Candidates
• Should schools provide the same opportunities (academic and non-academic) for students with disabilities as they do for non-disabled students?
• When parents disagree with schools and need to utilize due process procedures, do you think the burden of proof should be on the parents or the schools?
• Should parents be required to pay expert witness fees when they use an expert witness in a due process hearing?
• Do you think transition services (for ages18-21) to prepare students with disabilities for jobs and other post-secondary opportunities should be real jobs in the community with people who are not disabled?
• Do you think the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act should be fully funded at the federal level as was promised when initially passed?
• Do you think that all people with disabilities should have the opportunity to work at a real job with competitive wages?
• What would you do to increase work opportunities for people with disabilities?
Community Living Services for Adults with Disabilities
The federal/state Medicaid program funds most adult services such as housing, transportation and support staff who provide assistance to individuals with disabilities with the activities of daily living. It also provides services to some children with disabilities. It is a funding stream that is biased towards costlier institutional care and under siege at the federal and state levels.
If you want those safety-net services to be in place when your child grows up — or to remain in place if your family member with Down syndrome now uses them — then you need to know where candidates stand on funding adult services.
Question for Candidates
• What would you do to ensure that federal and state budget shortfalls do not harm programs and support services for individuals with disabilities to live in their community?
• What do you see as the role of the federal government in disability policy?
• What do you think of the trend to limit the role of the federal government in disability policy?
• What do you see as the role of disability advocates as states move to managed care systems to deliver Medicaid (community-based support services) to adults with disabilities?What would you do to ensure that federal and state budget shortfalls do not harm programs for individuals with disabilities?
This list is not exhaustive – feel free to develop your own questions. You can always ask a follow-up question.