Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Jillian Mercado On "Today"

The first quarter of this Today Show video made me gag a little, only because even Matt Lauer can’t seem to resist cliches like “inspirational” and not letting disabilities “slow her down”. The rest of the segment, though, was fantastic. Two specific points made me cheer:

1. Matt Lauer bringing up how Mercado’s work connects with young people who struggle with “body image”. That’s not a radical idea to those of us with disabilities, but it’s a very astute observation to come from a non-disabled interviewer.

2. Jillian Mercado saying, “It gets better”. She means for people with disabilities, and any youth with body image issues. But, whether she intended it or not, it was brilliant to use a phrase more familiar in the context of gay, lesbian, and transgender youth. In a lot of ways, our respective issues are quite similar, and the sentiment just as applicable.

Overall, the segment was specific, not generic, which is what I think we want most from stories about disabled people.

Oh, and Jillian looked amazing!

State Of The Union & People with Disabilities

Close-up photo of Presidential speaking podium with two microphones and the seal of the President
I’m looking forward to trying to Live Tweet the State Of The Union Address, but I’m not sure what we can say about the speech from a disability standpoint.

One approach is to listen for specific mentions of disability concerns and policy proposals in the speech. This will almost surely lead to disappointment and discussion of how we can get the President to elevate disability policy to the top tier of national prominence. If we are very lucky, it might lead to a 30-second mention of some specific disability-related policy proposal, maybe an Executive Order upping the percentage of disabled people to be hired for Federal jobs … something valuable, but very specific, incremental, and narrow.

The other way to go is to listen to the speech and sort of brainstorm ideas for how the proposals could be adapted to further our longstanding disability policy goals. Here are some possible examples I may be thinking about tonight:

Infrastructure / Stimulus Spending - 
Home modification, vehicle purchase and modification, assistive technology, business / public space accessibility. If you’re going to spend money to goose the economy, there are worse things to spend it on than helping people with disabilities bust those expensive barriers in our lives, like lack of transportation, and poorly accessible houses and apartments. I would love to see a really credible study of how much it would cost to meet these needs for the disabled people who have them. My guess is that it would be a lot, but probably less than an aircraft carrier, or a high-speed rail network.

Unemployment - 
Improved or added tax credits for hiring long-term unemployed and people with disabilities. Improvements in work incentive benefits rules that would enable more disabled people to take on part-time or trial employment. These aren’t new ideas … we just need more of them.

Long Term Care and Unemployment -
Develop a creative way to link the need for individual, home-based personal care for disabled people (including the elderly), and people who desperately need jobs. Develop a federal-level mechanism for Consumer Directed Personal Assistance, in which disabled people who need home care (or their families) can directly hire and supervise their own personal care aides. The goal would be to ensure that the model is available in every state. I would be overjoyed if the President did nothing else but point out the possible connection between the growing need for long term care, and the millions of people who are out of work.

Small Business - 
Increased or additional tax credits or deductions for businesses that make accessibility improvements during any tax year. Business accessibility is never going to be a high priority for anyone besides ourselves, but there are hundreds of tax credits and other incentives, why not up the ante towards a worthwhile purpose?

Minimum Wage - 
Repeal laws that allow sheltered workshop programs to pay disabled people less than minimum wage. Change vocational rehabilitation regulations so that placement in sheltered workshops or segregated work crews can never be deemed a successful "case closure”. This is a matter of plain justice that might actually resonate for the average voter, even if they aren’t familiar with disability issues.

Education -
Explore ways to make higher education funding more flexible, and life-long. For disabled people, this could be very helpful by allowing us to pursue higher education on an "as needed" basis, and on more flexible schedules other than typical four to six year cycles.

What disability-related policy changes or initiatives would you like to see?