Saturday, June 27, 2015

What’s The Next Big Victory for the Disability Community?

Victory! in capital letters, row of raised fists of different colors below

The Supreme Court’s decision affirming gay marriage nationwide has me wondering whether there are remaining unresolved issues that are as significant for disabled people as gay marriage is for the LGBTQ community.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 qualifies. So does the Olmstead Supreme Court decision that came out of the law later. Although full implementation is very slow and ongoing, those are milestones of our past. What big items are on the disability community's "To Do List?"

Some of my Twitter friends and fellow disability bloggers are noting that many disabled people still can't marry, for legal and bureaucratic reasons. For example:

@POTUS next step is to remove the penalty so people with disabilities can keep needed services and still get marry

This tweet referrs to “marriage penalties” built into Social Security and other income support programs that make it practically impossible for many of us to marry. Then there are the developmental disability support programs and "group homes" that discourage or outright prohibit marriage and cohabitation.

In both cases, it's not that marriage is illegal for disabled people, it's more like an official disincentive, sometimes an extremely powerful one, that makes marriage a practical impossibility. IF you choose to get married or live together as a couple, THEN we will reduce or stop your support services.

In both cases, it’s also entirely possible to fix the situation by passing laws to address the problem directly. A law could make it illegal for developmental disability programs to refuse service to clients/consumers who decide to marry or live together. A law could specifically affirm cohabitation rights in any sort of long term care facility, including “group homes.” A change in law or regulations could make it so individual Social Security benefit amounts and eligibility for other programs wouldn’t change when recipients marry.

As potential victories go, these are bit wonkish and hard to explain. They aren't as emotionally resonant as yesterday's marriage equality victory, but they probably should be.

A few other longstanding disability issues come to mind.

Ending developmental disability exceptions to minimum wage would be another major victory for the disability community, and possibly more feasible than closing all sheltered workshops. Decisively undoing work disincentives would be fantastic, too, but probably complicated and hard to achieve in a political environment where lawmakers think we are paying out too much in disability benefits. Progress there may have to come piece by piece, one careful legislation at a time.

“Entitlement” is a dirty word these days, both politically an socially. But we might want to rethink that, an explore whether disabled people should have an absolute entitlement to certain key assets … health care, higher education, a drivable car. Solidifying a right to any one these would be a major victory and game-changer for disabled people.

Most of the rest of our problems are either social, and not responsive to legislation … like everyday ableism and workaday bureaucracy, or related to existing laws that suffer from partial enforcement … like the accessibility provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Olmstead Supreme Court decision.

Aside from dealing with marriage penalties and barriers, and aside from better ADA and Olmstead enforcement, what new disability rights milestones are on the horizon? What major, specific changes do we want to celebrate in the next few years?


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