On Monday, July 25, Sussex County Democratic Committee vice chairman Dan Chiariello attended the Disability Caucus meeting at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
The meeting of the national caucus featured many prominent advocates for the disabled from Congress and from the private sector. The chairman of the council is former congressman from California Tony Coelho. He was the primary sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and former chairman and current member of the board of directors of the Epilepsy Foundation. The event also featured Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, and current congressman from California Xavier Becerra.
The theme for the day was the “inclusion revolution”. The panel spoke proudly of the attention that the convention had given to the disabled, noting that over four hundred delegates were individuals with disabilities, and that this convention was the most accessible ever. The Democratic Party platform includes thirty-five mentions of disabilities, and featured Anastasia Somoza. Anastasia is a disabilities advocate who suffers from cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia, and has been a friend of the Clintons for many years.
This stands in stark contrast with the Republican Party platform, whose nominee, Donald Trump, has openly mocked the disabled.
Senator Harkin was the ranking Democrat on the Social Services committee. He spoke of the many times that the GOP has tried to cut the Social Security disability program, and each time the Democrats on the committee would not cave in. He added that the most important and successful social programs that aid the disabled were all passed by Democratic presidents, including: Social Security, Americans with Disabilities Act, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act.
Ann O’Leary, a senior policy advisor to Hillary Clinton, spoke to the caucus about Secretary Clinton’s history advocating for children with disabilities. In Clinton's first job out of college, she worked for the Children’s Defense Fund. One of her first assignments was to determine why the census data for school aged children did not match that of school enrollment. Going door-to-door, Clinton learned that the difference was largely due to children with disabilities who could not attend school due to lack of access or accommodation. That work led directly to the IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which required all schools to accept and accommodate children with disabilities.
The caucus meeting described some of the policies and actions that the Democratic Party is pursuing:
EMPLOYMENT: Currently, over sixty percent of working age people with disabilities are out of the workforce. It is also legal to pay people with disabilities below the minimum wage. New legislation is being considered to address those conditions.
MEDICARE: The Medicare program forces people into nursing homes in order to collect benefits. The Party is working on changes that will allow people to stay at home.
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: The Party is working to broaden public transportation across the country, which will have a direct impact on affording people with disabilities the opportunity to get to work.
AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES: An interesting opportunity exists with the rise of autonomous, driverless vehicles. This holds great promise for people who are not ambulatory. There is currently no regulation for such vehicles. Consider that without the need for a steering wheel, the entire configuration of a vehicle is open for change. The Democratic Party is working with the National Transit Safety Board to identify opportunities for accommodating people with disabilities in the designs and features of these vehicles.
Dan Chiariello is a participant of the New Jersey State Disability Caucus. The state caucus is chaired by Dr. Salvatore Pizzuro. If you have questions or comments on the accommodation of people with disabilities in Sussex County, contact Dan at [email protected].
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