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DFN E-News: Special Bulletin


The following two articles we didn’t want to hold for the next issue of DFN E-News. The first, a column from The Wall Street Journal, was distributed by AAPD in its Justice for All listserv. The second article on emergency preparedness for people with disabilities was sent to us via the Mitsubishi Foundation’s MEAFLink.
— Jeanne Argoff, Executive Director, Disability Funders Network

High Stakes for Disabled on November 2

[In the following Wall Street Journal column, Al Hunt discusses recent trends regarding people with disabilities and what’s at stake in the upcoming election.]

Halting Progress for the Disabled

By Albert R. Hunt
The Wall Street Journal
August 19, 2004; Page A13

Even trite clichés occasionally are on the mark; today, for 53 million disabled Americans the glass of life is both half-full and half-empty.

A survey this summer by Harris Interactive of Americans with disabilities is disquieting: Only a little over one-third reported being employed, a much higher percentage than non-disabled say they face inadequate health care or transportation or are less likely to eat out or attend religious services, and a majority express dissatisfaction with their lives. The political progress of the ’90s seems to have slowed and some large corporations, such as Wal-Mart, have abysmal records.

Yet accessibility to transportation, education and even employment has improved around the country. Advocates for the disabled say slow progress is being made with small businesses and some large corporations, such as Microsoft, which has worked assiduously to make its software accessible, and Verizon, get high marks.

This dichotomy springs from the promise of the landmark 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It doesn’t surprise Andy Imparato, head of the American Association of People with Disabilities. “It’s useful to think of the ADA in two phases,” he notes. “One is bricks and mortar; transportation, buildings and telecommunications all are substantially more accessible. These are very tangible ways in which the ADA has enabled more disabled people to participate in society. But the rest is attitudinal; we still have a long way to go with how people think. We need much more dialogue, public education and positive experiences.”

This underscores the stakes in this year’s presidential race. The ADA was pushed and signed into law by George Herbert Walker Bush in 1990 — overriding the objections of his chief of staff; he is a hero to many with disabilities. His son inexplicably has shown little interest in the issue and through executive actions and judicial appointments threatens to roll back much of his father’s top domestic legacy.

That would be tragic. The ADA has made America a much better place. Just look around and notice how differently those with disabilities are treated compared to a decade ago. (I have two sons, one of whom is disabled; the other was a CNN intern at last month’s Democratic convention; two of his fellow interns were deaf.)

Politically, the picture is mixed. In Congress, support for the disabled crosses party lines. There is no more important champion than Ted Kennedy, and there are Republican supporters like John McCain, not surprisingly, but also staunch conservatives such as Congressman Pete Sessions in the House and Orrin Hatch in the Senate. Yet the GOP-run House leadership recently blocked a bill to provide more health-care services for lower income families with disabled children because it wasn’t financed with offsetting budget cuts, an issue it ignored when a big tax cut for special interests sailed through.

Some of the most notable champions are on the local level, including America’s most notable Democratic and Republican mayors — Chicago’s Richard Daley and New York’s Michael Bloomberg. Mayor Daley has vowed to make Chicago “the most accessible city in the nation.” His Disabilities office is cabinet rank and no politician has worked more effectively with a sometimes skeptical business community than Rich Daley. There are 149 Chicago schools that are accessible today up from almost none when Mayor Daley took office.

In New York, advocates say, Michael Bloomberg was that city’s first mayor to really reach out to those with disabilities. He has increased the number of accessible taxicabs, made numerous buildings and sidewalks more accessible and pushed career exploration and job-shadowing programs.

But there are other state and local officials as bad as Messrs. Daley and Bloomberg are good. At the top of that list is the newly elected governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour. Facing a budget squeeze, the former Republican Party chair, and tobacco lobbyist, rejected measures like increasing the state’s small cigarette tax and instead is slashing Medicaid benefits for poorer Mississippians. For thousands of disabled, this means a reduction in prescription drug benefits and access to necessary medical care and a loss of transportation services to those who need it.

These cuts will be devastating for people like Traci Alsup, a 36-year-old Jackson, Miss., quadriplegic. She’s scheduled to lose her prescription drug coverage, amounting to about $800 a month or just about what she gets from disability payments; she’d face additional expenses from any hospitalization and for her wheelchair. This would necessitate giving up her inexpensive apartment and having to move back to a nursing home: “I am full of anxiety and I’m depressed. This isn’t right.”

In the presidential race, John Kerry hasn’t said much — there was no mention in his Boston acceptance speech — and George W. Bush has been a disaster. Cutbacks in health care and housing proposed by the White House disproportionately affect those with disabilities. Five years ago the government set a goal to dramatically increase the number of disabled federal employees; there are less today than when this president first took office. Tragically, he has choked off promising research with embryonic stem cells that eventually could profoundly affect many disabilities.

Mr. Bush rarely uses the presidential bully pulpit for public dialogue or education. “This White House considers us a nuisance, too high maintenance,” says one leading disabilities advocate.

Bush judicial nominees, like Jeffrey Sutton and William Pryor, are openly hostile to the Americans with Disabilities Act, following the lead of Antonin Scalia; the Supreme Court justice, from the bench, refers to people with disabilities as “handicaps,” and belittles the notion they have basic rights. The High Court has eroded some of the ADA and on 5-to-4 votes narrowly upheld other parts. Many legal analysts believe that with any vacancies filled by Scalia wannabes the court may well gut the act.

If you’re blind, deaf or in a wheelchair, the stakes on Nov. 2 are enormous.

The Disabled, in an Emergency: Labor Department Office Urges Government Agencies to Be Prepared

[The September 2 Washington Post featured an article on the federal government’s emergency preparedness planning for employees with disabilities, with ODEP/Department of Labor taking the lead. Quoted in the article is Nadia Ibrahim, ODEP Policy Advisor, who spoke at the May conference of Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities (COSD) about her experience as an intern. The article follows.

By Michael Zimmerman
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, September 2, 2004; Page A21

At a time when federal agencies, like private companies and individuals, are preparing for the worst in case of a terrorist attack, the Labor Department says there are steps the government should take in emergency preparedness planning for its workers with disabilities.

More than 120,000 federal workers with disabilities are particularly vulnerable during an emergency, so the department wants agencies to do a better job of finding shelter and evacuating disabled employees. To prepare workers for any circumstance, the Labor Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) recently released recommendations on emergency preparedness for people with disabilities.

“The goal is to increase awareness and encourage federal agencies to include people with disabilities,” said Nadia Ibrahim, policy adviser at the ODEP. Ibrahim 33, who was born with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, is one of several individuals who contributed to the report. “I felt that it was necessary to get the word out on what to do in an emergency,” Ibrahim said. In the 80-page report, managers are given detailed information on promoting safety for their employees with disabilities. The recommendations include purchasing evacuation chairs, which are mobility devices, so people with disabilities can be moved to an area or floor where emergency response personnel can assist them.

The proposal also suggests informing the fire department in advance about employees with disabilities and using floor wardens and zone monitors to keep track of them. The report notes that the Labor Department includes general floor plans of its facility and an illustration of collection points for people evacuating the building.

The ODEP report suggests that officials provide training for those requiring assistance and those providing assistance. Other specific plans include audible directional signs, Braille signage for employees who are blind or have poor vision, and extra wheelchairs in the stairwells and the main lobby.

The goal for managers is to think ahead and be ready for whatever emergency might come along by bolstering existing emergency plans to take into account disabled employees, said Michael J. Volpe of ODEP’s public affairs unit. He said the Labor Department, for instance, runs drills every few months, and has an emergency evacuation board that evaluates procedures.”Emergency preparedness should never be a static situation; it’s something that should always be evolving,” said W. Roy Grizzard Jr., assistant secretary of labor in charge of the ODEP.
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