A Call to Action for the Disability Community. Picture of: Elizabeth Warren, Robyn Powell, Colleen Flanagan participating in the Women’s March 2017

In 1964 the United States passed the Civil Rights Act, protecting against discrimination of sex, race, and religion. Omitted from the act were protections for individuals with disabilities. In 1975 the first version of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was passed, guaranteeing a free appropriate public education for children with disabilities. However, it wasn’t until the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, only 27 years ago, that the protections guaranteed by the Civil Rights Act were solidified for the largest minority group in the United States, the disabled.

Yet, here we are in 2017 and people in the disability community are nervous. Why?

On January 20, 2017 the administration of Donald Trump erased the whitehouse.gov pages for Civil Rights, ADA, and IDEA. The stipulations set forth by the ADA and IDEA have protected those with disabilities providing them with education and support services that we, the able-bodied, take for granted. The other people who are nervous are people like me, people who have dedicating their careers to develop technologies that can potentially improve the lives of the disabled. In the 27 years since the ADA passed there has been an incredible evolution of research and technology, most funded through government grants, which stimulate the advancements that improve the standard of living for millions.

People with disabilities, whether cognitive or physical, require specialized services.

Children with learning disabilities require educational support. People with physical disabilities require different types of assistive technologies for mobility and any other unique need. Most of this support is administered by either state agencies or federal government programs. Currently, Massachusetts spends approximately two billion dollars annually on disability services. This includes transportation, healthcare, durable medical devices and assistive technologies, education/work supports, and resources for independent living. Massachusetts support systems surpasses many other states. If a state does not provide adequate supports, the ADA and IDEA protects families and forces the state to step up or provides federal interventions to assist.

Cabinet Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, stated that she would shift this responsibility solely to the states.

As Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) conveyed at the Department of Education’s confirmation vote today, Betsy DeVos has no intention of ensuring that those with disabilities have adequate access to education. Her intention is to create an inequitable voucher system throughout the US, which will inevitably leave the disabled (the more costly students) to fight for access to schools. This goes against the intentions of ADA and IDEA. Add to complication that the Supreme Court is now debating if children with disabilities are even guaranteed “more than merely de minimis” (minimum standard) precedent set forth by IDEA. That’s right, if your child has a learning disability our Supreme Court could potentially say that even the minimum standard of education is adequate. Individuals and families across the United States are worried that their children will not be guaranteed a suitable education, because the new administration has failed to recognize a fundamental piece of its role, protecting the populations that need it. 

The gains in research and technology for those with disabilities has been unprecedented in the past 20 years.

Quadriplegics now have access to technologies that allow them to live and work independently. Think about that, someone who has limited physical use of their body can now use technology to raise their window blinds, open doors, access mobile phones and computers, and even feed themselves. Most of us have cried watching videos of people who have never heard anything finally able to hear family after receiving a Cochlear Implant. Every day tools are being developed that assist children with learning disabilities succeed in the classroom. The world has changed for the disabled, instead of being isolated they are now able to engage and participate in their communities! This can be attributed to government funding for services, research, and technologies. Federal involvement is imperative to facilitate advancements.

Image states: Disability Rights are Civil Rights

What is the call to action?

We must protect the rights of the disabled. The disability community, no matter the role, needs to motivate the Trump administration to become a proponent of federal support for ALL disability resources. Engage and support your local government officials, so they can stand on the nations stage promoting ADA and IDEA. The civil rights of the disabled needs to be viewed as a fundamental right. Let’s also champion the role of technology and research to ensure funding for our medical professionals and innovators. More research and innovation will only continue to improve people’s lives! This is important to all of us, regardless of your current situation, because any one of us can become disabled at any time. It may not affect you now, but one car accident or stroke immediately changes that.