The following comments were made during a webinar hosted by the Peoples Power Assemblies– –NYC on December 3rd to mark International Day for People with Disabilities.
Welcome to our webinar on disability rights – or the lack of them. December 3rd is the day on which the United Nations declared International Day for People with Disabilities. The disability rights movement is about leading a full life and actively participating in all areas of society – education, work, family and other social relationships.
The movement has a two-pronged strategy. One is the legal path that led to the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in the United States in 1990. The other strategy is direct action, which began in 1978 as members of ADAPT [formerly Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transit] sat – literally out of the wheelchair and on the floor – in front of buses in Denver. ADAPT has continued to do sit-ins when needed, including in the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in June 2017 to support the Affordable Care Act, which was under threat – and still exists.
As the disability rights movement has grown, so have our concerns.
First and foremost is racist policing. Black living with disabilities is important. Over 50% of the colored people killed by the police are disabled. Some have neurodivergent diseases, which are invisible and can lead to unpredictable behaviors that the racist police use as an excuse to shoot them.
The case of Eleanor Bumpurs was widely publicized in 1984. Ms. Bumpurs was a 66-year-old African American described as “mentally ill” who was evicted from her Bronx apartment for being four months behind on her rent. She told the marshals who had evicted her that she would pour boiling water on her when they approached her. So the police who were assisting the marshals shot them. That was in 1984 – before cell phone cameras were used to document these events. Who knows how many times such an incident has happened? With cameras documenting incidents, we now know how often they happen.
Another crisis we face is the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people are at higher risk of developing serious illnesses due to COVID-19 if they have serious chronic conditions such as chronic lung disease, severe heart disease, or a weakened immune system.
Adults with disabilities are three times more likely to have these conditions than adults without disabilities. And when you are in a nursing home, as many disabled people do, you are in a confined space that has been shown to be a petri dish for the transmission of COVID-19.
If we look at aging as a disability like the ADA, the number of people with disabilities living in nursing homes continues to increase. I was pleased to hear yesterday that nursing home residents are expected to be among the first tier recipients of the COVID vaccine.
Another struggle we must wage is the impoverishment of people with disabilities. This is due to the fact that disability benefits are linked to income. If you earn more than the guidelines require, you will not be eligible for the benefits that you may need, such as: B. Help with washing or cleaning. Under federal law, people with disabilities can be paid below the minimum wage, but the benefit limit makes the struggle for the minimum wage problematic. This is a battle that the National Association of the Blind has fought for years.
Housing is another difficulty. The problem here is accessibility. If you have limited mobility, you need an accessible entrance – no stairs!
Growing fight back
The list goes on, but it was fought back and understanding of these situations grew. And the fight is strong and getting stronger. An annual parade is held in New York City and other cities to celebrate the passage of the Disabled Americans Act. Before the COVID shutdown, the NYC parade drew over 15,000 people. Disabled in Action has filed a lawsuit against the NYC Metropolitan Transit Authority to install elevators in all subway stations. These challenges run through the judicial system.
In recognition of the worldwide struggle for the rights of persons with disabilities, the United Nations introduced the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006.
So far, 177 countries have ratified it – but not the US (the US has still ratified human rights treaties in defense of women, children and migrant workers). The UN Convention is much more liberal in granting disability benefits. Indeed, the treaty affirms the right of all people with disabilities to live in their community and to have the necessary support to do so.
The Peoples Power Assemblies – NYC, who have long been active in this struggle, look forward to next year when we can be vaccinated and fight more to bring about the necessary changes.
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