The election of President Joe Biden was a relief for many marginalized people, but perhaps especially for the disabled community. It’s no secret that this huge segment of the US population, roughly 26% or 61 million people, has had a tough time over the past four years. The Trump administration sought to repeal the Affordable Care Act. tried to cut funding for special education; Implementation of the public fee rule to prevent immigrants with disabilities from receiving green cards or visas; Denied the existence of police brutality targeting the disabled community, particularly black and brown people with disabilities; made the application process for social security disabled people even more cumbersome; and has not taken the necessary steps to limit the spread of COVID-19 which has wreaked extraordinary havoc in nursing homes and nursing homes home to millions in our community. As a person with a lifelong, significant physical disability, my excitement over Biden being our new president goes beyond the relief of simply being “better than Trump.”
Biden’s policy proposals for disability legislation not only promise to undo the damage caused by the Trump administration, they are revolutionary in and of themselves. It is incredibly important that not just the disabled community, but all Americans who believe in justice and equal opportunities know what this is about. As always, not being disabled is a temporary status. Any member of society who is not disabled today could be tomorrow, be it due to injury, illness or old age. Nobody can fully protect themselves from becoming part of the disabled community. Disability also does not discriminate based on gender, gender, religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political orientation or age. The intersectionality of disability with every other part of society makes disability rights everyone’s business. For this reason, it should be important for everyone to understand the key points of the “Biden Plan for Full Participation and Equality for People with Disabilities”.
I do not intend to break down all of Biden’s proposals on disability policy, nor should it be assumed that the ones I am focusing on are of paramount importance to everyone in our incredibly broad and diverse community. What I intend to do is explain from personal experience how some specific ones that I have an innate understanding of would be life changing if they passed laws.
First, Biden plans to “provide better access to home and community services, as well as long-term services and support in the most integrated environment that meets the needs of each person.” To put this in layman’s terms, Biden’s plan provides various methods to increase funding and resources for people to get the care and services they need to live in their own homes and in their communities to interact rather than being forced to live in nursing homes or other restrictive long-term care facilities.
If the stories you surely saw on the news about the rampant abuse and neglect in these environments weren’t enough to convince you that living in these conditions is not ideal, maybe the rate of spread of COVID-19 and the millions who lost their lives in them too soon, many without seeing their families or loved ones when they left this world is. As someone who maintains a fairly high level of independence by relying on caregivers to come to your home to help with basic, everyday needs, my greatest fear is having to live in a restrictive environment . Unfortunately, I’m just a “godsend”. Many in need of home service to maintain their independence do not have access to adequate services and live in institutions that rob them of their dignity and freedom. Increasing funding and priority for so-called Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) will help end the dangerous institutional tendency that has plagued our country, and not just senior citizens, but young adults and even living children are not suitable for people of any age.
Next, and as part of the focus on increasing the HCBS, Biden has vowed to create a permanent “HCBS Protection Against Spouse Impoverishment”, which translates into marriage equality for the disabled community. People usually associate marriage equality with the LGBTQ + community, but it has long been a civil rights issue for the disabled community as well. It wasn’t until I was first proposed in my early twenties that I learned that the right to marry didn’t include people like me. It’s not that I couldn’t legally do it, but getting married would have meant that I would lose my Medicaid if my spouse kept working and making money. The income threshold below which a couple had to stay for a person with a disability to keep Medicaid benefits was too low for us to even pay our rent. The decision to get married anyway would have meant I would have to quit my Medicaid-sponsored care services and my spouse would have to quit their job to become my full-time caregiver. Not only could this put a tremendous strain on a relationship if my spouse were ever sick or injured, I wouldn’t have had anyone available to cover such a loss. Essentially, people like me had to choose marriage or their life. This legislation would allow spouses of individuals to continue to make money and keep their assets without penalizing their disabled partners, thereby ending marital inequality for the disabled community.
Finally, Biden promises to “ensure that our criminal justice system treats people with disabilities fairly”. It is little known that half of the people killed by the police are disabled. Unsurprisingly, black, brown, and / or LGBTQ + and disabled people increase odds, but the impact of police brutality on the disabled community is largely ignored. Biden’s plan to “bring together mental health, disability and substance use disorder experts and social workers” will help reduce this overlooked and appalling misconduct in our criminal justice system.
The best thing about Biden’s disability policy initiatives is that those already listed are only a small piece. His plan is robust and addresses many of the problems my community has struggled to resolve for decades. As always, the need for sufficient Senate support to enforce these policies will still be an issue. Even with the Senate’s successful transition to a Democratic majority, filibustering will certainly be used by the law to try to block these attempts to improve the lives of more than a quarter of Americans and their families. It will be up to us, the people and grassroots activism to put pressure on elected officials to pass laws that would ultimately make us a stronger and fairer society. It is time to give the disability community the attention and support it deserves because, ultimately, the rights of people with disabilities are Human rights.
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