With over 60 million people with disabilities in the United States and 30% of American households including someone with either a mental or physical disability, it is vital that we do everything in our power to advocate for and protect the interests of that community – especially amidst the public health crisis of our time. People with disabilities are vital members of our community, and we must guarantee that they do not get left behind.
While serving as the Director of the Divison of External Affairs at the International Center for the Disabled (ICD), Ann Brancato helped create and pass the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In her role at ICD, she worked closely with pollsters to assist them in compiling needed data for the legislation and worked with the Bush administration on issues facing those with disabilities.
The ADA was enacted to provide people with disabilities equal opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency. Under federal and state law, it is illegal to discriminate against any person with an actual or perceived disability in many contexts of everyday life, including public accommodations, housing, employment, voting, and education. Despite these provisions, however, there is still rampant discrimination and mistreatment of people with disabilities in this country. According to the National Council on Disability, “People with disabilities make up approximately 12 percent of the U.S. working-age population. However, they account for more than half of those living in long-term poverty.” Even with the ADA in place, the disability community tends to work low-wage jobs, often at part-time rates, that do not come with sick leave or other benefits.
This discrimination is even more apparent now that we are amidst the national coronavirus pandemic. With resources running low, attention being put elsewhere, and communities of need being left behind, we must ensure that people with disabilities are supported in the way they need in the face of this crisis. Ann will fight to make this happen.
First, people with disabilities must be provided with the necessary guidance and support to protect them during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic- especially since some members of this community are part of the high-risk group for catching the virus. This support must include accessible means of accessing information made to the public via sign language, digital technology, captioning, relay services, text messages, and plain language. Additionally, financial support and aid should be provided to people with disabilities and their family members, given that this demographic is at a higher risk of poverty. Protecting Medicaid is also vital to protecting the disability community.
Another way in which we need to support our community members with disabilities is by being vigilant about highly specific challenges that they may face in this pandemic. Social distancing and self-isolation may be impossible for those who rely on others’ support to eat, dress, and bathe. Limiting contacts with loved ones leaves people with disabilities totally unprotected from forms of abuse or neglect in care institutions. We must listen to experts who stress the need for reasonable accommodation measures for people with disabilities so that they can simultaneously stay safe from COVID-19, while also receiving the care that they need to thrive.