Washington, Sept. 27 – RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization working to empower people with disabilities to achieve the American dream, has asked Senate candidates on both sides of the aisle to fill out a questionnaire on disability issues. Democrat Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, as well as Democrat Rep. Loretta Sanchez, who are both running for the open U.S. Senate seat representing California, completed the #PwDsVote Disability Campaign Questionnaire for Senate and Gubernatorial Candidates for people with disabilities.
RespectAbility is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates. The questionnaire is purely for educational purposes.
California has 5.9 million eligible voters with a disability, and they are looking to know where the candidates stand on important disability issues in order to increase opportunities for competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities.
Currently, California ranks 34th out of the 50 states in regards to the labor force participation rate of people with disabilities, which currently stands at just 33.3 percent (compared to 71 percent of people without disabilities). In other states, such as the Dakotas, 50 percent of their populations with a disability are successfully employed.
There are more than 115,000 youth with disabilities in California, and each year more than a quarter of them will age out of school into an uncertain future. Alternatively, many of the state’s baby boomers will be aging out of the workforce, leaving many positions open and unfilled. This change in demographics, paired with the increasing demand in sectors such as accommodation and agriculture create even more openings in the work force that need to be filled.
California has the opportunity to lead by example by including more people with disabilities in the workforce thanks to The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). As the largest state in terms of population and economy, many other U.S. states look to California for guidance. WIOA gives California the opportunity to set the stage for all other participants and show that people with disabilities can be a valuable asset to any employer.
However, the gap in the labor force participation between people with and without disabilities is 38.9 percent. This lack of employment for people with disabilities creates poverty, powerlessness and poor health. Polls and studies show that people with disabilities want the opportunity to have the dignity and independence that jobs provide.
We are presenting Harris’ answers in full below.
QUESTION 1: Do you have designated advisors and clear processes for making decisions on disability issues? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: Yes. As on all issues, Kamala Harris solicits and receives advice on issues from a variety of experts in their fields. On disability issues, she can draw on both their policy knowledge and their own experiences with disability. As California Attorney General and San Francisco District Attorney, Kamala has also gained a deep understanding of the issues impacting persons with disabilities.
QUESTION 2: Is your campaign accessible and inclusive to people with disabilities? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: Yes. The campaign works to make sure that our event locations are accessible for people with disabilities, including accessible seating areas for people with disabilities, accessible entry and exit points, and accessible restrooms.
QUESTION 3: Do you have a proven record on improving or a plan to improve the lives of people with disabilities? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: Yes. As California Attorney General, Kamala Harris has fought to improve the lives of persons with disabilities. In 2012, she represented the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission in City of Merced v. Fair Employment and Housing Commission. After an administrative hearing, the Commission held that the City of Merced Fire Department wrongfully rejected an applicant for employment due to a perceived disability in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. In 2008, the California Legislature created the California Commission on Disability Access to promote disability access in California. Since its inception, a member of the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Enforcement Section has served and continues to serve on the Commission. In this capacity, Kamala’s office regularly attends Commission meetings and actively participates in robust discussions on the many ways that access for Californians with disabilities can be improved in both the public and private sectors. Kamala will bring her experience working on disability rights to the Senate and she will fight to ensure that persons with disabilities are given the tools they need to thrive.
QUESTION 4: Do you have a plan/commitment to reduce the stigmas about people with disabilities that are barriers to employment, independence and equality? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: Yes. Fifty-four million Americans live with some form of disability. Kamala Harris understands that disability rights are important civil rights that must be recognized and respected. As San Francisco District Attorney and California Attorney General, Kamala has a lengthy record of advocating for civil rights, including disability rights, women’s rights, racial justice, and LGBT equality. In the Senate, Kamala will continue her civil rights advocacy for persons with disabilities by ensuring that the ADA is fully enforced and that similar international laws, such as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, are given full effect. Kamala also supports President Obama’s efforts to strengthen civil rights enforcement against disability discrimination through proposed budget increases to the Department of Justice to crimes that target and exploit people with disabilities.
QUESTION 5: Do you have a proven record on enabling, or a plan to enable, people with disabilities to have jobs, careers and to start their own businesses? Do you have specific strategies for youth employment for people with disabilities and/or sector strategies such as jobs and careers in STEM, hospitality, healthcare and elder care? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: Yes. As California Attorney General, Kamala Harris stood up for the employment rights of persons with disabilities. In 2012, she won a lawsuit against the City of Merced Fire Department stemming from the City’s rejection of an applicant for employment as a firefighter due to a perceived disability in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. Kamala also supports President Obama’s proposal to award grants to build career centers for individuals with disabilities and his proposals to reform the workforce system through projects targeted at improving education and employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities.
QUESTION 6: Do you have a plan to enable students with disabilities, including those from historically marginalized communities and backgrounds, to receive the diagnosis, Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and accommodations/services they need to succeed in school and be prepared for competitive employment? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: Yes. Kamala Harris has been a vocal advocate for children’s rights, including young students with disabilities. As California Attorney General, she led an investigation of a California school accused of abusing children with disabilities. She also created the Bureau of Children Justice, a division of the California Department of Justice specifically aimed at cracking down on discrimination and inequities in education. In the Bureau’s first action, Attorney General Harris sent a letter to officials in all 58 counties in California outlining their legal responsibilities with regard to foster youth and urging each county to evaluate their current enforcement and oversight policies and practices. The Bureau currently has multiple active investigations related to disability rights for youth. Kamala will continue this fight in the Senate to make sure that disparities in our public education system are eliminated and that all children, including students with disabilities, receive the diagnosis, IEP, and accommodations they need. Kamala also supports President Obama’s important proposals to increase funding for the education of children with disabilities.
QUESTION 7: Do you have a plan to reform the benefits system (Medicaid, Medicaid buyin) to enable people with disabilities to work to the best of their capacities without losing supports they need to work? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: Yes. Kamala Harris supports reforms that will help persons with disabilities realize their greatest potential, including President Obama’s proposal to provide grants to fund programs to enhance employment prospects for persons with disabilities through, amongst other things, the creation of career centers specifically designed to serve persons with disabilities. In the Senate, Kamala will work with persons with disabilities to make sure these proposals become a reality.
QUESTION 8: Do you have a plan to ensure people with disabilities are eligible for affordable health insurance regardless of preexisting conditions? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: Yes. Kamala Harris supports the important progress made by the Affordable Care Act, especially the ACA’s requirement that all health insurance plans cover treatment for pre-existing conditions from the first day of coverage. Kamala will fight to ensure that pre-existing conditions are covered by health insurance and that persons with disabilities can rely on health insurance to receive the accommodations they need. In the U.S. Senate, she will continue to defend the ACA – just as she has as California’s Attorney General – and she will work to expand access to quality health care until there is universal access in America.
QUESTION 9: Do you have a plan to provide home and community-based services to people with disabilities who would rather live in their own homes instead of institutions, and have the community attendant supports they need to work? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: Yes. Kamala Harris understands the importance of having a job and supports measures that would enable persons with disabilities to have access to community based services, including assistance to get to work everyday. These community based services often cost less than institutional care and allow persons with disabilities to live more comfortably. In the Senate, Kamala Harris will work to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to affordable daily personal care they need, in addition to advocating for reforms to our labor market, including a $15 minimum wage, national paid family leave, more affordable job training and higher education access, and investment in good paying jobs.
QUESTION 10: Do you have a plan to ensure that individuals with disabilities receive services that would prevent them from being swept up into the criminal justice system, divert individuals with disabilities who are arrested to treatment options in lieu of jail where appropriate, receive needed accommodations in the criminal justice process and while incarcerated, and offer appropriate reentry support to help individuals with disabilities leaving jails and prisons reintegrate into their communities and secure jobs? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: Yes. Criminal justice reform is a key part of Kamala Harris’s platform, which includes a commitment to ensuring that prisons and jails are not used as a replacement for mental health services. Kamala also understands from her work as a prosecutor that the most effective way to stop crime is by lifting up communities and creating opportunities for young people to reach their full potential. In 2015, Attorney General Harris launched an investigation on the conditions in juvenile halls and camps overseen by the San Diego County Probation Department, a Department that has faced allegations of excessive force and use of restraints on youth made in a Disability Rights California report. She also understands that having a job is an important factor in preventing crime. In the Senate, she will fight to improve prison conditions and increase social services and occupational training for both current and former inmates, in addition to reducing income inequality on a national scale through the measures discussed in Question #9.
QUESTION 11: People with disabilities are twice as likely to be victims of crime as those without disabilities. People with disabilities also are far more likely to suffer from police violence, partially because manifestations of disability can be misunderstood as defiant behavior. Do you have a plan to address these issues? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: Yes. Kamala Harris knows from her work as a prosecutor that persons with disabilities are disproportionately likely to be victims of crime and, as a result, they need police in their communities who act fairly, impartially, and with an understanding of the various challenges that persons with disabilities live with. As California Attorney General, Kamala has taken innovative steps to improve community policing through, among other things, the creation of California’s 21st Century Policing Working Group, a diverse coalition of sheriffs, chiefs and other law enforcement leaders from across the state. She also helped create the first statewide law enforcement training on implicit bias and procedural justice certified by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training. In the Senate, Kamala will continue to seek justice for persons with disabilities who are victims of crime and she will seek community policing reforms to improve the relationship between police and the communities they’re sworn to serve, including expanding the responsible use of body-worn cameras, expanding training on crisis response, and funding more federal civil rights investigations.
QUESTION 12: Both children and adults with disabilities are more likely to be victims of rape or sexual assault. Do you have a plan to address this issue? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: Yes. Kamala Harris began her career prosecuting sexual assault cases and understands that persons with disabilities are often targets of sexual violence. As California Attorney General, she released a Model Memorandum of Understanding designed to help law enforcement agencies and institutions of higher learning improve their coordination, collaboration, and transparency in response to cases of campus sexual assault and she has championed new technology to allow California to process rape kits faster in order to clear a longstanding backlog of rape kits in state crime labs. In the Senate, Kamala will continue serving as a champion for sexual assault victims and will fight for enhanced protections for all victims of sexual assault, including persons with disabilities.
QUESTION 13: Do you have a plan for veterans with disabilities facing barriers transitioning from active duty to civilian employment? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: Yes. Kamala Harris believes that we must provide our nation’s veterans with the support they earned while wearing our nation’s military uniform. Over the years, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been plagued by scandal and budget crises, resulting in disgraceful levels of service and irresponsible delays in providing medical care and disability benefits. As California Attorney General, Kamala formed a working group to fight scams and other predatory conduct uniquely targeting service members and veterans. She also went after predatory for-profit colleges like Corinthian for their misleading ads to veterans, and has called on the VA to restore GI Bill benefits to veterans defrauded by Corinthian. In the Senate, Kamala will champion a robust VA for our veterans. She will fight to ensure that when veterans leave military service, they have the support they need to readjust to civilian life, including proper physical and mental health care, higher education and occupational training. Kamala will bring together federal, state, and local government leaders plus Veteran Service Organizations and non-profits to ensure that every veteran knows what benefits they earned and how to access those benefits, and she will work to streamline the claims and appeals process for veterans’ benefits.
QUESTION 14: Do you have a plan for accessible, affordable, integrated housing to allow people with disabilities to live in the communities where they work or are seeking work? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: Yes. Kamala Harris believes that affordable housing is one of the biggest issues facing Americans today. In 2015, Kamala filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the City of San Jose and against real estate developers’ that sought to nullify San Jose’s affordable housing ordinance. Kamala has also taken steps to aid Californians facing hardships due to foreclosures and mortgage fraud. Kamala took on the big banks winning more than $20 billion for California homeowners. She also sponsored the California Homeowner’s Bill of Rights, the nation’s strongest anti-foreclosure measures for homeowners. In the Senate, Kamala will continue to fight for affordable housing for all Americans, including persons with disabilities.
QUESTION 15: Do you have a plan to address the lack of accessible transportation options that is a barrier to work for people with disabilities? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: Yes. Kamala Harris understands that transportation can present a significant hurdle for persons with disabilities, and that across California, we have $59 billion in unmet transportation infrastructure needs. Senator Barbara Boxer has been a national leader on expanding our nation’s transportation infrastructure, and Kamala plans to continue California’s leadership in the Senate by supporting proposals to create an infrastructure bank to repair and expand our transportation infrastructure, including for persons with disabilities. Kamala also supports the important progress the Americans with Disabilities Act has made to the transportation options available for persons with disabilities.
QUESTION 16: Do you have a plan to advance innovations (i.e., assistive technologies, devices) that can help people with disabilities become more successfully employed, productive and independent? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: Yes. As Attorney General for one of the most technologically advanced states, Kamala Harris knows that technology, if used properly and inclusively, is a valuable tool for Americans with disabilities. To help persons with disabilities become more independent and successful, Kamala will support measures in the Senate to bring innovation to assistive technologies, such as communication books, iPads, and text-tovoice devices, to help persons with disabilities improve the quality of their lives and employment opportunities.
QUESTION 17: In your foreign policy and national security plan, do you plan to continue America’s tradition of standing up for the rights of oppressed people, including people with disabilities, around the world? If yes, please describe.
ANSWER: Yes. As California Attorney General, Kamala Harris has been a champion for civil rights and it is her belief that civil rights and human rights must be recognized around the world. As a civil rights leader, it is crucial that America sets an example for the rest of the world. Like Hillary Clinton, Kamala will fight to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In addition, Kamala will continue to support President Obama’s newly-created Disability Office at the Department of State, which is critical to the Administration’s efforts to develop a comprehensive strategy to promote the rights of persons with disabilities internationally.
RespectAbility has asked all the candidates for Senator on both sides of the aisle to complete the same questionnaire. We will share responses from additional campaigns as we receive them.
The RespectAbility Report is a nonpartisan political commentary on the 2016 U.S. elections with a focus on disability issues. The RespectAbility Report has covered all of the Democratic and Republican candidates for president and has begun coverage of down ballot candidates. Coverage can be found at http://therespectabilityreport.org/. The RespectAbility Report is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates.