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South Dakota’s Jay Williams Completes #PwDsVote Senate Campaign Questionnaire

Headshot of Jay Williams
Jay Williams

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 Jay Williams, who is challenging incumbent Sen. John Thune for the U.S. Senate seat representing South Dakota, 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.

South Dakota ranks first in the nation for employment of people with disabilities as more than half the working-age people with disabilities (50.1 percent) in South Dakota have a job. Indeed, individuals with disabilities in South Dakota are TWICE as likely to be working as those in the worst performing state of West Virginia where only 25.6 percent have jobs. Rounding out the top five states in terms of best outcomes are North Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska and Wyoming.

There are 108,112 people with a disability living in South Dakota, 47,700 of whom are of working age (between the ages of 21 and 64). The 4,000 youth with disabilities between the ages of 16 and 20 living in South Dakota have increasing chances to successfully transition into the world of work. South Dakota’s voters 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.

South Dakota’s 50.1 percent labor force participation rate (LFPR) for people with disabilities is the highest in the United States, and well above the national average of 30 percent. South Dakota should be proud of this achievement, as it serves as a role model for all other states aiming to increase employment rates for people with disabilities. View the rankings of all 50 states and compare.

Despite having the highest employment rate for people with disabilities in the United States, South Dakota allegedly unnecessarily relies on nursing facilities to provide services to people with disabilities. In a recent investigation, the Justice Department found that thousands of South Dakotans who rely on the state for necessary services must live in nursing facilities to receive aid, all while being isolated from their communities. This practice is in violation of the community integration mandate of both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the ruling of Olmstead v. L.C., which require states to make services available to people with disabilities in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs, regardless of age or type of disability. South Dakota’s sparse and majority rural populations make the distribution and access of health services difficult. Following the leadership of Gov. Dennis Daugaard and the success of people with disabilities in employment, South Dakota has the potential over time to improve on community integration. The state also can become a role model and agent of change in creating solutions to this national issue.

RespectAbility also sent the questionnaire to the campaign of incumbent Sen. John Thune. We will post Thune’s response when we receive it.

We are presenting Williams’ 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: Although I do not have a designated advisor on disability issues, I am committed to ensuring people with disabilities are not subject to unfair discrimination. Because I have direct experience with disabled family members, I am sensitive to the issues people with disabilities face on a daily basis.


QUESTION 2: Is your campaign accessible and inclusive to people with disabilities? If yes, please describe.

ANSWER: I strive to ensure campaign events are accessible to people with disabilities but I do not have mechanisms in place on my online presence to ensure people with disabilities can access them. My campaign has very limited resources, but if elected I will ensure all of my official online information will be accessible to people with disabilities.


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: I serve on my local community mental health board where we provide services to severely persistently mentally ill people in southeastern South Dakota. I have served on this board for over 20 years and during that time we have expanded our services to include two housing facilities for people suffering form mental health disabilities and we have expanded our outreach facilities to several communities in our local area.


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: I strongly support efforts to eliminate institutional barriers to people with disabilities. I believe that people with disabilities must be given the opportunity to participate and succeed in our country. This includes a commitment to remove physical obstacles and to eliminate discrimination to 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: Beyond my efforts as a member of our community mental health center’s board, I have no track record on improving the situation for people with disabilities. I do support these efforts and if elected I promise to do whatever I can to ensure people with disabilities have opportunities to participate in the American dream just as all citizens do. Discrimination in any form is contrary to the American spirit and I am committed to do whatever I can to eliminate discrimination wherever I encounter it.


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: As a former school board member in my home community, I saw the IEP programs in our local school district being used with students with disabilities. I have a nephew who is deaf, and he was educated at the South Dakota School for the Deaf for a short time before he was returned to our local school district and educated in our own school system using an assigned deaf interpreter. This young man had an IEP that was used to plan and track his high school education. He ended his high school career as one of the students who delivered a commencement address at his graduation, assisted by his brother. His example provides me with an understanding of the value of these programs and if elected I will do everything I can to encourage and support these programs for disabled students.


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: I do not have a specific plan to reform Medicaid, but I fully support the Affordable Care Act and I am in favor of extending and expanding health care coverage for all Americans. The Americans with Disabilities Act is an important tool for ensuring people with disabilities are able to be successful in the work force.


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: I fully support the Affordable Care Act. Calls to repeal the ACA are, in my opinion, contrary to the best interest of the United States. After more than 50 years of trying to put a national health care plan in place, the ACA finally put the USA in alignment with all of the other countries in the western world. The ACA is a beginning, and I believe there are many ways in which it can and should be improved. Ensuring people with disabilities are fully supported is just one of the improvements that I support.


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: Once again, I do not have a specific plan, but I do support the idea of providing services to people with disabilities to allow them to live and work in dignity.


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: As with nearly all of these questions, I do not have specific plans in place for disabled people. As a U.S. Navy veteran with service in Vietnam, I have friends who suffer from service related disabilities including one who has a 100% disability from PTSD. This person was incarcerated for criminal activity that in my opinion was directly related to his disability. Compassionate treatment that recognized his disability and the trauma he endured that caused this disability could have helped him, but it was unavailable. I am committed to working to help those with disabilities, especially when they face criminal prosecution.


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: I have no specific plans in place to deal with specific issues of the disabled. I understand the need to help those with disabilities and I pledge to work to address these issues if elected.


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: I have no specific plans in place to deal with specific issues of the disabled. I understand the need to help those with disabilities and I pledge to work to address these issues if elected.


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: I have no specific plans in place to deal with specific issues of the disabled. I understand the need to help those with disabilities and I pledge to work to address these issues if elected. As a veteran myself, I am aware of the issues facing veterans especially when dealing with PTSD and I am committed to working to see these veterans receive the assistance they need and deserve.


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: I have no specific plans in place to deal with specific issues of the disabled. I understand the need to help those with disabilities and I pledge to work to address these issues if elected.


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: I have no specific plans in place to deal with specific issues of the disabled. I understand the need to help those with disabilities and I pledge to work to address these issues if elected.


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: I have no specific plans in place to deal with specific issues of the disabled. I understand the need to help those with disabilities and I pledge to work to address these issues if elected.


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: I have no specific plans in place to deal with specific issues of the disabled. I understand the need to help those with disabilities and I pledge to work to address these issues if elected. Although it is the duty of a U.S. Senator to monitor and evaluate the foreign policy of the USA, it is specifically the duty of the Administrative branch of the government to create and implement foreign policy and national security plans.


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.

Published in#PwDsVote 2016 QuestionnaireDemocratsSenate

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