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Cortez Masto, First Latina Woman in Senate, Pledges to Fight for Equal Rights for People with Disabilities

Washington, Nov. 8 – Former Democrat Atty. Gen. Catherine Cortez Masto beat three-term Republican Rep. Joe Heck in a close race to fill the seat of Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic minority leader, who is retiring after three decades in the Senate. She will be the first Latina woman to be in the U.S. Senate.

Cortez Masto completed the #PwDsVote Disability Questionnaire for presidential, senate and gubernatorial candidates put out by RespectAbility, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to end stigmas and advance opportunities for people with disabilities. Heck also responded to the questionnaire.

In her response to the disability questionnaire, Cortez Masto emphasized the need to reduce stigma due to the damage it causes to individuals.

“Too often people with disabilities carry these prejudices when applying for employment or housing,” she responded in the questionnaire. “I have always fought for workers’ rights, and fair and equal employment opportunities – and fighting for fair and equitable treatment for people with disabilities is no exception. I support legislation that would prohibit employers from paying workers with disabilities less than their counterparts, and I oppose legislation that discriminates against applicants.”

Nevada has 357,035 citizens with disabilities. Currently 40.9 percent of working-age Nevadans with disabilities are employed compared to 74 percent of those without disabilities. Nevada is a leader in disability employment, as the gap between the employment of people with and without disabilities currently stands at 33.4 percent, the second lowest in the nation only behind North Dakota. There are 201,717 Nevadans with disabilities who are between the ages of 18-64. Additionally, there are 8,200 Nevadans ages 16-20 with disabilities. More than 42,000 Nevada students have individual education plans (IEPs).

There are 56 million people with disabilities (one in five Americans), more than 35 million of whom are eligible voters (one-sixth of the electorate). A new poll showed that half of voters either have a disability or a loved one with a disability. The poll also showed that voters were more likely to support candidates who prioritize ensuring that children with disabilities get the education and training they need to succeed as well expanding job and career opportunities for people with disabilities.

RespectAbility reached out to candidates for president, governor and U.S. Senate – requesting them to complete the #PwDsVote disability questionnaire on multiple disability topics ranging from employment, education, violence and abuse, criminal justice, healthcare and more.

On the presidential level, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton filled out the full questionnaire. Despite numerous requests in person and by phone and email, Mr. Trump did not.

Forty down ballot candidates, including 26 for Senate and 11 for governor, from both sides of the aisle (25 Democrats, 14 Republicans, 1 Green Party) responded, showing that disability rights is a nonpartisan issue. The responses also were geographically diverse, coming from states all around the country as politicians are paying more and more attention to the disability community.

View Cortez Masto’s response to the questionnaire below:

QUESTION 1: Do you have designated advisors and clear processes for making decisions on disability issues? If yes, please describe.

ANSWER: Yes. As Nevada’s Attorney General and chief law enforcement officer, I have been an advocate for the disabled for years. In both my elected capacity and as a candidate for U.S. Senate, I seek advice from a wide array of people on a variety of issues. I take great pride in my time spent talking to Nevadans and community leaders who are working at the grassroots level to understand the challenges the disability community faces. As a U.S. Senator, I will continue this work in advocating for the disability community, and it is paramount that policy experts and people living with disabilities are a big part of that work.


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

ANSWER: Yes, I take pride in ensuring that my campaign is accessible and inclusive of all people, including 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: Yes, I am very proud of the work I have done throughout my career in public service as a prosecutor, to fight for protections for consumers, the elderly, and our most vulnerable. I understand that the disabled can be a target for scam artists and criminals. I worked with many advocates in Nevada on domestic violence prevention and senior protection-establishing units in the Attorney General’s office to prevent domestic violence and fight the scam artists that target our most vulnerable.


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. I recognize the damaging effect stigmas have on people’s emotional and physical wellbeing. Too often people with disabilities carry these prejudices when applying for employment or housing. I have always fought for workers’ rights, and fair and equal employment opportunities – and fighting for fair and equitable treatment for people with disabilities is no exception. I support legislation that would prohibit employers from paying workers with disabilities less than their counterparts, and I oppose legislation that discriminates against applicants.


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, during my campaign I have publicly supported a number of proposals aimed at leveling the playing field for small business owners, particularly those underserved entrepreneurs who are looking for more opportunities to access capital and professional business development – specifically fair funding for Small Business Development Centers and Women Business Centers. I support greater access to workforce training and apprenticeship programs in community colleges, high schools and vocational schools aimed at training our workforce for 21st century jobs. I would encourage participation from youth with disabilities to train for careers in these fields.


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, I believe that all of our students deserve access to a world-class education, and that starts with adequate funding of our public school system. Every student should have an equal opportunity to succeed in the classroom, but I am very concerned with reports that many students with disabilities, particularly minorities and new immigrants, are often overlooked and do not receive the services they need to be successful. As a U.S. Senator, I will work on the federal level to support proposals that address the special needs of students with disabilities – like the Every Student Succeeds Act that provides for improved assessments and disability screenings for students during enrollment.


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 support the right of people with disabilities to work, should they choose, and in the Senate I will continue to be an advocate for those rights.


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. I support the changes under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that ensure individuals are no longer discriminated against or denied coverage based on a preexisting condition. The ACA was an important first step in curbing the worst abuses in the insurance industry, but I do believe that there are ways to improve it, included repealing the Cadillac Tax.


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, in the U.S. Senate I will support proposals that support and expand home and community-based care across all disability populations.


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, as Nevada’s former Attorney General, I believe in a tough, fair, and efficient criminal justice system that is designed to keep our communities safe. As a U.S. Senator, I will continue to advocate for an effective criminal justice system that appropriately accommodates our disabled population, treating them with respect and understanding.


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. On the federal level, we need to work with state and local law enforcement to ensure that everyone in our nation-no matter their race, creed, sexual orientation, immigration status, or disability status-have faith and trust in law enforcement. We need to work with these agencies to continue to support their work reaching out to different communities to develop engagement plans for disabled populations.


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. Sexual assault, and crimes committed against our most vulnerable, cannot and will not be tolerated. One of my proudest moments as Attorney General was watching Governor Sandoval sign into law landmark legislation I sponsored to combat sex trafficking. Working with people and groups across this state, we helped survivors find the courage to come forward and stand up to the human traffickers. We expanded the sex offender registry and gave victims the right to sue their captors. We made sex trafficking a felony. And most importantly, we gave survivors a path to a new beginning. As a U.S. Senator, I will be proud to continue to be an advocate for victims of sexual assault, securing protections for victims, including members of our disabled community and those most vulnerable.


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, as Attorney General, I worked with Holly Petraeus to raise awareness about predatory lending practices and scam artists targeting our troops. In Reno, I heard stories from veterans suffering from traumatic brain injuries and PTSD who had been persuaded to sign up for college classes, and didn’t even remember doing so. That didn’t stop the for-profit colleges from pressing them for full payment, even though they were not regularly attending classes. I took on the for-profit colleges that tried to use veterans to enrich themselves and joined 20 other Attorneys General to recover $2.5 million that had been stolen from our veterans. But I didn’t stop there. I joined with 12 other Attorneys General and pushed the federal government to close the loopholes in the Military Lending Act that allowed predatory lending against our veterans. As a U.S. Senator, I will continue protecting our veterans from scam artists and predators as they transition from active duty to civilian employment.


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, people with disabilities deserve access to affordable, safe, and clean housing that provides easy access from work to home. I am committed to eliminating discrimination in housing and I will work in the Senate to end discrimination and ensure people with disabilities can live in the communities where they work.


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, I support exploring a 21st century funding solution to America’s 21st century infrastructure needs – including funding new technology and engineering advances to update our transportation to be more accessible and inclusive to people 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 a U.S. Senator, I would support research and development funding to advance assistive technology, mobility devices and other supports that enable many individuals to mitigate limitations.


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, in the Senate I plan to continue my advocacy work for the rights of our most vulnerable and oppressed people around the world, including the rights of people with disabilities. I will continue to fight for the human rights of all peoples, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in international advocacy to develop effective policy to protect people with disabilities around the world.


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, senate and governor. Coverage can be found at http://therespectabilityreport.org/. The RespectAbility Report is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates.

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