Washington, April 13 – While Sen. Bernie Sanders has signed on as a cosponsor of the Disability Integration Act (DIA) and Secretary Hillary Clinton released an official statement on her website announcing support of the bill, none of the Republican candidates for president have stated if they support the bill.
The DIA would ensure that people in need of long-term services and supports such as personal care attendants can receive these services while living at home or in the community instead of in an institutionalized setting if they wish to do so.
New York-based Center for Disability Rights and Rochester ADAPT are leading the most recent outreach to all of the presidential candidates seeking their announcement of support for DIA. When advocate Michelle Fridley and her colleagues arrived in Greece, New York, hours before the doors were set to open at Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s town hall on Saturday, they were planning to ask the Republican presidential candidate to speak on the record about DIA during his town hall.
When they did not think they would be called on to ask a question, they began chanting “Disability Integration Act Now!” and later “Free our people!”
While Kasich did not answer if he supports the DIA, he did respond – though not as fully as many would like.
“We have worked aggressively to get people out of these institutions and in the community, and in the course of doing that, by the way, you get criticized,” Kasich said.
Currently coverage of personal care attendant services outside of an institution like a nursing home is available only through Medicaid waivers, and many states like Ohio have extensive waiting lists. This is a barrier to employment for many individuals with disabilities who lose Medicaid services that provide these and other home and community based services if they choose to work. Other people with disabilities who are not eligible for Medicaid are unable to work to begin with due to lack of personal care attendant coverage through private insurance or Medicare. In 2014, of the 7,224,420 individuals with independent living disabilities aged 18 to 64 years living in the community, just 1,146,316 individuals were employed – that is only 15.9 percent.
Fridley and her colleagues continued to yell out during Kasich’s town hall, pressing him to answer the question directly. As protocol dictates, police officers present at the event approached the group.
— Stephanie Woodward (@IStepFunny) April 9, 2016
The Ohio governor has come under fire recently for the institutionalizing people with disabilities in his state. This situation only exacerbated that struggle with the disability community. Of the 5,800 individuals living in institutions, 2,500 are on a wait list for a Medicaid waiver to receive services at home – a waitlist due to limited state funding.
Studies have shown that it is more cost effective for people to live at home with proper services than to live in institutionalized settings such as nursing homes where people with disabilities can no longer participate and contribute to society by working and paying taxes.
After he finished his town hall, Kasich spoke with the disability activists who were in attendance. He told them that he felt their concerns and wanted his staff to be in contact with them for appropriate follow-up.
“I want you to have a good life, not a life where you’ve got to be treated as a third or fourth class citizen,” Kasich said before taking a photo with them.
He also told local reporters, “These are folks who have lived in the shadows for a very long time and the fact that they feel strongly and they have passion, I respect it. They weren’t here just to act up. They have deep concerns and I share them.”
Just one day earlier, Kasich’s campaign responded to a letter asking if he supports the DIA saying he does not comment on legislation.
While Fridley and her colleagues had arrived early and were in the front of the line, they were seated in an ADA section that was located in the back of their room with their views obstructed by people standing in front of them.
Historically Kasich’s events have been one of the most accessible of the presidential candidates. RespectAbility had teams of people on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire attending all of the candidates’ events on both sides of the aisle. RespectAbility’s Ben Spangenberg spent a month in the early primary states.
“Kasich and his staff were always warm and inviting and made sure that I was seated up front,” Spangenberg said. “I often had the opportunity to ask one of the first questions. At his New Hampshire election night event, for example, Kasich’s staff went out of their way to ensure my husband, who also is a wheelchair user, and I were right up front on the rope line.”
“However, it is unacceptable for any candidate to have an ADA section in the back behind people standing and blocking the views of individuals in wheelchairs,” Spangenberg continued. “I’m hopeful this was a single mistake by a member of the advance team and Kasich’s national team will ensure that all ADA sections will be properly placed in the future.”
In a CNN interview Monday night, Fridley said she felt “very discriminated against.”
“He put us in a place where we couldn’t be seen or heard from,” Fridley continued. “We had to make our voices heard. We want to know, does he support the Disability Integration Act. We want to know that from all the candidates.”
The DIA, which would allow people with disabilities needing help with everyday tasks who previously have been forced into institutions to instead live in their homes in the community with appropriate aid, is supported and advocated for by many disability rights groups – from ADAPT to the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), Autistic Self Advocacy Network to the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL), and many others. Although disability advocates have reached out to all of the presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle, none of the Republican presidential candidate has yet to voice support of the DIA.
Additional reporting by RespectAbility’s Lauren Appelbaum, Ben Spangenberg and James Trout.