Washington, Nov. 1 – The technology industry in the United States is growing, with 200,000 jobs added to the industry in 2015, bringing the total of U.S. tech industry workers up to 6.7 million. This growth provides ample opportunity for innovation in the field of assistive technology.
Assistive technology promotes greater independence by enabling people to perform tasks that they were formerly unable to accomplish, or had great difficulty accomplishing, by providing enhancements to, or changing methods of interacting with, the technology needed to accomplish such tasks.
The latest statistics show that at least 4.5 million Americans use assistive technology regularly in their lives. This includes assistive, adaptive and rehabilitative devices for people with disabilities from wheelchairs and hearing aids to screen readers and voice recognition software.
As part of the #PwDsVote Disability Questionnaire, the nonpartisan nonprofit disability organization RespectAbility asked candidates running forp resident, senate or governor about their plans for advancing assistive technologies for people with disabilities. Every candidate was given an equal opportunity to respond and if they are not listed, it is because they declined to answer.
The quotes in this article are the candidates’ answers to question 16 in the gubernatorial/senate questionnaire: “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?” This was adapted from a similar question, number 15, in the presidential questionnaire.
Candidates from both sides of the aisle have similar plans for innovation in the field of assistive technology. They expressed desires to increase funding for technology research, encourage partnership between the public and private sectors, and make assistive technologies more affordable for the people who need them.
“We need to both invest in research, including public-private collaboration, to develop ever more innovative devices, and ensure that people have access to these technologies through health insurance and in schools,” said Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who is a Democrat running for Senate. “In addition to being tremendously empowering for the individual, these technological advancements can save long-term costs by making individuals less dependent on supportive services.”
“We should encourage private sector companies to continually strive to improve the lives of disabled people through technological advances,” responded Maryland Del. Kathy Szeliga, a Republican running for the open Senate seat.
You can read the candidates’ full responses below:
NOTE: Donald Trump declined to respond to the survey.
Former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton (D)
“Technology provides tremendous opportunity for Americans with disabilities in all areas, and as President I intend to make sure all agencies of our government are working together for full inclusion. As one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world, it is the President’s job to make sure American innovation is mobilized to benefit each and every individual. To help persons with disabilities become more independent and successful, I will increase funding for research into advanced technologies and foster strategic partnerships with the private and non-profit sectors, as well as with the educational and scientific communities, to make sure the full force of American innovation is brought to bear on issues affecting PwDs.
For instance, my Autism Works Initiative will bring together leaders in secondary and post-secondary education as well as the private sector, and will draw on insights from social scientists and non-profit institutions, to foster new pathways to adulthood for individuals with autism so they can support themselves and build the lives they want. My plan for veterans with disabilities includes the unveiling of an innovation initiative to connect the VA with leaders in the nation’s leading businesses, universities, and non-profits to develop innovative solutions for sustainably managing the claims and appeals process. And I will launch a $7.5 billion fund to support new federal-state partnerships over 10 years through which stakeholders will come together to prevent and treat addiction.
I championed my husband’s work in distributing $3 million in grants to expand and develop universal newborn hearing, screening, and intervention programs, and I will continue to significantly increase funding so that the government can invest more in research into early diagnostic, prevention, and treatment tools for veterans with disabilities; Americans living with mental health conditions; drug and alcohol addiction; and Alzheimer’s disease, among other areas.
At the same time, I will ensure PwDs have access to assistive technologies that allow them to realize their full potential. For children and adults with autism who struggle with verbal communication, for instance, assistive technologies – including communication books, picture boards, iPads, and text-to-voice devices – can help them better communicate with others and achieve greater independence. Such medically necessary assistive technology should be accessible to all Americans through their health insurance. I will continue to push for stronger oversight and full implementation at the state-level of IDEA, as well as support similar initiatives to provide PwDs of all ages with access to assistive devices and technologies to overcome communication barriers.”
State Sen. Colin Bonini (DE-R)
“Delaware Easter Seals has a relatively new program that showcases what’s available in adaptive technology. I saw some of the most innovative programs at their event and plan on learning more.”
Rep. John Carney (DE-D)
“I share the goal of helping those with disabilities have more opportunities to successfully gain employment, and live more productive, independent lives. I am not very familiar with new assistive technology that would help Delawareans with disabilities address the challenges discussed above, but I am interested in learning more.”
Ms. Linda Coleman (NC-D) – running for Lt. Gov.
“I am a strong supporter of fostering innovation in general. In North Carolina, the Research Triangle Park is an invaluable asset to our community as a hub for innovation and advancement, which we can support with government incentives and supportive infrastructure. I plan to advance innovations in assistive technologies for people with disabilities, which will lift limitations on the disability community, by targeting incentives to encourage research to strive for advancements in engineering targeted to improve the lives of people with disabilities. As we develop new assistive technologies, we need to make them accessible to people with disabilities.”
Mr. Mike Weinholtz (UT-D)
“I feel that there are great opportunities to be gained from our world-class institutions like the University of Utah, which has been a pioneer in various medical techniques. As governor, I will work to provide greater funds for research in areas such as assistive technologies and devices to help those with disabilities live healthy and productive lives.”
Sec. Sue Minter (VT-D)
“I plan to support the creative work done by Vermont’s assistive technology division in our Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living to develop the new ideas and technologies that are needed to better serve Vermonters with disabilities.”
Lt. Gov. Phil Scott (VT-R)
“I think Vermonters are innovative by nature and I’m proud of our reputation for helping our neighbors. I would restore the Research and Development Tax Credit, which will encourage advances in technology by incentivizing outside-‐the-‐box thinking and product creation. Every employee is an important part of our workforce and I think we have the opportunity to be a national leader in these areas. My dad had a long career after losing his legs in World War II through the support of assistive technology so I know how important these advances can be for individuals and their autonomy.”
Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris (CA-D)
“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-to-voice devices, to help persons with disabilities improve the quality of their lives and employment opportunities.”
Rep. Loretta Sanchez (CA-D)
“Unfortunately, individuals with disabilities are less likely to use technology or the internet than adults without disabilities. When elected to the Senate, I will work with my colleagues to ensure that technology is accessible to individuals with disabilities, as well as promote the use of technology to aid independent living.”
Mr. John Carroll (HI-R)
“I have no plan to do so at this time, but, being hearing impaired myself, I understand the plight faced by our disabled citizens, as well as the feelings of help and relief felt by them that come with such innovation. I will be at the forefront of this advancement.”
Rep. Tammy Duckworth (IL-D)
“I support expanding the use of assistive technologies and devices that allow many people with disabilities to become more productive and independent. I voted to repeal the Medical Devices Tax and I am thrilled to see the progress our country has made in terms of accepting assistive devices. The development and improvement of these supports for people with disabilities must be a priority for innovators in private business, the technology industry, and the medical field. I will continue to fight for innovations that help people with disabilities live lives with dignity.”
Mr. Patrick Wiesner (KS-D)
“Not at this time. I know our country is wealthy enough to support the truly unfortunate. A paralyzed or brain injured person cannot make a living. Many times care costs $7,000 to $10,000 per month and very few families can afford that. Relieving families of the financial burdens of caring for the physically impaired is a proper role for our government. We should spare no effort to find meaningful employment and training for the disabled who want to work. In exchange for good work to the best of their ability, our government will ensure basic care is available for those handicapped who are in need of government help for food and shelter.”
Mr. Foster Campbell (LA-D)
“I want to work for better coordination between agencies of government to guarantee full inclusion. We have so many untapped, affordable resources at our fingertips to make sure that inclusive technologies are fully integrated into ever federal and state project, job, and program.”
Ms. Caroline Fayard (LA-D)
“I fully support research into advanced technologies and fostering strategic partnerships with the private and non-profit sectors, as well as with the educational and scientific communities, to make sure the full force of American innovation is brought to bear on issues affecting people with disabilities.”
Mr. Abhay Patel (LA-R)
“Technology and innovation are truly able to level many playing fields in our society. As someone with low vision who cannot drive, I depend on innovations in the marketplace (like Uber) to enable me to access the transportation options I need. We must foster an environment that continues to support these innovations that assist all segments of society.”
Del. Kathy Szeliga (MD-R)
“We should encourage private sector companies to continually strive to improve the lives of disabled people through technological advances.”
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (MD-D)
“Assistive technology is an exciting area that can broaden opportunities for persons with disabilities and allow them greater independence. We need to both invest in research, including public-private collaboration, to develop ever more innovative devices, and ensure that people have access to these technologies through health insurance and in schools. In addition to being tremendously empowering for the individual, these technological advancements can save long-term costs by making individuals less dependent on supportive services.”
Sec. of State Jason Kander (MO-D)
“As Senator, I would support efforts to provide assistive technologies for people with disabilities. By leveling the playing field through assistive technologies, we can help promote greater independence among those with a disability and ensure a more inclusive society. I would support incentives for companies that develop such technologies to invest in research and development and bring more new innovations to market for people with disabilities.”
Rep. Joe Heck (NV-R)
“Technological innovations have the potential to transform the lives of individuals with disabilities, allowing them to be more independent and productive members of society. I am a cosponsor of H.R. 3229, a bill to protect Complex Rehabilitation Technology and its essential components for people with significant disabilities. This bill will keep CRT affordable and accessible, improving quality of life and independence for individuals with disabilities by ensuring access to medically necessary, individually configured products such as manual and power wheelchairs, adaptive seating systems and alternative positioning systems that keep people with significant disabilities such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis (MS) and muscular dystrophy safe and healthy.”
Atty. Gen. Catherine Cortez Masto (NV-D)
“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.”
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (NH-R)
“I have cosponsored the Ensuring Access to Quality Complex Rehabilitation Technology Act, which would make important fixes to Medicare to allow individuals greater access to complex rehab technology that can help them better manage life with a disability or illness. I will continue to explore other ways to support new innovations that can help people with disabilities. Additionally, I have used my position on the Senate Armed Services Committee to repeatedly get language in the annual defense bill that improves the quality of prostheses and prosthetic sockets for our wounded warriors. Additionally, I wrote to CMS expressing concerns that a proposed rule could limit the ability of amputees to access the prosthetic devices most appropriate for their individual needs. CMS subsequently announced it would not finalize its draft rule on lower limb prostheses.”
Gov. Maggie Hassan (NH-D)
“My son Ben has used a variety of technologies to help him be mobile and communicate, so I understand the critical importance of innovations in these areas. In New Hampshire, Crotched Mountain is an umbrella organization that provides essential services for people with disabilities, including assistive technology services. Ben has received services from Crotched Mountain, and I recognize and appreciate the significance of their work in our state.
As Governor, I have worked to help support businesses in New Hampshire that advance these assistive technologies and other innovations, cutting taxes for research and development and supporting start-ups through a variety of initiatives. In the Senate, I will continue working to support innovation by expanding the federal Research & Development tax credit, supporting start-ups and investing in the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs to enable small businesses to explore and commercialize new technologies to help uncover the technologies of tomorrow. You can read more about my proposals to promote innovation in my Innovate NH 2.0 economic plan.
I also believe that we should work to ensure that insurance companies cover technologies that allow people with severe disabilities to communicate and provide federal support for research and technology in this critical area.”
Sen. Richard Burr (NC-R)
“Innovation is critical to promoting greater independence and quality of life for people with disabilities. I believe strongly that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) must be able to bring forward and provide coverage for the most cutting-edge technologies.
I have supported policies that spur innovation throughout my service in Congress. Last year, I co-authored the Innovation for Healthier Americans report to ensure that Congress focused on how we could do a better job bringing forward cutting-edge innovations for the people who need them. I introduced the Advancing Breakthrough Devices for Patients Act (S. 1077) to ensure that people with disabilities are able to benefit from cutting-edge medical technologies as soon as possible. This bipartisan legislation will encourage and spur innovation.
The public-private partnerships supported through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) also play a critical role in advancing technologies. I am proud to have led the annual, bipartisan effort in the Senate to ensure robust funding for the NIH, which includes the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, so we can improve the quality of life for people with disabilities. I have also consistently fought to protect people with disabilities’ access to innovative technologies and the care they need in the Medicare program, including complex rehab technology wheelchairs and accessories.
In addition, the ABLE Act allows ABLE accounts to be used to pay for assistive technology, personal assistance supports and durable medical equipment.”
State Rep. Deborah Ross (NC-D)
“I would support legislation to advance innovations that can help people with disabilities become more successfully employed, productive, and independent.”
Mr. Joe DeMare (OH-G)
“I intend to fully fund federal research grants that encourage the development of assistive devices. The federal government also needs to work with private industry to ensure that new technologies that are developed are then marketed and made available to persons with disabilities at an affordable cost. The cost of many assistive devices such as hearing aids will continue to be covered by the universal health care program.”
Mr. Mark Callahan (OR-R)
“I do not have a specific plan however I am supportive of investing in technologies and innovation that advances the abilities of individuals with disabilities. As my campaign manager points out, she does almost all of her work for me from home on the computer or phone. She has a laptop that has a touch screen and can be used laying down if need be. I believe there can be programs set up that allow others to perform work at home such as data entry, etc. that would require very little education and allow for people with disabilities to work. I know that mobility equipment such as motorized wheelchairs are very expensive and bulky and that research should be invested in making them more affordable and agile. I am aware of robotics as well that can actually assist people to live, cook, and do a number of things. Currently most of these are being created for military purposes however I believe there should be research and development dedicated to using this technology to better the lives of the disabled and handicap. In doing so we would be able to bring forth a future that would allow for the disabled to apply themselves in almost every area they could imagine.”
Mrs. Katie McGinty (PA-D)
“I strongly believe in the innovative spirit of Americans and think that Congress and the federal government broadly should be doing all it can to encourage technological advancements that improve the daily lives of people across the U.S. We should increase our investments in advanced technologies while also encouraging smart partnerships between the private sector, non-profits and disability community to promote innovations.”
Mr. Jay Williams (SD-D)
“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.”
Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (WI-D)
“I believe that our government must do more to invest in developing new and innovative assistive technologies that help people with disabilities. One area where this happens is university research. Funding cuts to universities don’t just harm students, they also affect the many people who might benefit from the new technologies that universities incubate.
Assistive technologies must also be affordable and accessible to people with disabilities. If, for example, an insurer will only cover a manual wheelchair for a person who needs a power wheelchair in order to thrive independently, then the benefits of technology are not being fully realized.”
RespectAbility has asked all the candidates for Governor and 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, senate and governor. Coverage can be found at https://therespectabilityreport.org/. The RespectAbility Report is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates.