Los Angeles, California, Oct. 21 – Responding today to a questionnaire by the disability advocacy group RespectAbility, Baron Bruno, who is running for Senate District 26, outlined his views on education, employment and stigma for the 987,522 people with disabilities in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area. That includes people who are blind or deaf or have other visible conditions such as spinal cord injuries, as well as people with invisible disabilities including learning disabilities, mental health or Autism.
According to a recent survey, 74 percent of likely voters have a disability themselves or have a family member or a close friend with disabilities. The upcoming elections and their results will have an impact on people with disabilities, so it is important to become familiar with the candidates’ thoughts on certain issues.
“Candidates for office ignore the disability community at their peril,” said former U.S. Representative and Dallas Mayor Steve Bartlett. Bartlett, who was a primary author of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, is the chairman of RespectAbility.
RespectAbility reached out to Bruno’s opponent, incumbent Ben Allen, as well, but received no response, according to the organization’s President, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi.
RespectAbility is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates. The questionnaire is purely for educational purposes.
The full text of RespectAbility’s questions and Bruno’s replies follows:
QUESTION 1: EDUCATION AND SKILLS: There are more than 183,000 students with disabilities enrolled in Los Angeles County public schools. Of that number, 126,000 are Latinx students with disabilities who face additional barriers such as language differences, inadequate resources, economic disparities and racial discrimination. What will you do to ensure that more and more students with disabilities of all backgrounds receive the skills, resources and opportunities they need to succeed?
ANSWER: Well, there are federal and state laws that have had some very positive impact, like the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Students with various disabilities should have the specialized care, facilities and resources needed to compete fairly with other “normal” students.
My twin brother, Brock, is mentally handicapped. He lives in a group home that is NOT sanctioned by the State of California, as is a tremendous success….in my belief, because it is run PRIVATELY without government incompetence, interference, and over-regulation. (Glennwood Housing, in Laguna Beach, CA should be a model for additional live-work facilities for “special needs” children and adults).
Parents and local school boards and administrators know what’s best, and decisions should be made at the LOCAL level without a blanket decision or solution. Not all “special” disability needs are the same, and each person should be treated with respect!
QUESTION 2: JOBS AND INDEPENDENCE: There are 452,879 working-age people with disabilities in Los Angeles County and only 163,363 have jobs. In other parts of the United States, there was a 4-fold increase in new jobs for people with disabilities. Last year, more than 10,000 working-age people with disabilities in Los Angeles left the workforce. What is your plan to support more job opportunities for people with disabilities across Los Angeles County?
ANSWER: Speaking from personal experience, I know it was challenging for my twin brother, Brock (mentally handicapped, but “highly functioning”) to find work. The big problem is that state, local and federal agencies who are supposed to support people with disabilities do NOT work well together!
Great example: my brother would LOVE to work, but if he earns any money, then he would have to forfeit his SSI benefits (amongst perhaps even more direly needed support and funding). This is absolutely UNACCEPTABLE!
Businesses should be ENCOURAGED (and possibly financially incentivized if absolutely necessary) to train, hire, AND promote people with disabilities. “Mainstreaming” people with special needs and/or challenges helps bring about unity, empathy and humility in the workplace, and usually leads to a more positive, productive and happy workplace for EVERYONE involved.
QUESTION 3: FIGHTING PREJUDICE: Media representation of minority communities is crucial to reducing discrimination, bias and stigma in our broad culture. What will you do to leverage the power of Hollywood to fight stigmas and empower Los Angelenos with disabilities to work in entertainment, just like anyone else?
ANSWER: As a public or private citizen, I can’t FORCE a Hollywood celebrity, or ANYONE for that matter to do something they do NOT want to do. I can, however, set a good example, and encourage better behavior, financial contributions, public outreach, and other means of “celebrities” and those in the top 1% to contribute more to their local communities and those with disabilities. Educating the public and informing them on what should be done, and what solutions, resources, and financial contributions are needed, will improve our schools, communities, and overall well-being and results for those in need.
I also think public/private partnerships can make a HUGE difference. Showcasing positive success stories (at the individual and corporate level) will help address future concerns/issues, and help us make the progress we all want.
QUESTION 4: CIVIC ENGAGEMENT & EQUITY: People most directly affected by issues such as education, jobs, prejudice, homelessness, criminal justice, poverty and other issues deserves to have their voice, insights and experiences respected and utilized in finding and implementing solutions. People with disabilities are disproportionally impacted by these issues. As a public official, what will you do to ensure that Los Angelenos with disabilities have “a seat at the table” for all major issues and can be part of solutions so that they and all others can have a better future?
ANSWER: Non-profits and support groups need to do a better job getting in front of their elected officials, and DEMAND the resources, finances and changes needed. Too many career politicians spend far too much time on their re-election campaigns, and supporting the priorities of their big donors, unions, lobbyists and special interest groups, while neglecting the very constituents (voters) in their districts who are demanding help.
Once elected, I plan to have regular meetings in each of the communities and cities that I represent, holding open-forums to discuss the needs of the people I represent. This is what public-servants used to do & should be doing more of…..listening to and meeting with THE PEOPLE. By doing so, elected officials can draft up legislation that will address the concerns/issues brought up at these meetings, so that all parties can be positively effected with legislation, rules, regulations or lessening restrictions in order to maximize results and happy outcomes.