Columbus, Ohio, Oct. 25 – With 64.2 percent of Ohio’s 851,743 working-age people with disabilities out of work, incumbent Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown has issued an official response to a questionnaire by the disabilities advocacy group RespectAbility, outlining his views on training and hiring people with disabilities.
In responses to 10 questions submitted by the organization, Brown noted that he is the co-sponsor of two pieces of legislation that he said are “focused on improving career and job opportunities for individuals with disabilities,” The Disability Employment Incentive Act and the Disabled Access Credit Expansion Act.
“Both bills would enhance tax credits that help support employers who hire individuals with disabilities and make workplaces more accessible to employees with disabilities,” Brown said.
The legislation, he asserted, will “strengthen programs designed to support employers and employees in ways individuals with disabilities can learn about their rights and facilities can become ADA-compliant.”
“First and foremost,” he said, “I am dedicated to protecting programs like SSDI, Medicaid, Medicare, and other federal programs that help support individuals with disabilities. Many of these programs have come under attack in recent years and I am committed to protecting and improving these programs for individuals with disabilities.”
“Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life,” said RespectAbility’s President, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi. “People with disabilities deserve equal opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence just like anyone else.”
RespectAbility also reached out repeatedly to Brown’s opponent, Republican challenger Jim Renacci, but received no response to the questionnaire from him, according to Mizrahi.
The full text of RespectAbility’s questions and Sen. Brown’s responses follows:
Answer: First and foremost, I am dedicated to protecting programs like SSDI, Medicaid, Medicare, and other federal programs that help support individuals with disabilities. Many of these programs have come under attack in recent years and I am committed to protecting and improving these programs for individuals with disabilities. I am also supportive of efforts to increase choice and options available to individuals with disabilities. I’ve worked to increase the number of home and community based options for those individuals who choose to live and work in their community without limiting quality options for those who choose otherwise. In addition, I’m supportive of increasing support for direct service providers and home health aides, who help individuals with disabilities access greater independence.
Question 2: What is your record on improving the lives of people with disabilities, specifically in enabling people with disabilities to have jobs, careers or start their own businesses?
Answer: I am currently a cosponsor of two pieces of legislation that are focused on improving career and job opportunities for individuals with disabilities: The Disability Employment Incentive Act and the Disabled Access Credit Expansion Act. Both bills would enhance tax credits that help support employers who hire individuals with disabilities and make workplaces more accessible to employees with disabilities, as well as strengthen programs designed to support employers and employees in ways individuals with disabilities can learn about their rights and facilities can become ADA-compliant.
In my office, I have a disability advisor who works closely with disability advocacy organizations in Ohio and in Washington, DC to advance policy priorities for the disability community.
Question 3: Do you have specific strategies for youth employment for people with disabilities? For example, what are your thoughts on apprenticeships for youth with disabilities?
Answer: While I have not proposed specific strategies for youth employment, I’m supportive of many programs and initiatives that employee people with disabilities, including young people, such as those I mentioned in the previous question. I am interested in learning more about programs in Ohio that provide apprenticeship opportunities for youth with disabilities and understanding the role the federal government can play in improving these types of options.
Question 4: The jobs of the future will largely require post-secondary education. However, on average only 65 percent of students with disabilities complete high school and only seven percent complete college. What policies do you support to enable students with disabilities, including those from historically marginalized communities and backgrounds, to receive the diagnosis, Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 plan and accommodations /services they need to succeed in school and be prepared for competitive employment?
Answer: I am supportive of policies to strengthen resources for kids with disabilities and ensure an IEP isn’t just a piece of paper, but that schools have the resources to provide the individualized attention and education these children deserve. I enjoy meeting with Ohio students that attend Gallaudet in Washington, D.C. to hear about their experiences and the difference that universities like Gallaudet can make in their lives – as well as ways I can help them and others complete post-secondary education.
Question 5: Today there are more than 750,000 people with disabilities behind bars in our nation. Most of them are functionally illiterate and 95 percent of them will eventually be released. What are your views to ensure that individuals with disabilities who are incarcerated gain the skills and mental health supports that will enable them to be successful when they leave incarceration?
Answer: I am supportive of ensuring individuals with disabilities who are incarcerated gain the skills and mental health supports that will enable them to be successful post-incarceration. We should be ensuring better care for our prison population and ensuring folks have the supports in place to transition back to the community upon reentry.
Question 7: How would you ensure that people with disabilities have access to healthcare and the benefits they need while enabling them with opportunities to work to the best of their capacities without losing the supports they need to live?
Answer: Our system of supports for individuals with disabilities is strong, but fragmented. There is much more we can do to ensure individuals who choose to work don’t lose access to the healthcare and financial support they need to stay healthy and independent. One action I was proud to support in recent years was the creation of the ABLE Account. There is more we can do to ensure people with disabilities retain access to healthcare and the benefits they need while enabling them with opportunities to work to the best of their capacities without losing the supports they need to live, and I am dedicated to furthering these policy goals.
Question 8: What are your thoughts on ensuring that people with disabilities have the option to live in their homes instead of institutions and still have the community attendant supports they need to live?
Answer:I am in favor of supporting the choice of every individual with a disability – if an individual wants to live in their home or community based setting they should have the capacity to do so without jumping through hoops or waiting for years on a waiting list to get an HCBS waiver. Likewise, if an individual prefers a group home or needs institutional-based care, those options should remain available for individuals based on their choice.
Question 9: How would you advance innovations (i.e., assistive technologies, devices) that can help people with disabilities become more successfully employed, productive and independent?
Answer: I am supportive of ensuring individuals have access to the newest technologies and devices that help individuals with disabilities live more independently and comfortably. I worked with colleagues several times to urge CMS, the entity in charge of making coverage determinations under Medicare and Medicaid, to ensure coverage of assistive technologies, such as complex rehab equipment and voice generating devices.
Question 10: Are your office, website and events accessible to people with disabilities? If yes, please describe.
Answer: Yes, my offices are handicap-accessible and I aim to accommodate people with disabilities in a variety of ways, such as holding events in ADA complaint venues and including braille on my business cards.
RespectAbility is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities for people with disabilities. RespectAbility does not rate or endorse candidates. You can see more candidate responses at https://therespectabilityreport.org/category/pwdsvote-2018-questionnaire/. To learn more about the organization, visit our website at www.respectability.org.