Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Nov. 24 – Earlier this month, seven presidential campaigns made history together as they participated in a Democratic Party forum, Accessibility for All, focused on issues affecting people with disabilities. This is the first time this campaign season that a forum was held specifically on this topic.
The forum was moderated by Catherine Crist, the chair of the Iowa Democratic Party Disability Caucus, and by Cindy Hanawalt, MD PhD, Immediate Past President of the Linn County Medical Society. Hanawalt’s questions focused more on health care, while Crist’s questions focused on employment, education and other disability rights issues. Six candidates participated in the Forum themselves: Sen. Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Rep. John Delaney, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and businessman Andrew Yang. Additionally, former Sen. Chris Dodd spoke on behalf of Vice President Joe Biden. Sen. Tom Harkin, who was a principal author of the American with Disabilities Act of 1990, also delivered a keynote address.
The questions were generated by Iowans with disabilities. There were approximately 100 people in the audience at the Forum, with some audience members coming and going throughout the day.
Consensus on Education, Minimum Wage and Expanding Housing and Employment Opportunities
The candidates all touched on some of the same issues and were largely in agreement on most of them. All candidates argued for fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) at 40 percent, with the exception of Sen. Sanders who argued for increasing the federal commitment to 50 percent funding. IDEA, which covers educational funding for children with disabilities from birth through high school graduation or age 21, whichever comes first, has yet to be fully funded by the federal government since it was first passed in 1975.
All candidates pledged to eliminate 14C and sub-minimum wage programs that allow people with disabilities to be be legally paid as low as a dollar an hour. All candidates also discussed expanding housing and employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
Candidates Disagree on Health Care Options
The topic of health care led to some of the more notable disagreements between the candidates. Most of the candidates advocated for some form of a Public Option. Rep. Delaney said that he wants to guarantee a basic level of coverage for everyone and allow supplemental private insurance plans to be offered. Mayor Buttigieg argued that his “Medicare for All Who Want It” plan would eventually lead to single-payer Medicare for All if the plan is good enough and private insurance companies cannot compete.
Sen. Sanders was the exception to the general consensus on health care, advocating for a faster transition to a single-payer Medicare for All system. He received a bit of pushback from Hanawalt, who was worried about the reimbursement rates under Medicare for All being too low. Sen. Sanders responded by saying that under Medicare for All, Hanawalt and other doctors would be able to focus more on caring for patients than dealing with paperwork for insurance companies.
Much attention was paid to the challenges that people who live in rural areas have with accessing health care. There was discussion about the lack of caregivers living in rural areas. “We can’t provide care if we don’t have the resources to provide that care,” Crist said. Rep. Delaney and Sen. Harkin called for telehealth care needs to be more widely available, arguing for expanding broadband access. Rep. Delaney said we have a basic right to high speed communication in 2019, and that funding it “would pay for itself twenty times over.”
In-home care was another big topic of discussion. Sen. Sanders said that his Medicare for All plan would include in-home care, asking the audience if they thought it was a good idea for people with disabilities to be placed in group homes or institutions without their consent. This is an important topic in the disability community, with individuals wanting the option to remain in the community and not be forced to relocate to a nursing home or another institution to receive the medical care they need to survive.
Several of the candidates touched on their personal connections to the disability community. Rep. Delaney told a story about his grandfather who had one arm only getting into America because the judge had one just arm as well. Sen. Klobuchar talked about how her daughter was born with issues swallowing. Yang talked about his son, who is on the autism spectrum, and how he was relieved when his son was diagnosed as he then had strategies he could use that would be effective.
Catherine Crist wrapped up the Forum by thanking the candidates, the press, the interpreters, the hosting hotel, and the audience. She argued that the large audience in the room was proof that candidates should be addressing disability issues more often. Hopefully the remaining candidates will take this message to heart.
RespectAbility is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities so that people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of their communities. RespectAbility does not rate or endorse candidates. View more coverage of 2020 presidential candidates.