DISABILITY ISSUE QUESTIONS FROM THE AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
What are your top three accomplishments on behalf of people with disabilities in your career to date as an elected official?
My New Freedom Initiative builds on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to enhance opportunities for the 54 million Americans with disabilities. Many specific programs in the New Freedom Initiative benefit Americans with disabilities, including three that I believe are particularly noteworthy: the transportation, community life, and health care provisions.
I have proposed $884 million over six years to remove transportation barriers still faced by individuals with disabilities. Further, my Administration has completed the regulation process for installing platform lifts on public transportation and worked with the States to sponsor "United We Ride," a five-part initiative to help States and communities coordinate human service transportation for older Americans, and people with disabilities.
To enhance community life for people with disabilities, I issued an Executive Order calling for swift implementation of the Supreme Court's Olmstead decision to expand community-based services and community living choices for individuals with disabilities regardless of age. Ten agencies submitted the first report agency efforts to meet the order, identifying barriers to full community integration that exist in Federal programs and proposing more than 400 solutions for removing these barriers. The report sets forth a summary of the actions that Federal agencies propose to take in several key areas such as health care structure and financing, employment, housing, education, and personal assistance services. As a result, the Department of Health and Human Services has awarded nearly $158 million for the "Real Choice Systems Change Grants for Community Living" - a program that will help states and territories enable people with disabilities to reside in their homes if they wish.
My budget proposes an increase of $2.2 billion over the next five years for the Department of Health and Human Services to fund demonstration projects that promote community-based services for people with disabilities. The Help America Vote Act includes $10 million to improve access to voting for people with disabilities and $5 million for protection and advocacy programs on behalf of people with disabilities. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has funded grants to enable older individuals and individuals with disabilities to remain in their homes.
Of course, access to high-quality health care is vital to people with disabilities, and I have taken action to make health care more accessible and affordable. I have allocated $1.75 billion for a five-year initiative that would fund Medicaid services for individuals transitioning from institutions to the community. And I proposed strengthening Medicaid by allowing spouses of individuals with disabilities who return to work to keep their Medicaid coverage. I have allocated $102 million through fiscal year 2009 for this project.
My New Freedom Initiative represents a clear and ongoing commitment to ensure that Americans with disabilities have every opportunity to enjoy all the opportunities our Nation has to offer. A caring and compassionate society can offer no less.
If you are re-elected what will be your top three priorities during your first 100 days in office to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities living in the U.S.?
I will continue to pursue the policies I proposed in the New Freedom Initiative - the most comprehensive proposal since the ADA that is focused on removing barriers faced by people with disabilities - and I will remain open to new ideas to assist people with disabilities as technologies develop or new needs arise.
What ideas do you have for bringing our four largest federal programs (Medicaid, Medicare, Supplemental Security Income, and Social Security Disability Insurance) in line with the goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act (equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency)?
The ADA is an excellent start in affording everyone an equal chance at success, but more must be done. My commitment to the 20% of Americans with disabilities is demonstrated in my New Freedom Initiative. I secured funding for a number of projects aimed at removing disincentives to work that currently exist in the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefit system. And in June 2001, I signed an Executive Order to create "Community-Based Alternatives for Individuals with Disabilities," directing agencies to require States to place qualified individuals with mental disabilities in community settings, rather than in institutions. The "Ticket to Work" law extends Medicare coverage for SSDI beneficiaries so employees can return to work without the fear of losing health benefits. It also expands Medicaid eligibility categories for certain working people with severe disabilities so that they can continue to receive benefits after their income or condition improves.
I also created the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, which is responsible for conducting a comprehensive study of the Nation's mental health service delivery system. The Commission recommended improvements to enable adults with serious mental illness and children with serious emotional disturbances to live, work, learn, and participate fully in their communities. My Administration is working to address the improvements recommended in the report.
What do you see as the most appropriate role for the federal government to play in the lives of people with disabilities and their families and what is your reaction to recent trends limiting the federal role in disability policy?
I believe that the Federal government should not only provide an outstanding example of equality and fairness in its own employment policies, but should facilitate efforts that will help to establish an environment of opportunity that gives every American a chance to succeed and thrive. It is the government's duty to enforce the laws that protect the rights of Americans with disabilities and to invest in the projects that will further expand their opportunities. In keeping with this philosophy, the Justice Department is aggressively enforcing the ADA, which has been critical in tearing down the barriers once faced by Americans with disabilities. There is still more we can do, and my New Freedom Initiative is building on this progress. The swift implementation of the Olmstead decision is resulting in expanded community-based services and better assistive technologies for more Americans with disabilities. We are supporting these efforts with funding that will enable more individuals with disabilities to access new technologies, own their own homes, and fully participate in their communities. And by providing funding through grant funds and demonstrations, we are equipping States and localities - which are better able to address the needs of their communities - with the resources to provide the programs that will benefit their specific populations.
What concrete steps will you take to ensure your administration and your appointments to the federal bench and other entities include a representative group of qualified people with disabilities?
I have worked to appoint qualified individuals of minority populations to the Federal bench and I will continue to appoint the most capable people of all backgrounds and abilities to top positions within my Administration. I believe that the best way to ensure that qualified people with disabilities receive Federal appointments is to ensure that individuals with disabilities have the opportunity to compete on a level playing field and fully demonstrate their abilities, without the fear of being discriminated against or overlooked. My Administration will continue to fight to ensure that all opportunities remain open to persons with disabilities by vigorously enforcing the ADA, aggressively resolving disability-related complaints, and continuing to implement my New Freedom Initiative.
What will you do as President to dramatically increase the percentage of children with disabilities who graduate from high school and go on to post-secondary education?
The first step in increasing graduation rates is providing equal opportunities for success at every stage of the education system. I have proposed to increase funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by $1 billion in 2005, which would represent a 75% increase since 2001, and the Department of Education recently funded a number of grants to determine what strategies help students with disabilities access the general education curriculum and what kinds of early interventions promote the best results for students with disabilities. Through these focused efforts, I aim to see every student achieve academic success and graduate with the tools to succeed in the future.
In addition, the No Child Left Behind Act is based on the belief that every child can learn. Under this law, schools are being held accountable for the education results of subgroups of students, including students with disabilities. This Act includes the Reading First program, which has already provided approximately $2.5 billion in funding to ensure that every child is reading on grade level by the end of the third grade. I have also proposed $100 million for the Striving Readers program and a $120 million increase for the Math and Science Partnerships program to help catch up middle and high school students who have fallen behind in reading and math. This funding will significantly benefit students with disabilities who may not have received proper instruction in the early grades.
What will your administration do to improve the accessibility of mainstream technologies and access to assistive technologies for people with disabilities?
Since technology has the potential to aid everyone in our society, especially Americans with disabilities, increasing access to technology is a main priority of my Administration. I have secured $20 million for a fund to help individuals with disabilities purchase the technology they need to work from home. I promoted full implementation of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, requiring that electronic and information technology purchased, maintained, and used by the Federal government is readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.
How will you work with disability advocates and Congress to draft and promote legislation to restore civil rights protections for qualified disabled individuals who have been left out by U.S. Supreme Court decisions interpreting the ADA, especially in the area of employment?
As part of a nationwide effort to build on the successes of ADA, I announced the New Freedom Initiative in 2001 to help level the playing field for Americans with disabilities. Men and women with disabilities deserve equal employment opportunities and my Administration has created programs that help expand workforce options for employees with disabilities. Tax benefits are now serving as incentives for employers to provide computer equipment and Internet access to their employees with special needs. This flexibility will expand the universe of accessible employment and will allow employees to take advantage of this flexibility for teleworking.
My Administration is also ensuring the swift implementation of the "Ticket to Work" law, which provides incentives for people with disabilities to return to work. The law provides Americans with disabilities a voucher-like "ticket" that allows them to choose their own support services, including vocational education programs and rehabilitation services. It also extends Medicare coverage for some SSDI beneficiaries so employees can return to work without the fear of losing health benefits. To further encourage employees to return to work, the law also expands Medicaid eligibility categories so that individuals working with disabilities will receive benefits even after their income or condition improves.
I secured $36.6 million in 2002 to fund State loan programs to help people with disabilities purchase assistive technologies, such as computers with special adaptive equipment. I have also mandated full implementation of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, requiring electronic and information technology purchased, maintained, and used by the Federal government to be readily accessible to people with disabilities.
In addition, the New Freedom Initiative will provide resources for technical assistance to help small businesses comply with the ADA so that they can better serve customers and hire more people with disabilities.
And I will continue to work closely with the Department of Justice to ensure full enforcement of the ADA. Since 2001, the Civil Rights Division has resolved over 1,000 disability-related complaints, over 500 of those through mediation.
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