The 2018 National Disability Policy Seminar

by Jennifer Bertrand
May 25, 2018

LEND Trainees, DD Council Member, and Jennifer Bertrand at DSP

Jennifer Bertrand is a member of the IOD’s Consumer Advisory Council. In April, she along with trainees in the NH-ME LEND program, and members of IOD’s faculty and staff attended the 2018 Disability Policy Seminar. She writes about her experience.

“Boy do we have some fights ahead,” Rebecca Coakley, Senior Fellow at The Center for American Progress, declared at the 2018 National Disability Policy Seminar “…advocates, bureaucrats and advocates must communicate with each other to achieve wins in activism!”  Passionate leaders from across the nation came together last month in Washington, DC in an effort to make access, opportunity and equal rights a lived reality for Americans who experience disability.  For the last 40 years this event has been a valuable and critical opportunity to learn about key issues and network with experts as well as fellow advocates which culminates with leaders going to Capitol Hill to educate, inform, inspire, and cultivate legislative champions. 

Even with the passage of the landmark legislation like Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Olmstead Decision, and the reauthorization of Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) we have not seen sufficient change and/or progress in many areas including community living, housing employment and education.  A grassroots call-to-action theme was woven throughout the seminar as presenters cited many examples of current efforts to undermine access and/or roll back protections so many Americans with disabilities have fought to put into place over the last 50 years. 

“Disability rights are Civil Rights!  It is time to fight and NOT back up!  We got to keep our eye on what we want and move forward,” Mike Oxford, Executive Director for Policy at the Topeka Independent Living Resource Center and National/ADAPT, demanded as he told an account of courageous activists involved with direct actions like the ‘Die-In’ at the Capitol Rotunda in response to threats to Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, “This was no accident.  We needed to be more dramatic to get media attention.”  

75,000+ Americans with disabilities are not going to be able to live with liberty this year and are on waitlists because there is no mandatory benefit for Home and Community Based Services (HCBS).  The EMPOWER Care Act (S. 2227 & H.R. 5306) extends and improves the Money Follows the Person Program (MFP) and will help get people out of nursing homes and institutions.  “We need to push hard on this bill,” Oxford pleaded.  Another piece of important legislation is the Disability Integration Act (H.R. 2472 & S. 910).  It takes a civil rights approach to legislation that affects people’s lives and would allow people with disabilities to get services where and when they need it across settings.  The bill requires all insurance providers that offer long-term supports and services (LTSS) to adhere including private insurance companies. 

“Employment leads to everything…. housing, engagement in the community, social connections,” explained Michael Gamel-McCormick Disability Policy Director on the Minority Senate Special Committee on Aging.  “We need to create systems that make employment possible.”  He talked about how employment rates for people with disabilities have stagnated for decades at about 30-35%, but are only about 15% for people with intellectual disabilities compared to 70+% for people without disabilities.  Work incentives are needed on both the state and federal level to promote competitive integrative employment.  He also talked about the need to improve transition services for transitioning youth.  

The Rise Act, a bipartisan initiative introduced by a group of Senators including Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Orin Hatch (R-UT), Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and others, aims to ease the transition for students with disabilities into college and secondary education by removing unnecessary barriers and burdens. 

Greeted by a warm and enthusiastic welcome during her keynote address, Senator Hassan announced, “It’s time we realized the promise in The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)!”  Hassan is cosponsoring The IDEA Full Funding Act (S. 2542) in an effort to assist states to provide special education and related services to children with disabilities so that all students receive a quality education.

Hassan also expressed serious concern about our growing national debt caused by the passage of the GOP Tax Bill and how it is expected to trigger significant cuts to programs that are critical to people with disabilities like Medicaid, which is a lifeline to living in the community.  “Issues that impact people with disabilities are not necessarily partisan.  There has been a remarkable outburst in activism including marches, rallies, and other direct action.  While the concept of self-government is/was revolutionary, it requires citizen engagement.  We must stand up every day!” 

For more information about the NDPS and to view the 2018 Fact Sheets and available presentations as well as information about the 2019 NDPS go to disabilitypolicyseminar.org.