Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar became the latest Democratic presidential candidate to release a detailed disability policy plan last week. Unlike other candidates, the senator also held a live event where she detailed her plan and held a panel discussion with three local disability experts, delving deeper into specific aspects of her plan. In a press statement released prior to the disability-focused event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Klobuchar cited her “a strong track record of standing up for people with disabilities.” Key highlights of the plan include commitments around long-term care, expanding healthcare access, and advancing economic opportunities as well as promoting disability rights at home and abroad.
Klobuchar’s plan includes a reference to her personal and professional efforts on disability issues. A key accomplishment of her time in the Senate was the passage of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. The ABLE Act has been a pathway for improved financial security for thousands of people with disabilities and their families. Likewise, Klobuchar cited her past service on the advisory board of the PACER Center. PACER “provides individual assistance, workshops, publications, and other resources to help families” and youth with disabilities.
Like businessman Andrew Yang and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Klobuchar’s disability plan covers familiar ground. For example, the plan begins with a commitment to fight for the passage of the Disability Integration Act (DIA), which has been a priority of many disability rights organizations for the past several years. The DIA would provide an enforceable right to community integration for millions of people with disabilities trapped in institutions.
Klobuchar also touted her support for the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), pledging to fully fund the IDEA at 40 percent. 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. This is particularly challenging for children of color and immigrants with disabilities who tend to be in underfunded schools that have very limited access to appropriate testing, counseling and special education services.
Likewise, there is a strong commitment on expanding disability employment and improving financial security for millions of Americans with disabilities. On the employment front, Klobuchar cites the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) as a focus of future attention if she were elected president. In her plan, Klobuchar has committed to further expanding “the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, which provides funds and administers grant programs” to programs serving thousands of job seekers with disabilities. Another future goal in the event of a Klobuchar administration would be fighting to get the Raise the Wage Act passed. The Act would increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour as well as ending the practice of allowing employers to pay people with disabilities subminimum wages.
Unlike some of the other candidates’ disability policy plans, Klobuchar’s plan also touches on the importance of expanding tax credits to support employers that hire people with disabilities. These credits would include the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, Disability Access Expenditures Tax Credit, and Architectural and Transportation Barrier Tax Credit.
Speaking in Cedar Rapids, Klobuchar talked about ensuring hiring initiatives for people with disabilities. She talked about one of her staffers who is blind and runs much of the technology in her Senate office as an example of how employees with disabilities can contribute greatly to their employer.
“The unfortunate fact is that stigma is still a driving factor in why two-thirds of people with disabilities are unemployed,” said RespectAbility’s Vice President, Communications, Lauren Appelbaum, who also serves as the managing editor of The RespectAbility Report, an online publication at the intersection of disability and politics. “There is no better way to disprove the idea that people with disabilities are not able to work than by hiring them to ultimately work for the highest office in the land.”
A father at Klobuchar’s event told her how when he adopted his son, who was born with a disability due to fetal alcohol syndrome, he was told to lower his expectations for his son. He thanked Klobuchar for not having that attitude.
“I was told that I have to lower my expectations about him in terms of what my son and I wanted to see for his future,” said Troy Weier, who is volunteering for Klobuchar as a precinct captain. “You (talk about) enabling and empowering all Americans to be able to live their American dream … and I think that’s extremely powerful.”
Parents of children with disabilities need to set high expectations for their children — giving them opportunities to both fail and succeed on their own. He cited Klobuchar’s position on this as the reason he is involved with the caucuses for the first time.
Another topic brought up at the event is how the lack of transportation, especially in rural communities like much of Iowa, limits people with disabilities’ ability to live independently. Klobuchar recognized the importance of ensuring accessible housing is built near public transportation options.
Also unique to Klobuchar’s plan is a commitment to international leadership on disability rights issues. The Minnesota senator is strongly committed to passing the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities and ensuring “America’s role in promoting human rights around the globe and protecting the rights of American citizens who are living with disabilities overseas.”
Voters With Disabilities
Klobuchar also touched on the importance of voting rights for people with disabilities. “It is a fundamental right to vote,” she said in Cedar Rapids. “And that means expanding accessibility and ensuring ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) compliance.”
According to research conducted by RespectAbility in 2018, 74 percent of likely voters either 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 one of the coauthors of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, is the chairman of RespectAbility, 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.
“The disability community is unique,” added Philip Kahn-Pauli, associate editor of The RespectAbility Report. “It is the only minority group that anyone can join at any time due to illness, injury, or aging. What that means is that there are people with disabilities in every state, and that the community’s interests intersect with so many issues, including race, gender, poverty, criminal justice and inequality.”
According to a Rutgers University study, 14.3 million citizens with disabilities voted in 2018. Those voters will be crucial as candidates like Klobuchar vie for the Democratic presidential nomination.