Friday, November 11, 2016

The Trump Era: What It Means for People with Disabilities, and What You Can Do

If you or someone you know has a disability and are looking for encouraging words about the election of Donald Trump, you won't find it here. But it's important to evaluate the potential impact of a Trump presidency, understand how you can be involved, and how to move forward.

Where We Are Today

I started this blog in 2008 to advocate for people with disabilities during a presidential campaign that I knew would have a major impact. Looking back, there's no doubt that our choice of President Obama led to eight years of progress. Here are just a few examples:

  • Health care reform that provided coverage for millions of people, prevented insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, and removed lifetime caps on coverage.
  • Advocated for rights. The Obama Administration strongly advocated for the rights of all citizens. The Department of Justice and Department of Education issued a letter to schools telling them not to tolerate bullying -- including bullying against the 6.5 million students with disabilities.
  • Signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, pushing the Department of Labor, Department of Education, and other agencies to advance employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
  • Launched the "Curb Cuts to the Middle Class" initiative focused on hiring people with disabilities to prepare to qualify for jobs with federal contractors and giving those employers tools to recruit and promote them.
  • Signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first new human rights treaty of the 21st century.

Many of my friends and/or Facebook friends have children with disabilities but don't appreciate the advances that have been made under President Obama. People complain about the health system, and there's certainly room for improvement, but if you have a child with a disability or chronic condition, you should cherish and fight to protect the Affordable Care Act. One way or another, changes will be made (and need to be made), but the fundamental principles -- 1) the right to health care, 2) the right to coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, and 3) the ban on lifetime caps -- must be preserved.

The Impact of a Trump Presidency

There is much fear and speculation about what Trump will do as president, but the first place to look is his stated priorities:

  • Repeal the Affordable Care Act. (Something the Republican-led Congress also wants to do.)
  • Reverse the expansion of Medicaid. About 10 million people on Medicaid have disabilities, representing 15 percent, and it covers not just health care, but home health aides and other critical services. If Trump repeals the ACA and turns Medicaid into a block grant program, as many as 30 million people could lose their insurance.

There is also concern that Trump will soften enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act, by shifting the priorities of the Department of Justice's civil rights division and other agencies. See "Disability Rights Advocates are Terrified of a Donald Trump White House" from the Huffington Post.

I don't have a crystal ball, but several patterns are emerging:

  • President-elect Trump, the "outsider," is filling his transition team with "insiders." Many of them come from the Heritage Foundation, which advocate for traditional conservative positions like cutting taxes on wealthy people and corporations, repealing the Affordable Care Act, and reforming Social Security and Medicaid in ways that would negatively affect families. If you wonder how much the Heritage Foundation cares about families like yours, consider that they strongly advocated AGAINST signing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
  • The people he is putting on his transition team gives you a good idea of the kind of people who he will appoint to his Cabinet. Remember, many experienced, admired Republican policy experts and government officials have distanced themselves from Trump, so he will have a hard time finding qualified people for many positions. Most will argue for less government "interference," which families like ours may call "protection" for those who most need it. For example, Ben Carson, who's been mentioned as a potential secretary of education or HHS, has said that disability issues can be better managed by "businesses, industry, Wall Street, churches, and community groups." I don't know about you, but I'm not counting on Wall Street to ensure my child's education rights and health care.
  • Trump's statements and behavior on the campaign trail have created more division than unity. Now that he's been elected, he's paying lip service to bringing America together, but everything he's said and done so far has had the opposite effect. His campaign has empowered bigots, racists, anti-Semites, and misogynists -- which is even more apparent now that he's been elected. Discrimination is likely to increase, and we can only hope that Trump will enforce existing laws and not weaken them. Let's just say that people with disabilities are not and will not be a high priority among his various constituencies.
What You Can Do

1. Advocate for People with Disabilities

Here are just a few organizations that will busy fighting for your rights, services, and programs in the next four years. Don't just visit these websites. Sign up for their newsletters, register for advocacy alerts, follow them on Facebook and Twitter. When issues come up, be ready to learn about them and take action.
2. Focus on Your Family and Loved Ones

The night Donald Trump was elected president, I was in the hospital with my daughter, during an almost two-week stay. I was disappointed -- devastated -- by the results, but it wasn't the most important thing to me at the time. Do what you can do for the people closest to you. Being a good parent, spouse, and caregiver is one of the most important things you can do, no matter what else is going on in the world. Love and support the people who need you, and take care of yourself.

3. Be Nice

This may seem trite, but as much as we complain about Trump's behavior, comments, and actions, all we can control is how we act ourselves. Set an example for your children, neighbors, and colleagues by treating people with respect, tolerating different views, and trying to understand where people are coming from. We are not as divided as much as a 50-50 election may suggest. Let's focus on what we have in common, what we can do for others, and fight for what we believe in.

"I'm a Disabled American. Trump's Policies Will Be a Disaster for People Like Me."

Ari Ne'eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, is not encouraged by the prospects of a Trump presidency. Ne'eman, one of President Obama's appointees to the National Council on Disability from 2010 to 2015, says he was bothered by Trump's mocking of people with disabilities, but he has been more focused on policy.

He writes, "Hillary Clinton offered clear, specific, and timely policy proposals to expand the social safety net and civil rights of people with disabilities, while Trump made clear his intent to slash services and roll back legal protections. For the millions of Americans with disabilities who depend on Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act to access the health care and public services that mean basic survival, it is policy -- not personal insult -- that has brought terror and despair in the aftermath of Trump's victory."

His concerns:

  • Trump plans to slash the main source of federal financing for disability and aging services.
  • Trump plans to eliminate critical legal protections for disabled people in the health care system.
  • Trump may be about to set back federal autism policy by at least a decade.

But there's hope:

  • Disability activists have faced down conservative attempts to roll back disability rights before -- and won.
  • The Trump presidency will be a disaster -- but even a disaster presents certain opportunities.

Read his detailed analysis at, "I'm a Disabled American. Trump's Policies Will Be a Disaster for People Like Me."

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Undecided: My Civil Discussion with a Confused Voter

I had a rare experience the other day -- a conversation with an undecided voter who was interested in hearing my thoughts. It was particularly interesting because she was a nurse helping to take care of my daughter during a scary stay at the hospital.

In a setting like that, I'm pretty good about not raising politics or forcing my views on anyone. But it was the day after the Cubs had won the World Series, and I mentioned that my Facebook friends seemed pretty excited about it, and it was a nice break from all the political chatter.

She said, "I know what you mean. Boy, what do you think about Hillary's emails? It sounds pretty bad." I told her that I think people are suggesting the "scandal" is worse than it is -- and that if Hillary had broken the law, she'd be prosecuted and convicted. She's not above the law and has never claimed to be.

But the nurse said she just doesn't know what to believe because there's so much bad stuff on both sides -- and many of her friends have told her some really negative things about Hillary. I asked innocently, "Would you like to hear what I think?" And here's what I said:

While many people don't like Hillary, there's no doubt she's experienced. She's been First Lady, the Secretary of State, and a senator. She knows our international allies, and understands the complex relationships we have. So I think she's the best choice for people who care about national security international stability.

One of the issues I most care about the most is health care. (And since she's a nurse, I assume she cares a little about that too.) And an independent analysis shows that under Trump's health proposals, as many as 25 million people would lose health coverage. And low-income families and people with complex medical needs would be hurt the most.

The president is only one person. Hillary will appoint good people, and I don't care if they're "insiders" if they will work toward positive change.

She then asked about the Supreme Court, and I conceded that if that's the only thing she cares about and wants the NRA and right-wing groups to select our justices, that's what Trump would do. But I told her that even if I shared her views about that, I'd still vote for Hillary for all the other reasons.

It was a civil, candid exchange of ideas, which is all too rare this year. And it was obvious that she's pained by this choice. She will vote, and she wants to make the right decision, and she's confused by all the name-calling, rumors, and accusations. So yes, there are undecided voters among us, and they're not all jerks.

Fact Check: Real Data on the Candidates' Health Proposals

If you or someone you know wants more than rhetoric, hyperbole, and personal attacks, take a look at these issue briefs from The Commonwealth Fund. Lots of data, charts, and easy-to-read analysis.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Father: Reject Trump to Protect People Like My Son

[This post contains no personal insults, no reference to emails, and nothing about sex. But please read it anyway.]

Blogger and author David Royko is literally begging people to not vote for Donald Trump. Why? Because he understands the threat a Trump presidency would represent for children like his his son Ben, who has autism. Read "Please, We BEG You, For Ben's Sake, Keep Trump Out."

Like other parents with firsthand experience with disability, I can relate to David's opinion in many ways. Most parents plan for the time when their child will move out, get a job, and live on their own. For fathers like David and me, we know our children will need specialized support their entire lives. The reality is that the future of Ben and other children "is 100 percent dependent upon our government," he says. "There is no other option."

In looking at next week's election, David says, "Even if Hillary Clinton is the biggest liar on our planet and is a despicable person, nothing in her history suggests she would dismantle our government, or that she would be unpredictable in absolutely extreme ways."

This is a critical decision for our country, he says, because the current system is "functional but rickety." A seemingly small change -- defunding a program, eliminating a "wasteful" agency, appointing an unqualified leader -- could have devastating effects on families that are already struggling.

David makes his final case this way: "I am begging ― BEGGING ― everybody to consider people like Ben....This is personal for our family and specifically the most vulnerable member of our family, and the most vulnerable members of many people’s families."

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Do You Have a Plan? Resources for Voters with Disabilities

Easter Seals, one of the leading national advocacy organizations for people with disabilities, has prepared a helpful checklist to ensure that all eligible voters can vote. The organization has partnered with the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) on a campaign called REV UP to ensure that Americans with disabilities can fully participate in the political process. The campaign is about much more than a a presidential election every four years -- "REV UP" stands for "Register, Educate, Vote, and Use Your Power."

Read and print the one-page checklist here, and download a voting resource card with important phone numbers. You'll also find tips for finding your polling place and making arrangements for curbside voting, mobile voting at long-term care facilities, and getting transportation on election day -- as well as specific links for topics including deaf and hard of hearing, blind or low vision, mobility, and intellectual and developmental disabilities. Read more.

Additional resources:

Disability Scoop

Special Ed News (Education Week)

Special Education Law