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.

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