DisBeat is pleased to announce that it has officially named The Top 10 Moments for Americans with Disabilities: 2015.
After combing through the suggestions of hundreds of national and local thought leaders, allies of the disability rights movement, DisBeat has selected what it believes to be the most significant news moments in the year 2015.
These moments were chosen for their political potency, their historical significance, and/or for their authentic narrative quality, which helped to bring the issues of Americans with disabilities into the cultural zeitgeist in the year 2015.
10. Greg Abbott
Greg Abbott is the first U.S. Governor in more than 30 years to serve his term as a wheelchair user. While Governor Abbott has been clear about not wanting to make his status as a Disabled American a political factor, he has been unable to avoid the close watch of disability advocates and allies. Gov. Abbott’s own experiences continue to shed light on the limitations Americans with disabilities face every day. More notably the necessary modifications that were made to the historic Texas Governor’s Mansion, and one incident that occurred back in March of 2015 when a broken elevator in an Austin high school threated to ruin a ribbon-cutting. The ceremony was being held by the Governor and his guest, a young girl with cerebral palsy. Both would have been unable to attend the ceremony had the elevator not been fixed in time. Gov. Abbott has gone on record, stating that his own agenda does not explicitly include reforms currently being sought out by different advocacy groups and agencies.
Governor Greg Abbott
The U.S. political system has seen its fair share of gridlock in the last eight years. However, in a welcomed moment of bipartisan teamwork, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed the WIOA (Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act). The Act was immediately signed by President Obama. Americans with disabilities can expect big changes, namely specific restrictions on sub-minimum wage pay in the workforce. WIOA will spark support for job seekers with disabilities, requiring career centers to be fully accessible and for these centers to ensure that they assist Americans with disabilities with meaningful opportunities.
8. ABLE Act
On December 16th, 2014 The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act was voted by the U.S. Senate as a part of the Tax Extenders package. On Friday, December 19th, 2014, President Obama signed the Tax Extenders package, making the ABLE Act actionable in 2015. The Able Act gives American citizens the ability to build tax-free savings for individuals with disabilities—similar to already-existing programs for college tuition savings and retirement. These tax-free savings accounts will help to empower Americans with disabilities as they develop economic empowerment and financial literacy skills, plan for, and build a strong financial foundation for the future.
7. DOL Rules
In 2015, The Department of Labor (DOL) proposed rules that changed the pay for personal assistants. Among other things, these changes mandated the payment of overtime pay for attendants working more than forty hours a week. The disability community was not consulted on these proposed changes before the changes were implemented. Nearly every state immediately capped the number of hours an attendant could be allowed to work in an effort to avoid states having to pay unbudgeted overtime costs. Critics of the DOL cuts have argued that the cuts have caused a negative ripple effect in pay and quality of care. Though the cuts were initially meant to increase the income of attendants, these attendants in fact faced pay cuts. For example, attendants who once worked 50 hours were mandated to work less than 40 hours. Furthermore, the hourly reductions resulted in Americans with disabilities receiving less actual care, and/or were tasked with finding a new additional reliable attendant. Finally, the DOL cuts have affected individuals in rural, frontier, and tribal communities, as well as in urban and suburban areas, where it can be very difficult to find attendants at all, and even more difficult to find an extra attendant to cover the hours over 40/week. Opponents fear that ultimately the 2015 DOL cuts will result in forcing some people into or back into nursing homes and other institutions.
6. Coverage of Assistive Technology and Durable Medical Equipment
In 2015, Medicare enacted tighter requirements for Americans with disabilities who were currently or were seeking to utilize advanced prosthetic devices. The proposal would not only affect those who use and depend on prosthetics to carry out day-to-day life, but also those who engineer and help maintain the devices. Additionally, Medicare will also do away with a handful of universal codes that providers use to cover the use of these devices.
5. Olmstead Successes
2015 brought a series of successes across the country for supporters of the Olmsted Decision. The Decision, based on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits the unjust institutionalization of individuals as discrimination against people with disabilities in health care and social services, came to the aid of many Americans who were at risk of losing their community-based independence, possible institutionalization, gaps in coverage and much more. To see a full list of Olmstead success stories, click here.
4. “The Mountain”
In November 2015, over 40 years of alleged abuse and misconduct at the Lakeview NeuroRehabilitation Center in the White Mountains of New Hampshire was made public. The story was broken by health and science journalist Jack Rodolico. Owners of the Lakeview facility also referred to as “The Mountain,” reportedly took advantage of families that had nowhere else to turn in every sense of the term. After a multitude of confidential emails and a six-year-long 911, email log were unearthed, allegations of neglect, physical, and even sexual abuse bubbled to the surface. What’s worse, this revelation has also been connected to a network of other unmonitored facilities. The Disability Rights Center, a Protection & Advocacy (P&A) Center affiliated with the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) later concluded that Lakeview’s staff was “overworked, underpaid, undertrained and largely unsupervised.”
3. AbilityOne Controversy
AbilityOne, the highest-paid entity entrusted to secure employment for Americans with disabilities, and the organization it sits under, SourceAmerica, along with many of its contracted partnerships, have come under scrutiny amidst allegations of funding mismanagement, racketeering, issuance of below-minimum wage pay, and under-employment of Americans with disabilities. This investigation accelerated this past September when dozens of federal agents raided the Memphis Goodwill, which issues millions of taxpayer dollars to programs in the surrounding area. This raid was prompted by a CNN investigation that aired this past summer. In November WikiLeaks, the non-profit, journalistic organization that publishes secret international information, has released an estimated 30 hours of footage connected to the already on-going investigation.
2. Murphy Bill
On the heels of public concern to address the current state of mental health care in the United States, Congressman Tim Murphy introduced the Mental Health Crisis Act of 2013. Since it’s introduction, the bill has been called “The Murphy Bill.” The bill is touted as a radical reformation of our current mental healthcare systems and claim to eventually help individuals receive care before their symptoms cause any form of detriment. Major national disability organizations oppose this bill because it violates the civil rights of people with psychiatric disabilities and allows forced drugging.
1. ADA 25
2015 marked 25 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. It was the first sweeping mandate to end discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, public accommodations, telecommunications, transportation, and state and local governments. Since the enactment of the ADA, American life has continued to morph. Governmental and commercial buildings must meet ADA compliance when planned and built, and issues surrounding employment were finally elevated and discussed formally. Celebrations commemorating ADA25 were held across the country. From national organizations to government entities, to youth groups, communities in every state celebrated this landmark legislation. On July 21st, the President stated “Thanks to the ADA, the places that comprise our shared American life — schools, workplaces, movie theaters, courthouses, buses, baseball stadiums, national parks — they truly belong to everyone.”