Opinion: As President, I'll Make Our Government Work For Americans With Disabilities

Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg shares "the most comprehensive and ambitious disability policy plan yet proposed in the 2020 presidential campaign."

Presidential candidates travel a lot. Often, so do their spouses. I’m blessed to have Chasten crisscrossing the country on my behalf, from Derry, New Hampshire, to Las Vegas, Nevada. With him on almost every trip is a bright young woman named Emily, who accompanies Chasten through airports, navigates crowded photo lines, and keeps him organized and briefed on the trail. The two of them travel more in a week than many Americans likely do in a year. It’s a demanding pace for anyone — and Emily does it all in a wheelchair.

Today, 1 in 4 Americans live with a cognitive or mobility-related disability. They are our friends, family members, and coworkers. They’re first responders, athletes, and CEOs. Whether it’s Stevie Wonder demonstrating that blindness is no barrier to making unforgettable music or Sen. Tammy Duckworth fighting for Illinois families, people with disabilities are — and always have been — an indispensable part of the American story.

Yet even as people with disabilities live independent and dignified lives, they must contend with daily obstacles — both visible and invisible — put in place by a society that has long ignored their needs. Nearly 30 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, roughly 560,000 people with disabilities rarely leave their home because transportation is not accessible. Over 100,000 workers with disabilities can legally be paid as little as four cents an hour. And in almost 20 states, parents diagnosed with a disability can lose custody of their children. These hurdles are even higher, and the disparities greater, for people with disabilities who belong to other marginalized groups.

To end these urgent injustices and indignities, I’m proud to put forward the most comprehensive and ambitious disability policy plan yet proposed in the 2020 presidential campaign. I’m committed to working alongside the disability community to systematically dismantle discrimination against people with disabilities, and ensure our government works for them. Our country is stronger when we draw on the talents and capacity of every American.

Unlocking that potential starts in school, where we will make inclusive education a national reality. My administration will fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which helps schools hire more special education teachers and provide more services to students with disabilities. We’ll end corporal punishment, restraint, and seclusion in schools, and ensure that people with disabilities maximize their time in general education and receive the support necessary for success.

We will also empower people with disabilities to be economically self-sufficient and participate fully in our economy. As president, I will work with Congress to end the shameful sub-minimum wage and pass a $15 minimum wage that applies to everyone equally. Through everything from creating new apprenticeships to expanding federal contracting with disability-owned businesses, we will double labor force participation for people with disabilities by 2030 — the 40th anniversary of the Americans with Disability Act. We’ll also reform Social Security Disability Insurance, eliminating the “benefit cliff” that penalizes recipients as they earn higher wages and ending the 24-month waiting period for Medicare coverage so SSDI recipients get Medicare as soon as they are eligible.

Through our Medicare for All Who Want It plan, we will ensure that every American has access to comprehensive and affordable health coverage. We’ll also invest $300 billion to improve mental health and addiction care in communities across the country, and enforce mental health parity for Americans with cognitive disabilities like depression. And we’ll support the Disability Integration Act to ensure that people with disabilities can receive long-term care in their home and community.

My administration will make it easier for people with disabilities to access everything from transportation to broadband to housing. All new federally-funded transportation projects will be certified as 100 percent accessible. We will invest $80 billion to close the digital divide and develop an Accessible Technology Bill of Rights to guide government and private uses of smart technologies.

Finally, we’ll safeguard the rights of people with disabilities. In 2016, over 60 percent of polling places inspected on Election Day had at least one obstacle to people with disabilities. So we’ll work to make the voting process accessible to everyone. We’ll make it so parents with disabilities cannot lose custody or adoption rights because of their disability. To restore our global leadership, we’ll push the Senate to ratify the United Nations disability treaty negotiated by President George W. Bush and signed by President Obama.

Shifting federal policy will be critical. But it’s just as important that we use the moral leadership of the presidency to create a more inclusive and accessible society. One of the best moments of this campaign came when I met a girl named Bridgette in Iowa. She told me that because of our campaign, she could go to school, be herself, and not be ashamed that she had autism. That’s the culture of belonging we’ve already begun to create in this campaign. And that’s the kind of America we will bring about, through our policies and our example, when I’m in the White House.

Pete Buttigieg is a Democratic presidential candidate. He is currently the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana. To learn more about his campaign visit www.peteforamerica.com.

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