Editor’s note: This commentary is by Nicole LeBlanc, who was advocacy director at Green Mountain Self-Advocates in Montpelier and is now a group coordinator at the Human Services Research Institute.
This year the disability community will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act that was signed into law on July 26, 1990 by President George HW Bush. Upon signing this historic piece of bipartisan legislation, he said: “Let the shameful walls of exclusion finally come tumbling down.” This is one of my favorite quotes on the successes disability rights activists and their allies have had in the fight for true inclusion in all aspects of community life.
Many of the dreams and goals of the ADA are at the heart of creating a system of care that is truly person-centered. The ADA has made advancements in areas like physical accessibility and community integration. However two areas where we as a society continue to fall short are integrated employment for adults with developmental disabilities and access to high quality health care that meets our needs in a person-centered way.
Several studies show people with disabilities are a medically underserved population. We often have higher cost and worse health outcomes than the general population. Being declared a “medically underserved population” by the CDC or Congress could allow for more training of medical providers, higher rate of pay for doctors providing care to us and more focus on prevention and the social determinants of health. Direct support professionals are the ones best positioned to support us in achieving better outcomes.
It is my hope that over the next 30 years that we strive to eliminate health disparities and barriers to employment in the push for a world of true inclusion for all people with disabilities. I dream of a world of no ableism, racism, negative attitudes and stigma. That we are in the thick of a massive coronavirus pandemic only intensifies the urgent need to make this happen at all levels of government. This pandemic is definitely giving the non-disabled world an idea of what it’s like to be disabled.
The disability community is the world’s largest minority group and we have so much further to go in achieving equality and equity for all.
Lastly, we need to shift the disability benefit system and change attitudes among providers, family members and employers on the benefits of hiring people with disabilities. To support higher rates of employment for people with disabilities we need to eliminate work disincentives in the Social Security benefit system and expand access to supported employment for those without access to home-community based services. Only after we have done these and many other things will we see a societal shift in attitudes about disability.
It is my hope that this nightmarish pandemic will ignite an intense focus on addressing health disparities and attitudinal barriers faced by people with disabilities so that we can be valued for who we are and be given equal access to care and support across all settings.