Elected Officials and Disability Issues
Politicians campaigning for elected offices today will determine future public policy. Public policy is important to all citizens. Who we elect to represent our concerns and us matters — a lot — to members and families of the National Down Syndrome Congress.
Major issues for persons with disabilities include getting a quality education, access to community-based quality residential living services (including housing and transportation) and getting a meaningful job which offers some economic self-sufficiency.
As you decide who will get your vote in November, learn where candidates stand on these important issues by asking questions. Start by asking candidates if they have a written position statement on disability policies. (If they don’t have one, ask why and offer to share your expertise as a parent or family member of a person with Down syndrome on critical issues that your family faces.)
This piece is designed to help you formulate questions for candidates. We have included a brief statement on the issues of education, employment and community living with a few sample questions you may wish to ask. Don’t forget to share this sheet with other family members and friends. Their votes matter, too!
Education and Employment
Prior to 1971, public schools had no obligation to educate children with disabilities and many did not. The Education for all Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (later renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees all children the right to a free and appropriate public education in the school they would otherwise attend if they did not have disabilities. The goal of education for all individuals is to prepare them for a meaningful career, economic self-sufficiency and a meaningful life in the community. Despite the fact that this law was passed over 30 years ago, the unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities remains at about 90 percent.
Question for Candidates
- What do you think should be done to improve the quality of educational services to students with disabilities?
- What would you do to improve employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities?
Community Living Services for Adults with Disabilities
The federal/state Medicaid program funds most adult services such as housing, transportation and support staff who provide assistance to individuals with disabilities with the activities of daily living. It also provides services to some children with disabilities. It is a funding stream that is biased towards costlier institutional care and under siege at the federal and state levels.
If you want those safety-net services to be in place when your child grows up — or to remain in place if your family member with Down syndrome now uses them — then you need to know where candidates stand on funding adult services.
Question for Candidates
- What would you do to ensure that federal and state budget shortfalls do not harm programs for individuals with disabilities?
- What do you see as the role of the federal government in disability policy?
- What do you think of the trend to limit the role of the federal government in disability policy?