Political Wars And Disability: Left In The Lurch

Posted by Michael Collins in Life After Paralysis on March 22, 2016 # Advocacy and Policy

To leave in the lurch: to leave in an uncomfortable or desperate situation; desert in time of trouble: (from Dictionary.com)

The presidential election cycle can be a time of hope, renewal and change. Unfortunately the campaign season leading up to this year's November elections seems to have turned in the opposite direction. Unlike in many past elections where the candidates representing the opposing political parties face off against each other to discuss the differences between their party platforms, the infighting within each party this year has seriously fractured party cohesion.

Even the debates, which should be opportunities for candidates to showcase their approach to important issues, have been turned into a drawn out series of "free for all" shouting matches. Those verbal battles have also left the survivors bloodied or bruised long before the summer conventions that will anoint the final two opponents.

Hyperactive media outlets that need to fill thousands of hours of air time work around the clock to ferret out anything that might prove more interesting than what is being aired by their rival networks. The result is that dirty laundry, secrets and missteps that might have occurred decades in the past have become fair game for discussion, leaving a disillusioned (and sometimes angry) electorate with choices that may seem more like "adequate, not too bad and worse."

You would think that, with all of the rhetoric being tossed around, that we might hear the "D" word more often. That word is disability, and including the issues of concern to people with disabilities in any discussion would be addressing the needs or concerns of about 20% of the nation's population. Instead, we find ourselves left in the lurch once again. Since inclusion of the disability community hasn't been on display in the audience or mentioned in virtually any campaign speeches, it is probably safe to conclude that our needs and concerns will once again fall off the "party platforms" around convention time.

Perhaps you are asking yourself: What else is new? It is true that disability interests have been falling by the wayside at an escalating rate for years, but for too many people in our community this is a time of crisis. Unfortunately the long-running political stalemate that has halted much progress in Congress, or eliminated cooperation between the White House and Capitol Hill, has left many disenfranchised individuals with disabilities teetering on the brink of homelessness and struggling to survive on levels of income far below the poverty line.

The promise of the Supreme Court's Olmstead decision has become just that, as without enough affordable, accessible housing and a caregiver workforce that is paid appropriately for providing care in the home environment, it has become more difficult--and sometimes even impossible--to avoid institutional settings. At a time when independent living could become the norm for everyone if adequate funding and support systems were only available, states have failed to make that a reality. Rather, many states maintain their institutions and refuse to apply for the Home & Community-Based Services waivers that will fund caregivers by using Medicaidmonies that have been supporting people in nursing homes and other institutions.

There are far more problems facing the disability community than there is space available to list them here. Some of the problems we face require correction at the federal level, and the willingness of Congress to change laws or mandate changes in regulations. We witnessed some of that at the end of last year, as Congress stepped in to put proposed cuts in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) funding for assistive devices on hold for another year. The next step should be to reestablish fair reimbursement rates for those essential medical services and supplies we need so that Medicare and Medicaid insurance are still accepted everywhere.

Other problems are occurring at the state level, as dwindling state budgets make it harder for states to come up with matching funds for federal programs or maintain their former levels of investment for disability services. Many community-based service providers, including Centers for Independent Living, have been forced to furlough staff or close their doors for part of the week due to state budget problems. Living on the wrong side of a state border should not involve a penalty when it comes to the level of support for disability programs or the amount of pay that caregivers receive.

None of this will change if the next President and future members of Congress are unaware of our needs and the disability-related problems that exist. It doesn't matter which political party you prefer; all candidates need to be educated about disability concerns. What is the best way to make that happen?

Although it may result in more media coverage, carrying a picket sign in front of a candidate forum will not provide needed education about disability issues to presidential candidates. The disability community needs to be present throughout the election process, whether serving as volunteers at a phone bank or volunteering as a candidate's representatives at a state caucus.

I live in one of those states where delegates to conventions are selected at a party caucus, not at the meaningless primary election. That system disenfranchises many voters, especially those of us who cannot make it to a caucus early on a weekend morning. Our first chance to vote for the next president will be in November. That is just one example of why it is important for us to get involved in other ways, and early in the process, rather than waiting for election day and complaining afterwards.

If you care about this country, no matter which party you favor, you owe it to your community and your family to get involved, and to do that soon. Without that involvement, current problems are sure to continue and perhaps grow worse with further deterioration of the services and programs people with all types of disabilities rely upon.

Hopefully the country will devise a better method of conducting presidential elections before the parties face off in the next one. When they do, I hope that we have also made it clear that representing this country means that the 1/5 of the population who are disabled need to be included in the discussion as well.

© 2016 Michael Collins | Like Mike on Facebook

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