Mayor Pete's Disability Plan

People with disabilities are—as they have always been—an indispensable part of the American story. From trailblazing figures like abolitionist and women’s suffragist Harriet Tubman, who lived with a traumatic brain injury and a seizure disorder, to blind scholar Jacobus tenBroek, who laid the groundwork for the disability rights laws we have today, people with disabilities have pushed us to be a more just and welcoming country, and in the process, they’ve made America stronger by ensuring we draw on the talents and capacity of every American.

Today, one in four Americans live with a disability—some visible, some less so. They are our friends, family members, co-workers, CEOs, and first responders; our teachers, physicians, and athletes. They are past presidents and senators such as Abraham Lincoln, who lived with depression, and Tammy Duckworth, a Veteran and Purple Heart recipient; activists such as Deafblind lawyer Haben Girma, who advocates that disability is an opportunity for innovation, and beloved artists and actors like Stevie Wonder and Ali Stroker. People with disabilities can and do live independent, dignified, self-affirming lives, and add incalculable value to the American story.

Yet in all facets of daily life, people with disabilities must contend with physical and invisible obstacles. These obstacles have been built up by a society that has long ignored the needs of people with disabilities. 560,000 people with disability, for example, rarely leave their home because transportation is not accessible to them. Over 100,000 workers with disabilities can legally be paid subminimum wages, some as little as four cents an hour. And in almost 20 states, parents diagnosed with a disability can lose custody of their children. From riding the subway in cities to experiencing a segregated education because of low academic expectations, or being unable to find or maintain a job because of the lack of employment supports, people with disabilities must learn to navigate a world that all too frequently wasn’t built with them in mind. And these hurdles are even higher for people with disabilities who belong to other marginalized groups. This reality must change.

As President, Pete will build a culture of belonging for everyone. He is committed to systematically dismantling institutions that discriminate against people with disabilities, and, with and alongside them, helping to build a new, long-overdue era for this community. Pete will retrofit our government so it works for—and not against—people with disabilities. He will help bring about a society that intuitively sees, accounts for, welcomes, and values their lived experiences.

Pete will work with Congress to end the shameful subminimum wage by passing a $15 minimum wage that applies to everyone equally. He will make equity-based inclusive education a national expectation, and ensure that people who have disabilities maximize their time in general education and receive the support necessary for success. Through Pete’s Medicare for All Who Want It plan, everyone will have access to comprehensive and affordable health coverage. He will make transforming our broken mental health care system a national priority by investing $300 billion to improve mental health and addiction care in communities across the country, and enforcing mental health parity. Pete will also work to guarantee that every American can actively participate in the democratic process by making the voting process and polling places accessible to everyone.

Since decades-old programs were designed to further disable people with disabilities and keep them on the margins, Pete knows that we need both a massive shift in federal policies, and a more inclusive and welcoming society. That’s why he will use the office of the presidency—and all the levers of government available to him—to tirelessly advocate for people with disabilities, so they no longer have to do it on their own.

I am the mother of a child with autism. When I first heard the diagnosis, I immediately set out to "fix" her autism. It didn't take much time for me to figure out that she didn't need to be fixed. I did. I also realized that I needed to change the way my community looks at disability. I ran for the school board, started a grassroots disability advocacy group, and became trained in community organizing. I learned through this process that compassionate, open dialogue breaks down the walls of Ableism. Simultaneously, I recognize that I'm human and a result of systemic bias. I have to compensate in order to remove my own prejudice. I am forever grateful to be the mother of an amazing young woman. Without my daughter, I would never have had the opportunity for this lesson. Autism has been a gift, I'd highly recommend it, but it should be just a little bit easier to navigate a world not designed for us. 
— Linda, New Hampshire

Pete’s platform for people with disabilities will focus on:

 

Competitive Integrated Employment

Today, only three in ten Americans with disabilities are employed, compared to about seven in ten people without disabilities. Moreover, a person with a disability is twice as likely to be poor as a person who does not. Pete is committed to dramatically increasing opportunities for competitive integrated employment. Embracing Senator Tom Harkin’s goal, Pete will work to double labor force participation for people with disabilities by 2030, the 40th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), with a focus on closing racial inequities. To accomplish this goal, his administration will:

End the subminimum wage.

Pete will end the subminimum wage by repealing Section 14c of the Fair Labor Standards Act and supporting the Transformation to Competitive Employment and Raise the Wage Acts. He will support capacity building to help with the transition from sheltered workshops to competitive integrated employment.

Create a national network of apprenticeships and an Internships for All program that provide greater opportunities for competitive integrated employment.

Pete’s administration will invest $5 billion over the next decade in a national apprenticeship program that ensures access to a well-paying job—especially for people with disabilities—within 30 miles of their home. Pete will also incentivize companies to offer paid internships to students from underrepresented backgrounds, including students with disabilities.

Increase federal subcontracting with disability-owned businesses, including by enforcing Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Ensure all workers have access to paid sick leave and 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.

Pete supports the FAMILY Act, which provides at least 12 weeks of paid family leave per year, and enhancing its benefits to include caregiving responsibilities for siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, and chosen family members. Pete’s administration will decouple medical leave benefits from family care and new child leave benefits to provide a longer total potential leave for workers. Pete will also set up a national system of paid sick leave, as outlined in his Empowering Workersplan.

Before I decided that remaining alive was more important than remaining employed, I worked for 13 years as both a journalist and an educator. These are both high-stress, low-pay jobs which—when done correctly—can make a huge impact on a community. However, I recently decided to step out of the workplace and work on becoming a person who could live with a mental illness in this country. I have been trying to find work which will help me pay my bills; help support my wife, who is currently employed and shouldering the financial burden for us; and help provide my father with a place to live now that he’s retired and on a fixed income. I have applied to more than 25 remote positions and, often times, I have to check a box stating I have a disability. We both know employers claim to not discriminate, but often times do anyway based on a perceived weakness. 
— Mike, Texas

 

Education

Equitable opportunity for all students means that every child with a disability has access to high-quality, inclusive public education. Today, this is not the case. Students with disabilities are disproportionately segregated, suspended, and have lower high school graduation rates. Pete is committed to ensuring that students with disabilities get the public education they deserve. As President, he will:

Make inclusive education a national expectation and ensure that 85% of students with intellectual and multiple disabilities are in general education classrooms for 80% or more of the day by the end of the 2025 school year.

To create an expectation of inclusion so classrooms represent our society’s diversity, Pete will strengthen data collection to promote accountability; invest in the supplementary aids, services, and supports to promote inclusion; and bolster teacher education to promote inclusive schools.

Fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Act.

End corporal punishment, restraint, and seclusion in schools.


While schools are prohibited from suspending students for behavior caused by their disability, students with disabilities are suspended at disproportionately high rates, especially disabled students of color. Pete will support the Ending Corporal Punishment in School Act and encourage states to pass legislation that eliminates suspensions for discretionary infractions. He will also direct the Department of Education to issue guidance on alternatives to punitive disciplinary practices.

Build on the promise and success of the Autism CARES Act, including by supporting greater investment in research on the needs of autistic adults and supporting autistic-led initiatives.

Ensure services for students with disabilities don’t end in high school.

For students with disabilities, the transition from high school to college or career can pose major challenges. Pete’s administration will better coordinate students’ programs and services, ensuring relevant federal agencies match eligibility requirements, timelines, and strategies.

Strengthen Title IX protections and support students with disabilities who face sexual assault in college.

Pete’s administration will reverse the Trump administration’s weakening of Title IX by amending Title IX regulations as outlined in his Building Power plan. He will streamline support services for students with disabilities and require that students in college are made aware, via accessible formats, of the services available to them.

We don’t experience liberty like other families in many ways. My 12-year-old has a diagnosis of autism and ADHD. Despite my advocacy efforts, I wasn’t able to keep my son in my local public school. In 4thgrade, his teacher opened our eyes to his potential--her compassion, experience, and courage to stand up for him to have necessary supports IN the classroom achieved just that-SUCCESS! Despite this one year of success, it was clear we would continue to fight for the appropriate resources and a school-wide inclusive culture. Thankfully, we have found what he needed at a public charter school. Some may say I had the freedom to choose. But it was a false choice. Families shouldn’t have to choose between their child’s academic future and being a part of the community they love. We need to fund the IDEA and demand that public school administrators and educators have the appropriate training and resources to meet the needs of ALL students right in their own communities. 
— Alicia, New Hampshire

 

Civil & Voting Rights

Reinvigorate enforcement of Olmstead v. L.C. and the ADA in the DOJ Civil Rights Division to aggressively protect the rights of disabled people.

Improve ADA compliance by lowering barriers to understanding one’s rights and making it easier to report problems.

Pete’s administration will create an accessible form available in multiple formats and language that shows one’s rights, including for education and housing. Parents or guardians will be able to (1) easily understand what rights their child has in school, (2) know what authoritative information to point school officials to, and (3) easily report their school as non-compliant when that is the case.

Make sure that parents with disabilities do not lose custody or adoption rights based on the fact that they have a disability.

The right to raise a family with dignity and respect is a value we all share, and Pete’s administration will lead in combating bias and stigma against parents with disabilities–especially disabled parents of color–and ensure federal policies better support them.

Train first responders and police to identify and appropriately respond to individuals with disabilities.

Pete’s administration will integrate mental health clinicians and co-response teams into the first responder workforce and train first responders in de-escalation, therapeutic and care approaches as alternatives to arrest, and hospitalization for people who just need mental health care. Pete will also invest in rigorous law enforcement training and require de-escalation and higher standards for use of force for all police interactions.

Make the voting process and polling places accessible to everyone.

Pete will make registration and voting easier with automatic registration, early voting, and vote-by-mail, as well as expand funding for accessible voting machines and increase accessibility at polling places.

I have a teenage son who has bipolar disorder. Locally and nationally, the connections between the mentally ill and the justice system are terrible. My son is a big kid, almost 6 feet tall. We introduced him to our area police officers so that they would know who he is and understand that he is a good kid with an illness. Law enforcement does not receive training in how to deal with the mentally ill, let alone mentally ill children and teens. Our justice system doesn’t either. We were recently told by our son’s psychiatrist that the best, and maybe only, way to get our son the case manager and wrap around support services that he needs is to go through the juvenile justice center. Providers are actually sending patients to the justice system. We need to be able to talk about these issues without fear of stigma. 
— Meg, Indiana

 

Social Security

In 2018, the unemployment rate among people with disabilities was more than twice the rate for those without disabilities. Median annual earnings for workers with disabilities are just $23,000. Medicare, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) are too often the only programs keeping these individuals afloat. To make it easier for people with disabilities to achieve economic self-sufficiency, Pete will:

Eliminate the “benefit cliff” for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) so benefits gradually phase out until recipients reach nearly $45,000 in annual earnings.

Eliminate SSDI’s ineffective current work incentives.

Pete will eliminate the “Trial Work Period” and “Extended Period of Eligibility” and allow beneficiaries to receive partial benefits at wage levels between $1,220 and $3,687, with the benefit amounts fluctuating as recipients’ wages change.

Reduce excessive wait times for SSDI and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) appeals cases.

Pete will fully fund the Compassionate And Responsive Service (CARES) plan so people in need of benefits can receive them. He will also exempt the SSA’s administrative budget from sequestration.

Enable SSDI participants to start receiving income benefits as soon as they are admitted to the program.

Eliminate SSDI’s 24-month waiting period for Medicare coverage.

More than one out of nine SSDI recipients die during this waiting period. This reform is expected to save 10,000 to 20,000 lives per year over the next decade.

Update critical SSI thresholds to allow people to receive greater assistance as costs of living rise.

I am a single mother of a 17-year-old son who is finishing his senior year of high school. I myself am waiting to hear from SSI. I am disabled but my disabilities, which are many, don’t fit into a nice pegged hole. I am living on cash assistance of $399 a month which could be taken away any day if SSI decides to say no. I do thankfully have a section 8 voucher. But my life is always just a day away from a crisis. 
— Elizabeth, Utah

 

Long-Term Services & Supports

All people with disabilities should be able to live full and meaningful lives at every stage of life. Ensuring that individuals can learn, live, work, shop, and socialize in their own communities requires access to affordable, quality, home- and community-based long-term services and supports. To this end, Pete will:

Ensure that people with disabilities can receive long-term care in their home and community by supporting the Disability Integration Act.

Enhance the Medicaid program to ensure people with disabilities on Medicaid have access to care in their homes and communities.

Pete will do this by increasing Medicaid eligibility, eliminating Medicaid’s bias towards institutional care, ending Medicaid waiting lists, and permanently funding the Money Follows the Person program, which eliminates barriers that restrict using Medicaid funds for community-based care.

Raise standards for pay, benefits, and training for direct care workers.

Pete will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and create a national Direct Care Workforce Standards Board, composed of direct care workers and their representatives, providers, consumers and consumer advocacy groups, to advise relevant agencies on direct care workforce issues.

Lower burden on unpaid family caregivers, including by providing credit toward Social Security.

For a given period of years, the caregiver of a child, senior, or dependent with a disability will be awarded credit toward Social Security benefits as if they earned 50 percent of the average earnings of a full-time, year-round worker.

Five years ago I learned that I had a fatal, genetic liver disease. I became so sick that I had to give up my job because I was physically unable to work. Without an income, I had to deplete my entire savings in order to survive. Eventually, I had to make the painful decision to give up my home. Thankfully, my parents came to my rescue. They selflessly made the decision to sell their home, move to Des Moines, and provide me with the 24-hour care that I required. If it weren’t for their love and support, I honestly don’t know what I would have done. They literally saved me from homelessness and despair. But I am a living example of a pre-existing condition. If that protection is taken away, I will no longer have health insurance. Without healthcare insurance, I will not be able to afford necessary medications and I will die. 
— Ashley, Iowa

 

Accessible Transportation

Over 18 million Americans with disabilities face barriers to travel, including more than five million who use wheelchairs. Although the ADA prohibits discrimination in public transportation, inadequate funding and enforcement have still left too many barriers for people with disabilities. Pete will strive to ensure that all transportation systems, especially public transit, are safe and accessible for all. He will:

Require transportation projects with federal funding to be certified as 100 percent accessible.

All projects must have appropriate accommodations for the needs of people with both chronic physical and mental health conditions, such as adequate staff training and a supply of accessible vehicles.

Incentivize private taxi and ridesharing companies to offer accessible services.

Pete’s Department of Transportation will vigorously enforce the ADA’s non-discrimination policies for private companies and use the federal procurement processes to incentivize companies to make vehicle fleets more accessible.

Ensure that air travel is accessible.

Pete will push to modify the Air Carrier Access Act to provide increased statutory protections and improved enforcement. He will also incentivize airlines and airports to train all personnel on handling wheelchairs and other mobility devices correctly and collaborate with disability groups and the airline industry to explore modifying federal regulations so wheelchairs can be tied down inside of airplane cabins.

Promote safe streets by incentivizing states to work with cities and counties to build accessible roadways and increase accessible sidewalks, crosswalks, and pedestrian signals.

Expand accessible transportation in rural communities.

Pete will expand and replicate successful pilot programs, such as partnerships with ridesharing companies; improve access to accessible, non-emergency medical transportation services; expand federal grant programs like TIGER Grants; and increase resources for the Rural Transit Assistance Program.

 

Health Care

Americans with disabilities face many challenges and barriers when interacting with the health care system. Having a disability is a major contributor to health care disparities. Pete will invest in the prevention of chronic diseases, as adults with disabilities are three times more likely to have a stroke, heart disease, diabetes, or cancer than those without a disability. To advance comprehensive, affordable health care for all, Pete will:

There is no way for my type of hearing loss to be fixed or corrected. Hearing aids remain relatively expensive—ranging from $300 to $3000 per ear and failing to last past four to five years. This puts quite an everlasting expense over the course of a lifetime. I am very grateful for my parents, who were able to buy one last pair that put me through college as I struggled to keep up in large lecture halls filled with hearing students. Two years later and I still have yet to afford a new pair during a vital time where I am trying to take off in my career. I worry that one day it will affect my job. As I spend countless hours a week at doctors appointments, racking up medical bills, I wonder how I still have to continue to put something as simple as hearing aids on hold. 
— Lauren, Virginia

 

Mental Health Care

Pete will provide every American with access to comprehensive mental health and addiction services as outlined in his Health and Belonging in America plan. Pete’s plan focuses on strengthening communities and community systems of care to help people with a mental health disability thrive wherever they feel most comfortable. In particular, he will:

Ensure that every American has access to comprehensive coverage for mental health care.

To achieve this, Pete will enforce mental health parity in health care coverage and integrate the behavioral health care system with the physical health care system.

Dramatically increase access to community-based mental health care services through annual $10 billion Healing and Belonging grants.

 

Housing & Disaster Preparedness

All people with disabilities deserve access to safe, affordable, and accessible housing. Housing and other infrastructure decisions must take into account that people with disabilities are disproportionately affected by climate disruption and natural disasters. To promote accessible housing and make sure that individuals with disabilities will be safe in the event of natural disasters, Pete will:

Ensure people with disabilities can find safe and affordable housing by reinstating the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule.

Combat the epidemic of homelessness among individuals with disabilities.

Help ensure that people with disabilities participate in disaster preparedness efforts and, after a disaster, can return to their homes and communities.

 

Inclusive Technology

Technology can be a tremendous asset to people with disabilities, but it must be accessible, usable, and understandable. Inclusive technology can make classrooms and workplaces more accessible while also saving costs for employers. As President, Pete will affirm America’s leadership in innovation to:

Ensure full high-speed, affordable broadband coverage for everyone through an $80 billion Internet For All initiative and make net neutrality the law of the land.

Develop an Accessible Technology Bill of Rights that will be a gold standard for government and private uses of smart technologies.

This Bill of Rights will emphasize that access must be built in at the beginning of development processes. The committee will include disability experts and advocates that promote universal design and together develop best practices for industry.

Prioritize the goal of full digital inclusion across all federal agencies to ensure that Americans with disabilities can access all the benefits of technology.

Pete will accelerate the adoption of accessibility standards across the federal government and invest in user experience (UX) research so digital products and services are designed with and tested by users with disabilities. 

 

Global Leadership

A Buttigieg administration will promote the equal rights and freedoms of persons with disabilities worldwide, including efforts aimed at inclusion, belonging, and inherent dignity as codified in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. To advance the rights of people with disabilities globally, Pete will:

Strongly support ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Advance the human rights of persons with disabilities globally.

Pete’s administration will develop targeted assistance initiatives that raise awareness about persons with disabilities and their rights, support livelihood opportunities, strengthen protection from hate crimes, and build the capacity of local disability organizations. He will also develop a national strategy for disability-inclusive international development.

We must tirelessly advocate for people with disabilities, so they no longer have to do it on their own. If you’re with us, text ACCESS to 25859.

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Footnotes

  1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “1 in 4 U.S. adults live with a disability.” August 16, 2018.
  2. American Association of People with Disabilities and The Leadership Conference Education Fund.”Equity in Transportation for People with Disabilities.”
  3. Community Rehabilitation Programs (CRPs) List.” Wage and Hour Division (WHD). July 1, 2019
  4. Coakley, Rebecca. “10 disability policy questions every candidate should answer.” Center for American Progress. October 15, 2019.
  5. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey: Employment-population ratio - with a disability, 16 to 64 years, Series LNU02376950.” 2018.
  6. Highlighting Disability / Poverty Connection, NCD Urges Congress to Alter Federal Policies That Disadvantage People with Disabilities.” National Council on Disability. November 13, 2017.
  7. Grant, Kali. “Security and Stability: Paid Family and Medical Leave and its Importance to People with Disabilities and their Families.” Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality. October 1, 2017.; Setty, Suma. Heather Koball, Seth Hartig, TJ Sutcliff. “Disability Perspectives on Paid Leave.” National Center for Children in Poverty. February, 2019.
  8. U.S. Department of Education, “Civil Rights Data Collection.”; Losen, Daniel., Cheri Hodson, Michael A. Keith II, Katrina Morrison, Shakti Belway. “Are We Closing the School Discipline Gap?” The Center for Civil Rights Remedies. February, 2015.
  9. Losen, Daniel., Cheri Hodson, Michael A. Keith II, Katrina Morrison, Shakti Belway. “Are We Closing the School Discipline Gap?” The Center for Civil Rights Remedies. February, 2015.
  10. “Students With Disabilities: Better Federal Coordination Could Lessen Challenges in the Transition from High School.” U.S. Government Accountability Office. July, 2012.
  11. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey: Unemployment rate - With no disability, 16 years and over, Series LNU04074593.” 2019.
  12. U.S. Census Bureau.“2017 American Community Survey: Selected Economic Characteristics for the Civilian Noninstitutionalized Population by Disability Status.” 2018.
  13. Szymendera, Scott, “Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Medicare: The 24-Month Waiting Period for SSDI Beneficiaries Under Age 65.” Congressional Research Service. January 7, 2019.
  14. Hosteteer, Martha and Sarah Klein. “Creating Better Systems of Care for Adults with Disabilities: Lessons for Policy and Practice.” Commonwealth Fund. September 25, 2018.
  15. Position Statements: Transportation. The Arc. 2019.
  16. Hosteteer, Martha and Sarah Klein. “Creating Better Systems of Care for Adults with Disabilities: Lessons for Policy and Practice.” Commonwealth Fund. September 25, 2018.
  17. Disability Inclusion.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. September 4, 2019.
  18. Disability-Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction and Emergency Situations.” United Nations.
  19. USWDS: The United States Web Design System.” The United States Web Design System.; “A System to Help You Design and Write Content for VA.gov.” VA Design System.; “18F Accessibility Guide.” 18F.