Pete Buttigieg Reveals New Plan To Expand Rights For People With Disabilities

The proposals include ending a minimum wage loophole, improving education for disabled students and implementing Social Security reforms.

Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg released a comprehensive new plan Saturday to increase the rights of people with disabilities by implementing a series of Social Security reforms, doubling down on efforts to employ more disabled workers, and fully funding disabled students’ access to education, among other proposals.

In the 19-page plan, Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, promises to address a wide range of issues across employment, health care, public accessibility and education — including several issues that are regularly discussed within disability rights circles but rarely get notice in national policymaking.

“As President, Pete will build a culture of belonging for everyone,” reads the plan, a copy of which was obtained by HuffPost. “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.”

The proposals include ending a legal loophole that allows employers to pay disabled employees less than the minimum wage, and passing a $15 minimum wage that would apply to all Americans. There is also a proposal for an executive order, à la former President Barack Obama, to boost the hiring of people with disabilities across the workforce. Buttigieg promises to “double labor force participation for people with disabilities” over the next decade, “with a focus on closing racial inequities.”

Education is a key issue in the plan, titled “Dignity, Access, and Belonging: A New Era of Inclusion for People with Disabilities.” The presidential candidate says 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,” according to the plan.

Like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who unveiled her education plan on Oct. 21, Buttigieg promises to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. He also aims to tackle segregation in schools between disabled and nondisabled students — specifically, making sure that intellectually and multiply disabled students spend the vast majority of their school days in the same learning environment as nondisabled students, rather than being alienated from the rest of the student population.

Several health care proposals are also on the list, including guaranteed paid sick leave and an investment of $300 billion to improve mental health and addiction care. Buttigieg also aims to get rid of the so-called “benefit cliff” for Social Security Disability Insurance recipients, who lose their benefits if they earn more than $14,640 annually under the current SSDI policy.

The plan also mentions the 2020 hopeful’s “Medicare for All Who Want It” proposal to address the nation’s health care system, which he introduced in September. “Medicare for All Who Want It” would be a federal insurance program that would be available for anyone to opt into, and it would ensure that “all people with disabilities have an affordable coverage alternative,” according to the plan.

“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.”

- "Dignity, Access, and Belonging: A New Era of Inclusion for People with Disabilities"

On Friday, Warren herself rolled out an extensive plan on how to pay for a government-run “Medicare for All” program that covers everyone without increasing overall costs for middle-class Americans — a point on which Buttigieg has criticized her in the past.

As part of Buttigieg’s disability rights plan, he also says he will reduce drug prices, get rid of the 24-month waiting period for Medicare so coverage becomes automatic with eligibility, and reduce wait times for SSDI and Supplementary Security Income appeals cases.

Other proposals include protecting parents with disabilities from losing custody or adoption rights to their children, strengthening Title IX protections for disabled survivors of sexual assault on campuses, and requiring that first responders and law enforcement officers undergo training to reduce police brutality against people with disabilities.

Greater public accessibility is also a priority, along with reinforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is approaching its 30th anniversary next year. Buttigieg’s plan will require that all aspects of the voting process, including polling stations, be accessible, and that air travel and other federally funded modes of transportation “be certified as 100% accessible.”

The report notes that “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,” it continues. “These obstacles have been built up by a society ― often apathetically, sometimes deliberately ― that has long ignored the needs of people with disabilities.”

Buttigieg’s team consulted with several disability organizations and members of the disability community ― including the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability and the Center for Accessible Technology in Berkeley, California ― to help develop the plan, Tess Whittlesey, deputy national press secretary for Pete for America, told HuffPost.

While many 2020 hopefuls have introduced plans to address climate change, education, health care and child poverty, few candidates have outlined such a wide-ranging set of proposals specifically aimed at supporting disabled people — the world’s largest minority group, and historically one of the most marginalized and overlooked communities.

In August, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) announced a similar plan to expand and affirm disability rights, focused on making workplaces more inclusive of disabled workers, fully funding disability education and passing Medicare for All.

Weeks before Beto O’Rourke announced the end of his White House bid, the former Texas congressman had also laid out several disability rights proposals that included expanding access to medical equipment, investing in universal design and improving accessible transportation.

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