I hope I'm wrong...
But Wednesday's announcement that Joe Biden will not run for President of the United States left me feeling empty. There is one less person in the race for the 2016 presidency interested in disability advocacy, especially employment. If the national media is to believed, the leader of the Democratic Party will be Hillary Clinton. And if the national polls are to be believed, Sec. Clinton will be President Hillary Clinton. While this seems like a win for disability advocacy, I am worried. I do not see a strong advocate for individuals with disabilities in the former Secretary of State - yet.
I believe Joe Biden would continue the work of Pres. Obama and he implored the democrats to run on his record. The 44th President of the United States has done more for the employment of individuals with disabilities than anyone other than Sen. Harkin in the past 10 years. Obama has enhanced the economic empowerment of our community more than any other president by writing Executive Order 13546, increasing federal employment for individuals with disabilities. On Tuesday, it was reported that the federal government hit an all-time high in the employment of individuals with disabilities working for Uncle Sam. Enhancement of the American with Disabilities Act, and specifically Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act has been working. By requiring federal contractors and subcontractors to have 7% of the workforce as individuals with disabilities, businesses are adding disability to their inclusionary practices. President Obama has us on the right path.
Here is where we need further, future leadership. Future President Clinton, please promise to work with us to continue furthering opportunities for individuals with disabilities in employment, education and entrepreneurship. It is through these economic opportunities that we better our own individual lives.
What should the next president do? They should further expand what has started with Section 503 by asking states to follow suit. States that accept federal vocational rehabilitation monies could be required to similarly higher employees with disabilities at state agencies with an increase of 5% as well as any companies working under state contracts having a 5 to 7% employment level of individuals with disabilities. A Clinton administration could strongly urge businesses to expand their supplier diversity base to include businesses owned by individuals with disabilities. Many times the loss of health care benefits hinders the individual with a disability from finding a job. It is a great personal burden to not lose your very important benefits. The next president could make Medicaid available to ALL individuals with disabilities regardless of employment/economic status. You may think that will cost our government more money, but the US would be adding to its revenue side in new income tax at the same time removing individuals from Social Security. Require individuals with disabilities who can to work/volunteer for the Medicaid funds - we all want to work if we can. There are creative ways to continue this expanding conversation of economic empowerment.
I have concerns. Based on Clinton's web presence, there is little talk of disability employment. And while this is not a 'media-sexy' issue, it is very important to those of us living with disabilities. Statistically, one out of six Americans have or will have a disability in their lifetime.
There is exactly one paragraph on employment for individuals with disabilities under the issues section on www.hillaryclinton.com. It is understandably in its own category. But, I noticed on Clinton's front page they are proud to say Katy Perry is coming to Iowa! Good for Iowa... I'm not sure how that will help Iowans with disabilities.
Secretary Clinton is correct when she stated at the 25th anniversary of the ADA: "So there's a lot of unfinished business - both at home, and around the world. But I personally believe that the progress and the landmark legislation - first on education then broadly opening up transportation and buildings and employment, everything that people should be able to pursue - that that legislation was one of the real highlights of the civil rights and human rights movements in America.
There is unfinished business. It also appears there is unfinished business on her platform. More than just reaffirming the anniversary, real policy needs to be brought forth an enhanced similar to the Obama Administration's actions.
Clinton's main Democratic rival Bernie Sanders has a troubling internet footprint on the issue. On his official website (berniesanders.com) there is no reference to disability issues. Under veteran's issues, there is no mention of employment. This is an extremely disappointing stance. This makes Clinton's 38 words seem very impressive.
America deserves more. We do not need pretty pictures on the websites of candidates standing next to Individuals in wheelchairs. We do not need to be placated about the advancements made in the past 25 years. We do need further education, employment and entrepreneurship opportunities.
The unemployment rate for Individuals with disabilities is over 15%, and yet four out of five people have left the workforce. The real unemployment rate is approximately 70 to 80% for individuals with disabilities. President Obama's policies have led us on the right path for increased employment of individuals with disabilities.
Please President Hillary Clinton and others, work with our community. Listen to our real needs and actively engage on future advancements. Less Katy Perry, more employment opportunities. If you will do this then I will be happy to say, I was wrong.