What people with disabilities hope to see in a Biden Presidency

Two people hidden behind “Biden President 2020” banner
After four years of ridicule and inattention to PwDs being completely normalized, the future is looking slightly brighter.

My first presidential countdown clock started January 20, 2017, the day President Trump took office. My expectations of disability rights stagnating during his administration were more than met when I was named a “serial plaintiff,” and my right to file 504 complaints on behalf of children who had been discriminated against in K-12 settings was suspended for 9 months. Unfortunately, my expectations were exceeded at a horrifying level after the pandemic started, which shifted people with disabilities to the back of the line for jobs, ventilators, and COVID treatment.

My second countdown clock started last week, when Joe Biden was named President-elect on November 7 by several news organizations. The third (and hopefully last) will start on December 14th after the electoral college confirms Biden as the next president. I am not putting it past the current administration to try and pull some serious shenanigans as the date of their eviction looms.

Here is what *I* personally hope to see in a Biden administration.

I expect tolerance for people who are different.

Trump made it OK to make fun of people with disabilities. Trump’s appointee Betsey DeVos was a continuous threat to the education of students with disabilities. President Trump’s campaigns and administration were characterized by a combination of ableism and eugenics. His perspective is that disability is a weakness and COVID is something to be battled or conquered. A failure to win that battle is clearly is the fault of the disabled individual, because all it takes is “good genes,” and you will be totally fine, amiright? If you don’t overcome your disability, clearly you don’t have good genes. Over 200,000 people with disabilities were murdered during the Holocaust via a program called “Aktion T-4” so you will have to excuse people with disabilities if we don’t look back on those days, or the language around them uttered by either Trump or the Nazis, fondly. Not everyone with a disability is looking for a cure. That doesn’t make us weak or a drag on society.

Biden himself has a largely hidden stuttering disability. Chances are he will be more compassionate towards people with differences in general, and people with disabilities in particular, since he identifies as one.

I expect disability to be taken more seriously as a first-tier diversity issue.

Biden may be the first President-elect to specifically call out disability in his acceptance speech.

We must make the promise of the country real for everybody — no matter their race, their ethnicity, their faith, their identity, or their disability.

It’s only one word, but every time disability is mentioned in the same sentence as other more traditional dimensions of diversity such as race, ethnicity, etc. I do a little mental happy dance. More often than not, disability is left out of the diversity discussion entirely, or it is included as an afterthought.

I expect my needs as a disabled human being to be respected.

Though Biden identifies as having a disability, his campaign has not been without missteps related to the disabled community.

Biden’s initial website (as well as those of all other Democratic candidates) did not follow the WCAG accessibility guidelines and were largely inaccessible to assistive technology users. While some candidates took the cheap and wholly ineffective way out by installing accessibility overlays, Biden’s campaign actually made their website organically accessible, and, more importantly, KEPT it accessible as they added new content. Furthermore, the Biden transition website contains an accessibility statement and was born largely accessible.

What does Biden’s Disability Platform look like?

As compared to the Trump administration, having a disability platform at all is amazing. But Biden’s disability platform is pretty middle-of-the-road compared to some of the more progressive candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Julián Castro. Biden’s disability platform revolves around:

  • Employment;
  • Health care;
  • Education, and;
  • Housing.

Clearly, these are four basic pillars that are very important to people with disabilities. However, the most important thing that Biden’s disability platform is that it calls for “full inclusion of people with disabilities in policy development” and highlights that Biden will “aggressively enforce the civil rights of people with disabilities.” If that actually happens, then bigger and more progressive steps like codifying website accessibility into the ADA might actually have a chance of occurring.

Biden is also planning on naming a “Special Envoy for International Disability Rights.” Perhaps we will see more disability-related cooperation and less nationalism from country to country. In my wildest dreams, the US would adopt the UN CRPD and stop pretending that the ADA is better.

I hope for (but can’t realistically “expect”) access to health care.

In the US, the lives of people with significant disabilities revolve around health insurance. Every person with a long-standing disability has a story about one or more life decisions where the final key to the decision was access to health insurance.

  • A decision to marry to gain insurance, or not marry to avoid losing insurance.
  • A decision to take a job (or not) over the financial fall-out from a mid-year change in insurers.
  • A decision to start a company or go to graduate school based on whether basic health insurance was available.

Currently, Obamacare is still the law of the land. But it may not last for long. Although we may see a return to a more civil administration, the damage caused by Trump’s Supreme Court appointments could last for 30 years or more. Without control of the Senate (TBD based on the Georgia run-offs, but honestly not looking good), Biden will not be able to pre-empt the Supreme Court from striking down Obamacare. Biden had better be ready to come up with a bipartisan substitute, or a whole lot of people will be hurt, especially people with disabilities.

The most important things I, as a disability advocate, expect in a Biden administration are:

  1. I expect that I won’t be angry every day about the most recent blatantly discriminatory comment, remark, or act directly targeting people with disabilities made by Trump, a member of his administration, or someone that supports Trump.
  2. I expect that the Biden administration will actually admit it when they make a mistake that they subsequently fix. The website changes are a good sign of that.
  3. I expect my stress levels will drop and I will sleep better and perhaps even my blood pressure will go down.

But finally, I don’t expect to give up the fight for disability rights any time soon.

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