.Why We Should All Care About Issues Those With Disabilities Face
On November 3rd of this year, eligible Americans have the right to cast a vote in the 2020 Presidential Election. While there is a lot of discussion surrounding that one vote in particular, there will also be many other decisions made at the voting booth on both nationwide and statewide levels.
At Community Crossroads, we encourage every citizen to use their voice this fall by voting. Given our mission is to provide support, guidance and advocacy to those with disabilities, we feel it is important to note some of the issues facing the disability community.
If you have a disability and are interested in voting, don’t be concerned about your disability getting in the way of you voting. According to the New Hampshire Secretary of State website, each polling place must be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Some ways your local voting place provide access it by including:
- An accessible voting booth with seat
- Booths allow users to vote with a tablet that then prints the ballot
- Provide bright lights
- Magnifying glasses & a read-aloud feature on the tablet
- Accessible ramps and/or elevator
State and federal medical experts have advised that voters should take precautions to avoid COVID-19. Concern over COVID-19 has been deemed a disability for the 2020 elections to meet the requirements of our state constitution for absentee voting.
It is important to know where all of the candidates thoughts and opinions on the issues impacting the disability community. Websites, virtual town forums and social media can be helpful ways to know where NH candidates stand. You can also access their voting records if they have served in the past at gencourt.state.nh.us. Knowing about the issues that impact those with disabilities whether you have one yourself, have a family member or friend with one, or want to support those with a disability in your community, will help you become better informed when you vote.
Here are a few topics important to people with disabilities and their families in no particular order.
- The “DD Waitlist” – A major topic of discussion when it comes to those with developmental disabilities is the Developmental Disability Waitlist (DD Waitlist). Access to needed long-term support and services is important in order for people with developmental disabilities to be able to live productive lives and work in the community. If lawmakers do not allocate enough funding for these services, individuals turning 21 years old are at risk of being put on a DD waitlist. Thankfully for those with developmental disabilities, their family and peers, in 2007 “the New Hampshire Legislature voted overwhelmingly to pass a law that required fully funding services needed by all adults with a developmental disability or acquired brain injury, thereby eliminating the wait list of people going without services.” Despite this law going into effect over a decade ago, those with a developmental disability, their family members, and their peers still fight every two years for services they need. When a NH citizen who experiences a DD or Acquired Brain Disorder is placed on a waitlist, it means:
- The person may experience the loss of skills amassed through their public school education experience affecting their opportunity to live as independantly as possible.
- There is a chance for the person to lose their job and become unemployed because they will no longer have access to the job supports and staff needed to continue working and contributing.
- A parent or guardian may themselves need to leave their job or stay home to provide direct support to their loved one, resulting in decreased income.
- In some cases, a family may no longer be able to pay bills, keep their home or savings or lose health care coverage.
- More people who are Direct Support Professionals will lose employment opportunities they spent time and effort training for.
It is crucial for so many individuals and families that legislators know about this issue and the many aspects of it.
- Abuse and neglect – According to the Disability Rights Center of New Hampshire, those with disabilities who live in an institutionalized setting such as a nursing facility, hospital, or correctional facility are at a higher risk of abuse. It is important that everyone with a disability is in a safe environment with no abuse or neglect occurring and if there is any abuse or neglect, that person is protected by the law.
- Access and accommodations – Those who have a disability deserve the right to accommodations and access that fit their needs. This could be in the form of a service animal, accessibility for those who are in a wheelchair and many other ways that help those with a disability live a better life.
- Assistive technology – Assistive technology can be in the form of voice activated computers, wheelchairs, hearing aids, tools to reach or pick things up, walkers, personal computers and just about any other form of technology that will help those with disabilities maintain, increase or improve their abilities. According to the Disability Rights Center-NH, laws are in place that allow these forms of technology to those who need them.
- Special Education – Students with disabilities who qualify for Special Education are entitled to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). This is especially important during remote and distance learning, when new issues could arise. According to Understood.org, some of the ways students with disabilities are currently being challenged in school include:
- The change from in-person education to virtual education, could alter the accomodations the student needs to succeed.
- Less focus being given to students who need it more and educators focusing on their classroom as one whole group.
- A loss of important social growth and interactions with peers in the classroom. While remote and distance learning has impacted this for all students, it could be worse for those with a disability.
While those with disabilities are facing these issues, it is important for IEP (Individualized Education Plan) Case Managers, teachers and parents and/or guardians to have a communication line that is open to any questions and concerns. Picnh.org/resources/covid19/ constantly posts the latest developments and orders from Governor Sununu regarding special education.
- Employment – Our state has anti-discrimination laws that ensure those with a disability will have the right to work in an environment that is competitive and integrated. In 2015, New Hampshire became the first state in the nation to ban the payment of subminimum wage. Subminimum wage, which in the past was a way to help those with a disability find employment according to New Hampshire Public Radio, became a way to exploit those with disabilities by having them work the same hours as those without a disability but paying them less just for having a disability. When working, those with a disability have the right to reasonable accommodation and access.
- Guardianship – A guardianship is appointed by the Probate Court according to the DRC-NH and helps with decision making in the lives of some with a disability. Issues regarding guardianship help make sure the guardianship is using their duties in an appropriate manner and helping with the process to gain someone guardianship power.
- Housing – Discrimination and affordable housing are two leading issues in this topic. According to a report titled ‘Priced Out: The Housing Crisis For People With Disabilities’ by the Technical Assistance Collaboration and Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Housing Task Force, in NH, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment exceeds 100% of Supplemental Security Income in every housing market. About 4.8 million adults with disabilities between the ages of 18-64 received income from the SSI program in 2016. If rent is higher than the SSI, it becomes difficult, or impossible for someone with a disability to live comfortably alone in an apartment in our own state. The report suggests “to reverse the crisis, full support for federal rental assistance programs is the first priority.” In terms of discrimination, laws are in place that protects those with a disability from discrimination in cases where they want to pay rent or buy a property.
- Medicaid and Healthcare – Medicaid provides critical healthcare to low income kids and adults as well as long-term support and services in the community and is a lifeline for children and adults with disabilities. One area Community Crossroads has advocated for recently is an adult Medicaid dental benefit which would also provide adults with disabilities access to some preventative oral health care services. At Community Crossroads, our Oral Health program focuses on breaking through the barriers causing people not to have good oral health. Those three barriers include access, prevention and education. Notably, our state’s dental policy is a major barrier for some Medicaid eligible adults in NH who have limited access to dental services. New Hampshire’s Medicaid Dental Plan covers pain, infection and extractions only for anyone 21 years or older. This results in some not having the oral health care they deserve and need, thus leading to our Oral Health Program which satisfies some of those needs.
- Workforce Shortage – Another issue currently impacting New Hampshire and much of the nation is a shortage of Home Care Providers and Direct Support Professionals. Reasons for the shortage in New Hampshire include low wages, a stressful job environment, insufficient training, competitions from other industries that have pulled people away from those positions and a common perception that this type of work is temporary.
- Long Term Supports & Services – Medicaid covers a wide range of LTSS such as home health services and coverage for nursing facility services. According to the NH Department of Health and Human Services, our state has the second oldest population in the U.S. and includes a relatively large population of people with developmental disabilities and chronic health issues. Some issues that relate to these long term supports and services include making sure everyone receives the care they deserve, people have the ability to apple, and that those with a disability have the opportunity to have the type of support they want.
While the above are topics that are discussed when it comes to rights for those with disabilities, you may have a concern that impacts you or a loved one. Where do the candidates stand on those issues? How can you better inform them while they are fighting for your vote?
Prior to voting, research the candidates and find out where they stand on issues that are important to you. For more information, check out these non-partisan and informative resources including FactCheck.org, Ballotpedia, Vote411.org, the Associated Press and https://therespectabilityreport.org/2020/09/22/2020-voter-guide/, which specifically focuses on issues those with disabilities face.
You will have the opportunity to learn more about the candidates in the running for New Hampshire Governor on Tuesday, October 13. Our current Governor Chris Sununu and Senator Dan Feltes will present their disability policy platforms and then answer questions those in the community have that relate to issues those with disabilities face. Click here: https://ablenh.wildapricot.org/event-4006348, to learn more about the event, submit questions and receive a Zoom link to attend the event. Please remember this event is nonpartisan and for the purpose of gaining information and to encourage candidates to make disability issues a priority.
We vote in NH on November 3rd.