Monday, April 28, 2014
A Victory! Information Bulletin # 388 (4/14) In the previous Information Bulletin, we pointed out that the disability community had been extremely dissed by the LBJ conference on Civil Rights. What follows is from the American-Statemen. There are lessons to be learned…… Texas disability rights groups launch voter effort, push for more clout By Andrea Ball - American-Statesman Staff When disability rights activists discovered they’d been left out of one of the highest-profile civil rights events in decades, the group came out swinging. The country’s 57 million people with disabilities — 3 million of them in Texas — deserved to be represented at the three-day Civil Rights Summit at the LBJ Presidential Library, advocates said. Two-thirds of them are unemployed. Accessible housing is in short supply. More than 100,000 Texans are on a waiting list for services to help them live independently. But people with disabilities have not been able to muster the kind of political clout claimed by other groups, such as the gay or women’s rights communities. That’s why the omission from the summit stung. “We are too infrequently a part of the conversation,” said Lex Frieden, one of the chief architects of the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act. Summit organizers ultimately invited Frieden to speak on a panel about social justice. But disability rights supporters say the episode was a wake-up call to mobilize in bigger numbers and stop being an afterthought. Advocates have launched a voter registration and education effort. They’re inviting candidates for top political offices to speak at a September conference on disability issues. They’re planning events to celebrate the upcoming 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. “Disability rights are civil rights,” said Bob Kafka of the advocacy group ADAPT of Texas. “We thought it was a given. This whole thing highlighted that we still are late being invited to the party.” For decades, Texas advocates have been a strong force behind many reforms affecting Texans with disabilities. Supporters have pushed for millions of dollars in curb cuts for people with wheelchairs, helped secure wheelchair lifts on Austin buses, championed wage increases for professional caregivers and pushed for more community services that let people live independently. But that work has mostly happened outside the spotlight. Now and then, ADAPT, generally considered the most radical of Texas advocacy groups, makes headlines for its protests or mass turnout at meetings. ADAPT members have been arrested for protesting budget cuts at the Capitol, outside the Governor’s Mansion and in other public places. Kafka has been arrested dozens of times for such civil disobedience. “We think it’s so important, people are literally willing to go to jail for it,” he said. People who have disabilities vote at lower rates because of transportation problems, inaccessible polling places and other barriers. If it could get people to the polls, the disability community would be a powerful voting bloc, Kafka said. Together, organizations across the state — including nonprofits, schools and state agencies — work with hundreds of thousands of people. The Arc of Texas alone has a mailing list of 20,000 people. The Americans with Disabilities Act — which outlaws discrimination in areas such as public transportation, employment and access to public facilities — was a huge step in the battle for civil rights, Frieden said. Disability parking placards and wheelchair ramps have become the norm. The less visible obstacles are the ones members of the disability community say they continue to face. Although employers are required to make “reasonable accommodations” for people with disabilities — such as adaptable work spaces or computer technology for people with visual impairments — millions of employable Americans with disabilities remain out of work. That’s because they are often seen for “what they cannot do, when, in reality, there are many, many more things that they can do,” Frieden said. Advocates also say that professional caretakers are poorly paid, that a shortage of funding for community services unnecessarily forces people to live in nursing homes or institutions and that the dearth of accessible housing in the community limits where people can live. People with disabilities say these barriers infringe on their civil rights. That’s why they were so offended when they were not invited to the LBJ summit, said ADAPT organizer Cathy Cranston. “It was like, ‘Wait a minute, guys; what about us?’” she said. “It seems like, somehow, we’re always forgotten.” The Civil Rights Summit was a national event that drew President Barack Obama, three former presidents and national experts to discuss racial equality, immigration, gay marriage and other issues. Summit organizers had planned to feature civil rights issues in which Johnson had played a role, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They also wanted to focus on issues that are still in the courts. When asked why disability rights was not on the agenda, LBJ Presidential Library Director Mark Updegrove told the media, “There is little lingering legislative debate about ADA — it is unquestionably the law of the land.” Disability rights advocates disputed that, citing ongoing lawsuits accusing states of violating the ADA. Supporters across the country launched a campaign to be included in the summit, writing and calling the LBJ library, the media and the offices of Obama and former Presidents Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush. Updegrove said one of the reasons he didn’t initially include disability rights in the program is the issue was already being addressed at a conference hosted by the George Bush Foundation scheduled for a few days before the LBJ summit — an event Updegrove himself planned to attend. When he went, he met Frieden, who explained that the community didn’t want its civil rights battle to be treated differently from the others. “I realized that I was wrong and asked Lex if he would be kind enough to participate,” Updegrove said. Advocates praised the decision. Mobilizing the vote This spring ADAPT of Texas is working on the Disability Voting Action Project, a statewide effort that uses the Internet and other advocacy groups to help register people to vote and find ways to get them to the polls. In June, ADAPT will send a survey to all of the candidates running for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. Those answers will be shared with the disability community. Multiple disability advocacy groups also plan to host a conference in September in which candidates for those same state offices will be invited to speak. It’s not a debate or a partisan event, Kafka said. It’s an effort to get the candidates on the record about what they plan to do to help people with disabilities, he said. “We hope they will be wise enough to come,” he said. Gubernatorial candidate and current Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, has met several times with disability advocates since beginning his campaign, said Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch. “Greg Abbott is running an inclusive campaign and will continue to reach out and directly engage with all voters across Texas,” Hirsch said. The Democratic candidate for governor, state Sen. Wendy Davis, did not respond to a request for comment. No matter who wins the upcoming elections, advocates say they’ll continue to emphasize that disability rights are civil rights and that their community deserves to be heard. “When you include us, we’ll blow your mind,” said Joe Tate of the advocacy group Community Now. “We do have insight that’s important.” ****** Steve Gold, The Disability Odyssey continues Back issues of other Information Bulletins posted after 10/2013 can be found only at http://stevegoldada.blogspot.com/ Information Bulletins before 10/2013 are available online at http://www.stevegoldada.com with a searchable Archive at this site divided into different subjects. To contact Steve Gold directly, write to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 215-627-7100. Ext 227.