Disability Rights

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How You Can Resist
How You Can Resist

  • Call your member of Congress by dialing tel:844-6-RESIST and tell them what you think about their vote on the "American Health Care Act." Find out how your member of Congress voted here.
  • Find out when your Senators and U.S. Representative are holding town hall meetings and other Upcoming Events/Opportunities.
  • Click here and here to find organizations to get involved with. Click here for more information and opportunities for online activism.

Actions Taken by the Federal Government
Laws Proposed by Congress

Legislative Actions[edit]

Laws that Support Equity and Justice

  • HR 1121 says that people cannot be kept off of a plan due to a pre-existing condition. Also says patients will not pay more based on their health-care status.[1]

Harmful Laws

  • S.J. Res 25 rolls back protections under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. [2]


See also the State and Local Pages for state-by-state law tracking.

Recent Updates[edit]

  • 7/17-7/21 is National Disability Voter Registration Week. The campaign advocates for the political power of people with disabilities while also engaging candidates and the media to recognize the disability community. This year, they are partnering with EveryLibrary to promote voter registration in libraries across the country. [3]
  • 7/15/17: Estimates for reduction in Medicaid funding to states under the proposed Senate repeal bill is 27%-39% by 2036. The Medicaid budget would start in 2020, with more reductions starting in 2025.[4]

Americans with Disabilities Act[edit]

The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990) is a federal civil rights law that is designed to keep disabled people from being discriminated against in jobs, business, and public programs, including education.[5] The US Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division handles complaints about violations of the ADA.[6]

Employment for Disabled People[edit]

The ADA forbids discrimination in employment. Even so, people with disabilities are much less likely than those without disabilities to have jobs (17.5% compared with 65% in 2015).[7] Of people available for and looking for work, the unemployment rate of disabled people is more than twice that of non-disabled people (10.5% vs. 4.6%).[8]

The Fair Labor Standards Act allows employers to pay workers with disabilities less than federal minimum wage.[9] This would end under the Democrats' proposed $15 minumum wage bill.[10]

More than 420,000 disabled workers are being paid below minimum wage under the 14(c) certificate program. Here is a map of places where this happens.

Trump/GOP Agenda[edit]

  • The 2017 budget passed by the House and Senate included the following provisions:[11]
    • Kept 99% of funding for the EPA. Environmental safety affects disabled people more than non-disabled people.
    • Kept ACA/Obamacare subsidies.
    • Increased funding for the National Institutes of Health.
    • Kept funding for Meals on Wheels, which serves mostly senior and disabled people.

Disability Assistance (SSI/SSDI)[edit]

The Social Security Administration runs two federal disability benefit programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).[12] SSI and SSDI are both programs for disabled people. SSI is "means-tested," which means a person must be low on both income and resources in order to qualify. SSDI, though, is available to anyone who has worked (or whose parents/spouse have worked) for a certain number of years and paid into the federal insurance fund known as FICA. There is no income requirement for SSDI.[13] People on SSI receive medical coverage under Medicaid, which is funded by both the federal and state governments. People on SSDI are covered by Medicare, which is a part of the federal Social Security program.[14]

Congressional District Breakdowns[edit]

  • Click here to see fact sheets on the number of SSI recipients in each congressional district.
  • Click here to see an interactive tool for finding out how the disability rate has changed in your county.


  • Disability benefit rates have risen in the US, especially in rural areas[15], but this is mostly from changes in the nation's population:
    • there are more women in the workforce
    • baby boomers are becoming older and more disabled
    • there are simply more people in the country.[16][17]
  • Growth in disability claims has slowed to its lowest rate in decades, and will continue to slow as Baby Boomers retire.[18][19]


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says people with disabilities are one of the groups most vulnerable to climate health risks.[20] Disabled people often face barriers to getting health care services, public health information, and emergency information in a timely manner.[21] Many also have high rates of risk factors[22] like poverty and poor health. These risk factors can worsen the harm caused by pollution, dangerous weather events, and other environmental hazards.[23] They may have less access to information about public health hazards, evacuations, and other emergency situations. They may also have less ability to act in response [24].

The EPA's "Communicating Vulnerabilities to Climate Change: People with Disabilities" explains key points from the U.S. Climate and Health Assessment on people more affected by climate change.[25]

Trump/GOP Agenda[edit]

  • The 2017 budget approved by the House and Senate cut the EPA's budget by only 1%, which is much less than Trump's proposed budget.[26] Cutting the EPA would have affected people with disabilities more than others. This is because of decreased air and water safety, and because climate change has an increased affect on vulnerable groups such as disabled people, children, older people, and people with medical conditions.[27]

Health Care[edit]

American Healthcare Act (AHCA)[edit]

The CBO (Congressional Budget Office) has analyzed the AHCA and found that if the bill were passed:

  • Older and poorer people would be hit the hardest by higher premiums and loss of services[28]
  • The savings would be because fewer things will be covered[29]
  • 14 to 23 million more people would be uninsured[30]
  • Older, low-income people's premiums would be much greater[31]
  • Cuts to Medicaid would hurt older and disabled people who count on Medicaid to pay their Medicare premiums[32]


More than 10 million Americans with disabilities are currently covered by Medicaid.[33]

See the Healthcare section on Medicaid/Medicare for more information on threats to Medicaid funding.

Medicaid is the largest health care payer for autistic and developmentally disabled people.[34]

The Community First Choice (CFC) option is expected to end January 1, 2020.[35] The CFC was established by the ACA. It allows states to provide home-based attendant services to:

  • older people
  • chronically ill people
  • people with disabilities

The states that now have an approved CFC program are California, Maryland, Montana, Oregon, and Texas.[36] The Congressional Budget Office estimates that there will be a decrease of approximately $12 billion over the next ten years.[37]

The health care bill (AHCA) passed in the House would take $880 billion from Medicaid, which would harm programs and services that help people with disabilities. Medicare provides:

  • in-home assistance
  • physical therapy
  • mobility devices
  • technology and counselors in schools to help students with disabilities

Senate Republicans have proposed completely scrapping and re-writing their own approach to health care. Still, these senators do not have a track record of supporting programs like publicly funded health care [38].

The Olmstead Decision (Community vs. Institutionalization)[edit]

About Olmstead[edit]

The Olmstead Decision guarantees disabled people's civil right to live in their communities, rather than in institutions. This comes from one of the most important civil rights decisions in U.S. history, Olmstead v. LC. In 1999, the Supreme Court held that segregation of people with disabilities violates the ADA. According to the DOJ Civil Rights Division:

“The Court held that public entities must provide community-based services to persons with disabilities when (1) such services are appropriate (2) the affected persons do not oppose community-based treatment; and (3) community-based services can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the public entity and the needs of others who are receiving disability services from the entity.” [39]

The DOJ has actively enforced Olmstead in a variety of cases around the country.[40]

Fair Housing[edit]

One barrier to living in the community instead of in an institution is housing discrimination. According to the National Fair Housing Alliance, 55% of housing discrimination complaints in 2016 were about disability.[41]

Access to Food[edit]

Another barrier to community living is food insecurity. Almost 1/3 of low-income disabled people are at risk of going hungry.[42]

Trump/GOP Agenda[edit]

The 2017 budget gives more money to the Administration for Community Living. This includes more programs paying for food for seniors.[43]



On June 1, the Department of Education launched a new Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) website with increased search capabilities, resources, and documents.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that disabled children get the right educational and related services. Before it passed in 1975, only one in five disabled kids went to public school.[44]

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s (DOE) IDEA informational resource: “The IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities.” [45]

The DOE’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services explains the law, its related rules, and other policy guidance in detail.

Another DOE office, the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), develops research and other resources to help states, school districts, and families support students with disabilities. It handles projects both directly and through partners and grant recipients.[46]

Every disabled child has a right to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the IDEA[47]. FAPE means special education and related services that:

  • (A) are publicly provided and free of charge
  • (B) meet the standards of the state educational agency
  • (C) include an appropriate preschool, elementary, or secondary school education in the state involved, and
  • (D) meet the disabled student's individual needs[48]

Appropriate IEPs are “reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits.”[49] In Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, the court decided that IDEA requires a child’s IEP "must be appropriately ambitious in light of his (sic) circumstances," rejecting the "merely more than the bare minimum" (or de minimis) test applied by the Tenth Circuit, finding instead that schools are required to show that an “IEP is reasonably calculated to enable the child to make progress appropriate in light of his (sic) circumstances.”[50]

Disabled students are far more likely to be arrested for disruptive behavior in school, because schools can bypass IDEA laws if they call the police.[51]


The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was passed in 2015 to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Although ESSA does not specifically address students with disabilities, it does require states to set performance standards that improve results for all students. States must create accountability plans for low-performing students, schools, and districts.[52] In this way, the law encourages states to account for the particular requirements and challenges of students with disabilities, and to develop educational strategies that meet their needs.

Trump/GOP Agenda[edit]

  • Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos's voucher plan would result in giving money to private/religiously affiliated schools [53]. Public schools must accept all students, and because of money from the state, can provide special education services for students with disabilities. Many private schools cannot provide these services. Because private schools are exempt from the Americans with Disabilities Act, they can reject a student with disabilities. [54].
  • There are also serious concerns about whether a Trump administration would enforce the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, given that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called the inclusion of students with disabilities “the single most irritating problem for teachers throughout America today.”[55]
  • During DeVos's confirmation hearing, she stated that enforcement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act should be left to the states, seemingly unaware that this is a federal law.[56]
  • The spending deal passed by the House and Senate on May 1st, 2017,[57] includes:
    • More money for special education
    • More money for TRIO, which serves disabled students, among others.
    • More money for civil rights enforcement.
  • Nebraska's LB 595 would let teachers use force against students who act out. The bill doesn't talk about training teachers to know when and how to use force.[58] Disabled students have force used on them in schools much more often than non-disabled students.[59].

Mass Incarceration[edit]

Human rights abuses in prisons impact people with disabilities more than those without disabilities because many prisons ignore the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).[60] Rather than obey the ADA and provide accommodations, prisons often put people with disabilities in solitary confinement.[61] This problem will probably get worse due to the reported cuts in civil rights enforcement in Trump's budget.[62]

Vulnerabilities in Their Strategy
Vulnerabilities in Their Strategy

  • Disability rights have often been considered an issue that both parties care about. This means some Republicans in Congress may not support some of the Trump administration's proposals.[63] [64]
  • 31 states are currently enrolled in the Medicaid Expansion through the ACA,[65] and are less likely to be for a repeal plan.