A search of the White House website using the term “people with disabilities” yields a whopping one result — a bland, boiler-plate statement issued Dec. 17, International Persons with Disabilities Day, pledging to lead the way among nations in improving the lives of the disabled. It includes a pledge to use technology — no policy statement is complete without that word — but there are no specifics.
Beyond the platitude-filled press release, I could find nothing, no mention of disability rights or, ominously, the American with Disabilities Act. That absence itself proves nothing, but it is a data point.
Another data point is a bill passed by the House, controlled by President Trump’s GOP allies, that would weaken the ADA by making it harder for people with disabilities to sue businesses for violations. It would require a cooling-off period before cases go to trial. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., has bottled the bill up.
Because he hasn’t tweeted about the bill or issued a statement, I can’t say Trump supports it. So is there anyone who could give us insight into how this administration feels about disability rights? Yes, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Her department has taken two actions that are worrying.
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The first is a new guideline that would dismiss multiple complaints on an issue by the same person. The thinking seems to be that each complaint requires investigation, which takes time better spent resolving issues.
How can you resolve the problem before having the all the facts? You can’t, unless you’ve already decided what the resolution will be. Before now it would be needless to say, but you can’t make just and wise decisions without facts.
Conservatives have railed for years that consumers go around filing suits against businesses not complying with the ADA. But that is the only way to get them to.
Similarly, experts in the Individuals with Education Act (IDEA) file complaints against public schools they think flout the law. No complaints should be dismissed because the person has filed in the past. That’s nuts.
The Education Department is also reviewing an Obama administration rule calling for more equal discipline policies towards minority kids, including those with disabilities.
The Government Accountability Office reports that while 12 percent of all schoolkids received some form of discipline, 25 percent of disabled kids do.
Despite this, DeVos convened a meeting to discuss the Obama rule with educators and civil rights advocates, but no one representing the disabled.
“It is simply not acceptable for the U.S. Department of Education to intentionally exclude our community and not recognize that issues around school discipline climate and safety have a disparate impact on students with disabilities,” Kim Musheno, an advocate for the disabled, told the website The Disability Scoop.
These data points are not enough to say Trump’s administration is hostile to the disabled, but they are troubling. Very troubling.
David P. Rundle is a Wichita freelance journalist.