South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg unveiled his plan for Americans with disabilities on Saturday, promising to increase access to jobs and education, as well as strengthen civil rights protections and take steps to create a more fundamentally inclusive society.
The plan, announced the same day as Buttigieg and other Democratic candidates are scheduled to attend a presidential forum on disability issues in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is one of the most comprehensive proposals any candidate has created for those with disabilities.
“As President, Pete will build a culture of belonging for everyone. He is committed to systematically dismantling institutions that discriminate against people with disabilities, and, with and alongside them, helping to build a new, long-overdue era for this community,” Buttigieg’s campaign wrote in a 19-page paper outlining the plan. “Pete will retrofit our government so it works for—and not against—people with disabilities. He will help bring about a society that intuitively sees, accounts for, welcomes, and values their lived experiences.”
Many policies and programs aimed at helping people with disabilities in the United States are decades old, the campaign said, and Buttigieg would work with various departments to overhaul outdated programs and push for new legislation to improve quality of life for the millions of disabled Americans. His plan includes dozens of proposals across a range of topics from education to climate and disaster preparedness.
Employment is one of the biggest issues for disabled people, as they are likely to earn low or less-than-minimum wages, and many have trouble getting hired at all. Buttigieg’s proposal says he would make it illegal to pay people with disabilities below the minimum wage. Furthermore, he pledges to pass legislation that raises the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
He would also aim to double the participation of people with disabilities in the labor force by 2030 by implementing other policies, including increasing federal hiring and subcontracting of people with disabilities, creating a national apprenticeship program and passing national paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave laws.
Regarding education, Buttigieg’s plan includes many potential improvements. He promises to fully fund the federal government’s share of the Individuals with Disabilities Education (IDEA) Act, which would provide critical resources for special education services around the country. Noting that students with disabilities are disproportionately segregated, suspended, and have lower graduation rates, Buttigieg also says he would “make inclusive education a national expectation” and significantly increase the percentage of disabled students in general education classrooms over the next five years.
On civil rights, Buttigieg would work with the Department of Justice to enhance enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Olmstead v. L.C. Supreme Court decision, which said people with disabilities have the right to live in their communities and cannot be segregated because of their disabilities.
His proposal also promises to increase anti-bias training for family services workers, first responders and law enforcement to ensure more fair treatment of people with disabilities in the criminal justice and social services systems. The plan notes that in almost 20 states, parents with a disability can lose custody of their children due to their disability; he promises to stop this from happening.
The plan also includes many reforms to Social Security. Right now, Social Security Disability Insurance recipients who earn more than a certain amount per month lose their entire benefit, which can make it difficult for people with disabilities to go back to work or build economic security. Buttigieg says he would change the system so that benefits gradually phase out rather than drop off, and would implement other reforms such as updating income thresholds and eliminating waiting periods for recipients to access Medicare.
Buttigieg says people with disabilities would have “an affordable coverage alternative” through his Medicare for All Who Want It health care plan. The plan also says he will support the Disability Integration Act, and ensure that people with disabilities can receive long-term services and supports in their homes and communities, rather than just in institutional settings.
The plan also includes proposals that deal with increasing access to public transportation and housing, including disabled people in environmental and disaster preparedness efforts, prioritizing inclusive technology and protecting voting rights. Many of the other Democratic presidential candidates have also started to talk about people with disabilities this year, but Buttigieg’s plan covers more areas than many of his rivals.
California Sen. Kamala Harris also released a targeted disability plan earlier this year, while former HUD Secretary Julián Castro has also spoken out about disability rights and proposed some ideas to help the community. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren both feature disability rights sections on their websites and have integrated proposals to help people with disabilities into their other policy plans.
One in four adults in the United States has a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so they represent a large potential voting bloc but do not always get attention from national politicians. None of the 2020 presidential candidates started their campaigns with accessible websites, and while many have improved since they were first evaluated this summer, advocates say there is more left to do.