Action Alert: Ask Congress to Sign-on as Original Cosponsors to Bills Protecting the Rights of Disaster-Impacted People with Disabilities !

June 13, 2019

The American Association of People with Disabilities is working with the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies (the Partnership) on two historic pieces of disability and disaster legislation that will dismantle barriers faced by people with disabilities, older adults, and Medicaid eligible people impacted by disasters. These bills should improve outcomes throughout disasters and increase resources for disability organizations, emergency managers and local communities.

The Real Emergency Access for Aging and Disability Inclusion for Disasters Act (REAADI) and the Disaster Relief Medicaid Act (DRMA) was introduced into both the Senate and the House of Representatives on June 10th.

Real Emergency Access for Aging and Disability Inclusion for Disasters Act (REAADI):

  • Ensures there is a strong disability and older adult voice throughout the preparation, response, recovery, and mitigation of disasters,
  • Includes universal design and visibility standards, as well as reasonable accommodation before, during and after disasters,
  • Establishes a National Commission on Disability Rights and Disasters with a focus on:
    • accessible communication,
    • protection of civil rights,
    • accessible transportation and evacuation, and
    • accessible shelter, health and medical services;
  • Creates a network of disaster and disability centers focused on training, technical assistance, and research to assist states and localities to better include and support disaster-impacted people with disabilities, older adults and others who also have access needs;
  • Directs the Government Accountability Office to review the spending of disaster funds by federal agencies and states to ensure funds have been spent in accordance with the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Creates a competitive grant program to pilot strategies for greater inclusion of people with disabilities, older adults and people with access needs throughout disaster preparation, response, recovery, and mitigation;
  • Requires the Department of Justice to examine how the civil rights of people with disabilities and older adults are or are not upheld during and following disasters; and
  • Establishes a role for Centers for Independent Living throughout local disaster preparedness, response and recovery.

To find out more about REAADI check out Senator Casey’s One page Summary.

Disaster Relief Medicaid Act (DRMA):

  • Provides uninterrupted access to Medicaid services when recipients must evacuate across state lines, increasing health maintenance and community living and preventing institutionalization during disasters.
  • Helps states meet the needs of Relief-Eligible Survivors through a limited time one hundred percent federal match for displaced individuals,
  • Provides technical assistance and support to develop innovative state strategies to respond to an influx of out-of-state individuals.
  • Creates a grant to help states develop an emergency response corps to provide home and community-based services.
  • Guarantees that a 100 percent federal matching payment for medical assistance is provided to states in disaster areas.

To find out more about DRMA, check out Senator Casey’s One Page Summary.

Take action now!

For more information on REAADI and DRMA, check out www.reaadi.com.

You can sign up for notifications on REAADI and DRMA and request additional information and advocacy support!

AAPD Intern to Entrepreneur

June 6, 2019

Daman Wandke
CEO/Founder
AbiliTrek / Access Travel LLC

My name is Daman Wandke, and I am an accessible technology consultant, national disability advocate, and the founder and Chief Executive Officer of AbiliTrek, an accessibility consulting company. You might ask, what led me to starting AbiliTrek?

I studied Management Information Systems at Western Washington University. During my time as an undergrad student, I was extremely active on campus, especially regarding disability advocacy. Within my first week on campus, I started the first disability-oriented club and continued to make accessibility changes as well as spread disability awareness. However, my advocacy work did not stop on campus.

I received an internship through the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). During my internship, I learned a lot about web accessibility such as learning how to make PDFs Section 508 compliant. Section 508 is an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act that requires electronic documents and communication technology to be accessible to people with disabilities. 

My summer internship turned into a long-term virtual internship where I continued to work remotely for the USDA from school for the next three years. I also continued to gain career support from my AAPD mentor, Matthew McCollough who is the Director of the DC Office of Disability Rights. During this time, I refined my skills in making PDFs accessible. I also had the opportunity to learn about project management and team leadership. This internship introduced me to my career.

I took the foundation that I learned at the USDA and broadened my web accessibility skills in my next two jobs. I worked at the Federal Housing Finance Agency coordinating 508 compliance agency-wide and then as an Accessibility Analyst at SSB BART Group (now Level Access), consulting large organizations on how to make their websites and other Information Technology (IT), accessible.

I then began on a path of entrepreneurship is where my path led. Over time, I built up a diverse amount of experience that became my foundation and leverage for my company. I used all of my experience to create AbiliTrek. AbiliTrek assists businesses via a plethora of disability advocacy and awareness services, including our Search and Review Platform, speaking engagements as well as providing IT accessibility consulting.

Our Platform allows people to innovatively search and review locations based on their personal accessibility needs, reflecting that accessibility is not “one-size-fits-all”. We desire for our platform to indicate where your items are–and are not–accessible to everyone as well as bring awareness to the growing accessibility needs.

Regarding consulting, AbiliTrek provides technical and functional web testing as well as web development to ensure access to all via assistive technology compatibility. If websites and apps are not compatible with assistive technology then those assistive Technologies are rendered useless.

Overall, AbiliTrek strives to create an inclusive environment so everyone has access to equal opportunities.

Making Assistive Technology Easier to Access

December 3, 2018 | Kurt Vogel, 2018 AAPD Summer Intern

Last year, I had an internship with the Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access at Georgia Tech. I worked as a Research Assistant and helped research different types of assistive technology software that would be later compiled into an online database for the public. This really helped me to see how I could incorporate my three interests of Disability Advocacy, Information Technology, and Assistive Technology.

What I realized when I was there was how much assistive technology there is out there without much of a widespread infrastructure in place. What I mean is that there is not much of an infrastructure in place for people to try the software or devices before they purchase them or before Vocational Rehabilitation assists in the requisition of the software or device.

There are Assistive Technology centers where you can go to have an assistive technology assessment and then they will loan you the equipment for a few weeks before actually having to purchase it. Oftentimes these centers are only located within large cities or educational institutions. This summer, I had the opportunity to visit the USDA Target Center, which is an assistive technology demonstration lab. Employees can receive an assistive technology assessment and try out different assistive technology software and devices in their actual office and work environment. There are staff available who are knowledgeable in the assistive technology software and devices.
This is a perfect example of what an ideal assistive technology center would look like. The assistive technology staff, the employer, and the employee (the one using the assistive technology software) are all collaborating and communicating with each other to make sure that the employee is going to have the Assistive Technology resources available to be successful in their job.

However, in many employment settings, there is not an assistive technology demonstration lab available for someone to try before they buy. For example, if there was more of an infrastructure in place, sort of like an assistive technology library, and there were people in place to work with you over the course of several weeks, then it would be more helpful. One of the reasons assistive tech is so hard to access is because there is no way to try it. If the company bought a new piece of assistive technology and the employee doesn’t know that it is going to be a good fit, there would be no guarantee that it would be the right choice. If the employee could try it first and demonstrate that it is helpful with some evidence that it actually worked well, the company might be more eager to purchase.

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) is a federal and state government partnership program that helps people with disabilities get the services they need to be successful during employment. Oftentimes in rural areas people do not have access to transportation to go to the assistive technology center. This is where VR helps people with disabilities purchase the assistive technology. Sometimes VR does not have adequate resources available and often purchases the assistive technology but then does not help with the execution of ensuring that the person knows how to use the technology before closing the case.

What I see as a solution is that VR could partner with local educational institutions or assistive technology centers that have the resources available to work alongside the person to make sure that the particular assistive technology is the right fit. The education institution would administer the assistive tech assessment and then tailor what equipment was loaned to them based on the assessment. Then the individual would be able to receive one-on-one training on how to use the software if they needed additional support in setting it up.

 

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Kurt Vogel is a 2018 AAPD Summer Intern. He interned with the U.S. Access Board.

#HandsOffMyADA – A Member of the ADA Generation’s Take on ADA Notification Bills

November 30, 2018 | Ellie Stitzer, 2018 AAPD Summer Intern

My mentor at my university has a sticker in her office that says “The Americans with Disabilities Act – to boldly go where everyone else has gone before.” This really is what the ADA did: when it passed in 1990, it gave Americans with disabilities protection in their employment, public spaces, and public entities, which are the same protections that everyone else already had. I was born with a disability in 1996, six years after the passage of this historic civil rights legislation, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t use a wheelchair accessible entrance, accessible parking space, a curb cut, or a number of other accommodations provided to me because of the ADA. I can remember learning about the disability rights movement (on my own time, of course, since in my experience schools don’t talk about it) and realizing that I had really lucked out having been born after all that had happened. At the very least, I am thankful that I can say that my expectations and standards for accessibility are a lot higher than they were for people who lived in a pre-ADA America.

But even though the ADA was passed 28 years ago, not everyone has chosen to comply. Just a few days ago, my group of friends wanted to go out to a restaurant they’d heard about online, but when we showed up on the scene the building had a step to get in just BARELY high enough that my wheelchair couldn’t get over it. I run into these kind of access barriers constantly, and whenever it happens my friends and I are forced to be flexible and take our business to the nearest accessible alternative. But hey, at least there’s (usually) an alternative, right?

That’s why when I learned that there were multiple “ADA notification bills” floating around Congress this session, I felt like I had suddenly been time-warped back to before 1990, when people were still trying to prove that disability rights were civil rights. These bills, such as H.R. 620, which actually passed in the House of Representatives, would eliminate incentives for businesses, including large chain corporations, to proactively comply with the ADA and be accessible to those with disabilities. While H.R. 620 seems to have been stopped in the Senate for now, the fact that this bill was even introduced shows that, unfortunately, we are still at a place where we are having to fight to protect these very basic rights that businesses have now had, let me say it again, 28 years to comply with. The ADA laid the groundwork to make sure that my generation was able to grow up with the expectations we did. We need to focus on working towards complete access and strengthening the law, not weakening it like the congressmen and women who supported H.R. 620 seem to prefer.

 

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Ellie Stitzer is a 2018 AAPD Summer Intern. She interned at the Administration for Community Living in the U.S. Department of Health of Human Services.

H.R. 620: Reforming Disabled Americans’ Civil Rights Backwards

October 17, 2018 | Cecilia S. Grugan, 2018 AAPD Summer Intern

For 28 years now, disabled Americans have been flourishing in a garden of opportunity unlike any era preceding the 21st Century. The newly founded civil rights today were granted by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Such an act outlaws discrimination in many facets of life including employment, transportation, education, and all else that is open to the public. It was not until recent years that such legislation became controversial. Select legislative powerhouses have since been considering a new amendment.

Since 2013, the provisions of the law have led to the triple amount of lawsuits generated primarily by anti-business lawyers. Due to these results, H.R. 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act is an effort to amend a requirement that mandates a “notice and cure” period by any person claiming a discriminatory experience. It is imperative to note that no such other civil rights legislation has such a provision.

Supporters say the bill will put the brakes on the lawsuits that benefit lawyers more than disabled Americans. In opposition to the bill, disabled Americans will be robbed of remedies provided by ADA violations. Representative Jim Langevin, the first disabled American with quadripalegia elected to Congress, stated that “This bill reverses decades of progress by undercutting our ability to assert our rights under the law through the use of a ‘notice and cure’ provision.” Nevertheless, the United States House of Representatives’ final vote included 225 in favor, 192 against, and 13 abstentions. This voting outcome allowed for the bill to pass the House. However, the bill still needs to slide through the Senate and be signed by the President before it has a chance to become adopted.

If such a bill does pass, the law will require disabled Americans to provide a written notice about an ADA violation to the offending entity and wait up to 60 days before the entity responds. Not only that, but after the entity responds, the entity has an additional 120 days to make meaningful progress toward fixing the discriminatory claim. With these timeframes, entities essentially can respond over a period of six months. These strenuous results for the disabled American community symbolize the coined phrase by William E. Gladstone, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” Seek out justice and call your Senators!

 

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Cecilia Grugan is a 2018 AAPD Summer Intern. She interned with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

From Anger to Action: Understanding Accessibility on College Campuses

October 5, 2018 | Morgan Dunnigan, 2018 AAPD Summer Intern

The summer after my sophomore year of high school, my parents and I decided that I should do a college summer program to experience independent living as a wheelchair user. Once I found the criminal justice program that interested me, I went on the university’s website to confirm that it was accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which it was. With that in mind, I disclosed my disability on my application and was accepted into the program a few weeks later.

Unfortunately, I soon learned that the label of “ADA accessible” does not mean that getting around will necessarily be easy, nor does it take into the account the lack of understanding that some people have about what it means to be accessible.

My first indication that this university summer staff did not understand what it meant to accommodate a disability came on move-in day. I specifically said I would like a roommate but would need an accessible room. When I arrived, the staff had decided not to give me a roommate. When I went to breakfast the first morning, I had to call the main office, where they explained to me that while the campus is ADA accessible, I would have to cut through an academic building, take its elevator down a level, go outside and into a different elevator, take that elevator down another level, and walk through a basement parking garage to get to the cafeteria. Accessible? Technically. Easily accessible? Nope. The person in charge of the summer program had made it very clear to counselors that they were not permitted to touch my wheelchair, even if I needed help, because the university feared liability. While I didn’t really need their help anyway, it was frustrating to watch their nervousness when I was around them.

When the students in our my program took a weekend excursion to a nearby city, the summer program director informed me that I would have to hire a university student to follow me around for the day in case I needed help pushing my wheelchair. I did not need help, I looked like I had a stalker, and I had to pay the student out of my own pocket. All these negative experiences were difficult for me to deal with as a 15-year-old, but at the very least they taught me to advocate for myself and made me aware of what structural and institutional barriers can exist for a wheelchair user in college.

Once I understood that the label of “ADA accessible” can sometimes mean very little about ease of accessibility, I decided that any college I considered attending as a student I would visit in person to determine how accessible it truly is. I also understand that some people retain outdated ideas about what people with disabilities are capable of and try to make decisions for us, as was evident by the blatant rejection of my request to have a roommate and in forcing me to hire an aide. Now, I take action to ensure that the people at my college know what I am capable of with the right support, and that they can trust my judgment.

 

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Morgan Dunnigan is a 2018 AAPD Summer Intern. She interned with the Information Technology Industry Council.

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