What is the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Why is it Important to the Disability Community?
By Rachita Singh | August 20, 2021
Infrastructure relates to the facilities, resources, and tools that people use to operate on a daily basis and go about their lives. While infrastructure can refer to physical facilities like trains, buses, buildings, roads, power grids, etc., it also includes human and care-related. Alongside the necessities of water, electricity, and transportation, people rely on services related to nutrition, healthcare, childcare, education, and more. All that is under the umbrella of infrastructure, making it necessary to pay attention to its quality and accessibility – especially for people with disabilities. Individuals with disabilities make up over a fifth of the U.S. population. Despite the fact that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed over 30 years ago, the current infrastructure of the nation is still inaccessible and still leaves people with disabilities behind. Hopefully, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will begin to change that.
On August 10, 2021, the U.S. Senate passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a $1 trillion package with bipartisan support. This act is a negotiated and reconstructed version of the American Jobs Plan that was introduced in March 2021. American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is disappointed that the bill does not contain critical home and community-based services (HCBS) funding, a major part of the American Jobs Plan, and prioritizes physical infrastructure over human infrastructure. However, we are pleased to see that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will support much-needed accessibility mandates across many types of community infrastructure. If passed by the House of Representatives, this package will enhance the accessibility of transit systems, alongside other provisions, like investing in broadband Internet services, that will improve the lives of people with disabilities.
Here is a breakdown of the parts of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that will specifically impact the disability community if passed by the House and signed into law. The act provides funding to address transportation access, digital equity, and climate change.
Transportation Access – Given that many people with disabilities refrain from driving a personal car, public transit is essential to the disability community. Yet, traditionally the transportation system within the United States has disadvantaged people with disabilities, especially disabled people of color and those living in rural areas. Accessible, reliable, and affordable transit enables people with disabilities to access important opportunities in education, employment, healthcare, housing, and more.
- Dedicates $39 billion to modernize transit and improve accessibility for aging adults and people with disabilities, with $1.75 billion specifically for the All Stations Accessibility Program that will make rail stations accessible to all users and fully compliant with the ADA;
– Also demands that a person with a disability be included on Amtrak’s board of directors
- Gives $250 million in transit-related grants that specifically enhance the mobility of aging adults and people with disabilities;
- Mentions addressing barriers to employment in transportation and transportation infrastructure construction industries for individuals with disabilities;
- Dedicates $5 billion toward improving airport terminals, with preference given to projects that expand accessibility and ADA compliance;
Digital Equity – As the world becomes increasingly remote, being connected to the Internet is more important than ever. Many people with disabilities lack equitable access to Internet services, Internet browsing devices, and the digital literacy that is needed to keep up with the world today. This increases existing disparities between disabled and non-disabled people and further denies the disability community of even more opportunities. The broadband investment and the Digital Equity Act can help the disability community, alongside other marginalized groups, increase their educational, economic, and health benefits.
- Invests $65 billion to help ensure every American has access to reliable high-speed Internet;
– Extends the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, now the Affordable Connectivity Program, and expands its eligibility so that low-income families experiencing economic hardships in times other than emergencies can still receive support help accessing the Internet
- Helps to close the digital divide by passing the Digital Equity Act;
– Includes $2.75 billion to establish two grant programs that promote digital inclusion and increase equitable access to Internet services
Climate Change and the Environment – Finally, the bill invests in combating climate change, increasing community resilience, environmental remediation, clean water, and clean energy. Individuals in the disability community are 2 to 4 times more likely to be injured or killed in major disasters and emergencies. Power outages not only cause monetary losses but can lead to harmful impacts on the health and lives of many people, especially those in disadvantaged communities and people with disabilities who rely on medical technology to survive. These investments are especially important for the disability, BIPOC, and low-income communities as they are more vulnerable to extreme weather events and more likely to live near areas with harmful radiation and unsafe drinking water.
- Provides $21 billion in environmental remediation to address pollution that harms the public health of communities across the country
- Invests $65 billion in clean energy transmission, significantly upgrading our aging electrical grids, as well as $55 billion in clean drinking water, including dedicated funding to replace lead service lines and remove dangerous chemicals
- Commits over $50 billion for climate change resilience to protect against droughts, floods, wildfires, etc.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is a crucial start to addressing inequities that the disability community faces, many of which have been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. The investments proposed will impact and benefit individuals with disabilities in a myriad of ways. The Infrastructure Act does ultimately provide funding for much-needed advancements in infrastructure that can increase equitable access to education, work, community living, healthcare, and more. If passed, this legislation is a first step to creating a more inclusive nation. AAPD endorses the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and will continue advocating for a final budget reconciliation that will include the full $400 billion investment in HCBS. Over 8 million Americans need daily support, a number that is on the rise due to the COVID-19 virus, and full funding for HCBS would increase access to vital services that improve the quality of direct support jobs.