Disability and Trump
By Janet E. Lord
During the first 100 days of a new administration, it is worth reflecting on the prospects for advancing the rights of persons with disabilities both here and abroad. Several factors suggest alignment between priorities of the Trump administration and a robust agenda for accessibility.
President-elect Trump garnered the support of numerous veteran groups during his campaign. He has on many occasions spoken out in strong support of veterans with disabilities, noting, rightly, that their access to physical and mental health services is simply not good enough. Further, he has underscored the importance of staying the course on mandated coverage for people with pre-existing conditions as a component of healthcare reform – a factor of significance for many Americans with disabilities. Finally, he has underscored the necessity of providing consistent and ongoing support to veterans experiencing PTSD and other forms of mental illness, along with all Americans experiencing these disabling conditions.
The Trump administration has an opportunity to bolster the economic participation and independence of persons with disabilities by ensuring access to healthcare coverage that includes mental health care. Medicaid expansion has enabled some 10 million Americans with disabilities – 15% of those enrolled – to obtain much needed services. Any rollback would substantially undermine efforts to keep people with disabilities in the workforce and would most surely push many into grim – but costly - nursing homes.
Promised expenditure on America’s crumbling – and grossly inaccessible – infrastructure is long overdue. Charting a course that applies accessibility and Universal Design principles at the initial stage of infrastructure renovation and expansion could well be an enduring centerpiece of a Trump legacy.
The President Elect’s business acumen could inspire a much needed prioritization of accessibility, not only in domestic infrastructure projects but also in foreign assistance expenditures. Internationally, it makes good sense to mandate that borrowers adhere to standards that will create inclusive built environment, enhance economic efficiencies and support quality of life. Ensuring that taxpayer dollars are not wasted in building inaccessible infrastructure either here in the US or abroad, while unassailable, is not the norm.
No administration has ever prioritized these rational, commonsense policies, but neither has any administration in modern history successfully tackled the poor state of American infrastructure. President Trump has an opportunity to address both. Such a move would create jobs for unemployed or underemployed workers in the construction industry and also Americans with disabilities who possess the world’s top expertise on accessibility standards.
Republican leaders have a strong record for passing legislation that works to equalize educational, employment and other opportunities for American with disabilities. Indeed, Republican presidents have been responsible for signing into law the major pieces of legislation that constitute American disability law.
Regrettably, the United States has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), notwithstanding historically strong bipartisan support for advancing the rights of Americans with Disabilities, not only at home, but around the world through participation in the global treaty.
In sum, President Trump can - and should - signal US leadership in disability rights by ensuring access to physical and mental health care for Americans with Disabilities, prioritizing accessibility in infrastructure projects here and abroad and supporting ratification of the CRPD.
America cannot be great if it is inaccessible to Americans with disabilities. This is a challenge that has gone all but unanswered by past presidents.
Janet E. Lord
Janet Lord is a founding member of the Tangata Group, a board member of the US International Council on Disabilities and senior fellow at the Harvard Law School Project on Disability