By Stephanie Woodward, J.D.
In 2017 I was arrested eight times fighting against the more than $800 billion in Medicaid cuts that were proposed over and over again in the attempts to repeal Obamacare. Throughout all of my arrests I was not alone. I was always surrounded by 20 or more of my siblings in the grassroots Disability Rights group ADAPT.
Essentially, ADAPT is a bunch of passionate people with and without disabilities who firmly believe that life and liberty are not privileges for the nondisabled majority, but Constitutional rights for all Americans. We see disabled people locked up and warehoused in institutions everyday simply because our healthcare system will pay for institutions but not for community based services and supports. We know that being forced into a nursing facility is not the American dream and we will not sit by silently and allow more of our people to languish and die in these facilities.
ADAPT has been fighting for the rights of disabled people for 35 years, but this summer we seemed to catch America’s attention. News outlets spoke of us like we were a new sensation, but we are experienced activists that got our start in Denver, Colorado when we demanded lifts on buses in 1983. After our start in Denver, we targeted transportation authorities across the nation, and we are proud that our activism resulted in over half of the states in the U.S. having state laws requiring lifts on buses before the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed.
This summer we were not fighting for accessible transportation, we were fighting for something much more basic – the right to live. The right to live in our communities, to raise our families, and to be like everyone else. ADAPT has always fought for the life and liberty of disabled Americans, which is why we drafted the Disability Integration Act (S.210/HR 2472). The Disability Integration Act would ensure all people with disabilities have the right to live in the community by requiring insurance companies to pay for community based services if the insurance company would otherwise pay for an individual to go to an institution. However, in 2017 we did not have much opportunity to advance this critical legislation because we were too busy fighting off attempts to kill disabled people through Medicaid cuts.
Let me explain: Medicaid is the largest payer of long term services and supports (LTSS) for people with disabilities. LTSS includes institutional and community based services and supports. Unfortunately, under Medicaid, institutional services are a “mandatory benefit” meaning Medicaid must pay for them, and community based services are “optional” even though they are often far cheaper and where disabled people truly want to live. When cutting Medicaid, the result is optional services are cut first. This means community based services that allow people to live at home are cut, forcing those people into nursing facilities and other institutions. To make matters worse, cutting Medicaid also means those institutions get less money. As a result, not only would disabled Americans lose their freedom by being forced into facilities, they would be forced into poorly funded (i.e. really crappy) facilities.
For us ADAPTers who work every day to advance the rights of disabled people to live in the community were not about to sit by as our government worked to further disenfranchise our people and take our lives and liberty. This is why we held protests throughout the year as new bills were proposed. This is why we put our bodies and criminal records on the line.
We received a lot of praise for our activism, but we also received a lot of hate from people who insist that civil disobedience does not work. For anyone in the former group, please consider supporting our work. For anyone who thinks that latter, please note that the healthcare repeal bills did not pass, and what is more – when I was arrested, I was transported on a police bus with a lift.