Richard Blum, lawyer, New York City
I am a long-time legal services lawyer who has represented people with disabilities on a range of issues, including access to disability benefits and safety-net assistance, and discrimination in employment. I have participated in class-action litigation against government policies that have made it difficult or even impossible for people with disabilities to access critical supports for rent, food, and other necessities. I have also brought actions in court and before human rights agencies to challenge disability discrimination in employment. Through these experiences, I have come to understand how critical it is to have government appointees who run agencies in ways that serve people with honesty and integrity and that honor the law. In recent years, for example, the EEOC has pursued an aggressive agenda against employment discrimination, an agenda that recognizes not the importance of enforcing the law. One of the most important accomplishments of the Obama EEOC has been to promulgate regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (the ADAAA), the law that revived the ADA after courts, including a Republican-dominated Supreme Court, had repeatedly gutted it. The effort to promulgate strong anti-discrimination regulations was led at the EEOC by Democratic-appointee Chai Feldblum, a former Georgetown University Law School professor, who gave up a tenured seat at that prestigious school to serve as a commissioner at the request of the Obama Administration. At the same time, the Obama Department of Labor has issued enhanced anti-discrimination standards for government contractors. The work of these types of government agencies is often not appreciated by the public even though it affects their lives profoundly. It is not high-profile work but for those who care about law and fairness and access to opportunity, this work is critical, and the quality of the people appointed to do that work is critical. If there were no other reason to support Clinton's candidacy, it would be to ensure that the people appointed to agencies such as the EEOC and the DOL, whether Democrats or Republicans themselves, are people who care about fairness and enforcing the law. In my experience, the quality and commitments of agency leaders appointed by Democratic administration has been vastly superior to that of the people appointed under Republican administrations. We need to ensure that we as a nation continue to benefit from the conscientious work of these public servants. Having a person who mocks people with disabilities and boasts about sexually assaulting women appoint the leaders of these agencies is terrifying.
Robert Moeller, Ph.D., Irvine, California
As someone who has been actively involved for the last decade and a half in fighting to improve the mental health care services provided on the university campus of which I’m a part, I strongly support Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Clinton has presented a detailed plan for improving mental health care services [source], while her opponent offers nothing more than the vague promise to “to reform our mental health programs and institutions in this country.” On Trump’s website, we learn that “Families, without the ability to get the information needed to help those who are ailing, are too often not given the tools to help their loved ones. There are promising reforms being developed in Congress that should receive bi-partisan support.” That’s it. What tools? Which reforms? And of course, as we’ve learned most recently, Trump believes that veterans facing challenges associated with PTSD are not “strong” and “can’t handle it.” There’s a recipe for destigmatizing mental illness and encouraging those who most need help to seek it! The way to destigmatize mental illness is to talk about it openly, to recognize the extent of the challenges millions face, and to outline programs that will improve delivery of service and advance outreach and education. That’s what Clinton’s program can achieve.
I also am encouraged that Clinton pays particular attention to improving mental health care on college and university campuses. The position paper on Clinton’s website calls for us to:
“Ensure that college students have access to mental health services. Mental health and well-being are integral to campus success. Hillary will encourage every college to put in place preventive services, comprehensive treatment and coverage of services, and an interdisciplinary team (including but not limited to school leadership, faculty, students, and personnel from counseling, health services, student affairs, and the office supporting students with disabilities) to oversee the campus’s mental health policies and programming. Hillary will also strengthen support for under-resourced schools that serve a disproportionate number of low- and middle-income students and communities of color, and she will help those schools improve coordination of care with local clinical providers.”
This is precisely the sort of integrated approach for which I and many others have advocated for years. It is heartening to see it appear as a policy objective of a candidate for the presidency of the United States.
K. H., mother, CAlifornia
When my son was diagnosed with autism at age 2, I felt afraid and lost, as any parent would, and as a first time mom pregnant with twins, it seemed my world was crumbling in on me. Fortunately, I was directed to early intervention services. Not only did my son benefit beyond measure from those services, they also involved providing me with the necessary training to be an effective parent for him, giving him and our family the brightest future possible. I don’t like to imagine what our life would look like today had we not received that intervention, and not a day goes by that I don't feel overwhelmed with gratitude for its results.
Mr. Trump's assertion that we cannot fully fund special education demonstrates just how out of touch he is with the needs of families of children with disabilities. In my community I see many children who, like my son, were able to access the early diagnoses and early intervention services that special education is supposed to provide, and who, as a direct result, will grow up to lead fulfilling and successful lives, contributing to their communities and society. Trump's shortsightedness will squash those success stories, multiplying the already-too-high number of kids who do not get early intervention, devastating their families and disgracing the country as a whole. Failure to fund special education has exponential consequences over time — when ill-served children become adults, their long-term care needs are much more extensive and expensive than they need to be.
In my experience, success for a child with autism depends on two essential ingredients: the family's commitment and appropriate early intervention services. One without the other is insufficient. With Hillary Clinton as president, parents will be able to commit themselves to the hard work of helping their child, confident that they will be able to access the services and support to enable them to do so effectively. Under Trump, even the most committed families would remain stuck at stage one — afraid and alone facing a diagnosis and no way out.
My son celebrated his bar mitzvah two years ago, and I was reminded again of the blessings of having received the intervention we needed at that critical early point; I pray that others who face what we have faced will be so fortunate. Hillary Clinton is a proven supporter of the American’s with Disabilities Act and a life-long advocate for children with special needs and their families. The promise of her presidency gives me hope and gives hope to the many children who will be born during the next four years with a range of disabilities. Trump would cast them aside. We cannot leave this election to chance.
Matt Cohen, special education lawyer, Chicago, Illinois
I am a special education and disability rights attorney in Chicago and have represented children and adults with disabilities and their families for over 30 years. I am very concerned with the possibility that Donald Trump will be elected president for many reasons, including his lack of support for the rights of children with disabilities in public education. Apart from Trump’s repeated mocking of people with disabilities (newspaper reporter) and people with other differences (people who are overweight), not to mention his insults to women and minorities, Trump has expressed his support for deregulation of education and general support for charter schools and voucher programs. These programs represent a serious threat to the rights of children with disabilities, as they frequently do not accept students with disabilities, cherry pick which children they accept, and/or provide inadequate services and procedural protections for children with disabilities. By contrast, although I wish Hillary Clinton was stronger on these issues, she has been a consistent supporter of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and is the first major party candidate to devote attention to disability rights issues in her campaign. She has expressed concern about school choice and voucher programs. She has worked as a Senator, and would continue to work as President, to promote greater support for behavioral services for children with disabilities, to protect IDEA’s procedural safeguards, and to fully fund special education. Donald Trump would destroy all of that.
Andrea Marcus, attorney, california
As a civil rights attorney representing children for nearly two decades, I have first-hand knowledge of the huge impact that small changes to the laws which protect civil rights can have on people — in my practice, those people have always been students with disabilities and their families. Civil rights afford people the opportunity to live with dignity, and protect people from those who would take that dignity away. Civil rights also provide the vital foundation of any stable government. We need people leading this government who understand that, and who understand that, like freedom, civil rights aren’t free. The infrastructure that defends civil rights (proactive laws, enforcement agencies and non-profits), and those people working to enforce them, need to be supported. That’s why I’m voting for Clinton-Kaine, and every other candidate on the ballot this year whose background shows a commitment to civil rights.
STEVEN D. COHEN, PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA
"Losers." It's one of Donald Trump's favorite words. It's also the assumption, spoken or unspoken, that I've heard a thousand times about the children and families involved with the systems I've worked in - foster care, juvenile justice, mental health - and that we all hear about people with any kind of disability. Most of the time it's unspoken, which makes it even more incredible that a presidential candidate says it out loud, as we've heard when Trump mocked (mocked!) a reporter's physical handicap, and as we hear in another way every time he insults someone based on her weight or appearance.
What do children with disabilities need? Adults who love them and advocate for them; systems that treat them as people; laws that protect them; communities that welcome them. Hillary Clinton has spent a career working for all of these things, from her time at the Children's Defense Fund to her fight for health insurance for all Americans to her advocacy for a safety net that protects every family. Donald Trump's world, on the other hand, is one in which the winners take the spoils and the losers get laughed at. And that's a world we should all turn away from, appalled, whatever our political views may be.
DEBORAH PERGAMENT, Attorney, chicago, Illinois
One in five Americans lives with a disability. The candidates’ positions on the myriad issues concerning the education, employment, healthcare, and other aspects of the lives of people with disabilities must receive comprehensive and cogent attention.
In the early 1970s, as an attorney with the Children’s Defense Fund, Secretary Clinton contributed to and helped build a coalition that produced the study called “Out of School In America,” which brought national attention to children who were kept out of school because public schools did not have to accommodate disabilities. This report provided an important foundation for the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (later renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and IDEA’s “Zero Reject” philosophy, which ensures that no child with a disability can be denied a free appropriate public education.
As First Lady, Secretary Clinton advocated for policies and programs to benefit Americans at all stages of their lives. She advocated for increased funding for universal newborn hearing, screening, and intervention programs. She also announced a presidential task forced designed to expand employment opportunities for adults and youth with disabilities. She worked to establish an Office of Disability Policy within the Department of Labor.
When she was elected Senator from New York, Mrs. Clinton continued to serve as a vocal advocate for children and adults with disabilities. She was an original co-sponsor of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008. She co-sponsored and voted to pass the Individuals with Disabilities Education Reauthorization Act and was an original co-sponsor of the IDEA Full-Funding Act of 2003, which was designed to provide more than $17 billion dollars in nationwide funding for special education through 2013. She co-sponsored legislation designed to establish mental health services for students on college campuses and the Mental Health Parity Act and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, which ensured that Americans living with mental health conditions and addiction would not lose access to healthcare services because of arbitrary limits or financial restrictions. Senator Clinton introduced the Heroes at Home Acts of 2006 and 2007 to improve detection, assessment, and treatment of traumatic brain injuries and to expand support for members of the armed forces with brain injuries. She introduced the Restoring Disability Benefits for Injured and Wounded Warriors Act of 2007 and the bipartisan Expanding the Promise for Individuals with Autism Act. She also introduced the Count Every Vote Act, which encompassed voters with disabilities among those receiving protections designed to safeguard voting rights. These are just a few of the legislative initiatives that then Senator Clinton advocated on behalf of people with disabilities.
As Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton worked to expand the human rights of all individuals across the globe. She endeavored to build bipartisan support for the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. She has promised to continue efforts to reverse the United States shameful rejection of this Convention.
Secretary Clinton is morally far ahead of the other major party candidate, who very publicly denigrated Serge Kovaleski, and who has otherwise remained largely silent in response to questions regarding his positions on disability issues. In dramatic contrast, Secretary Clinton openly considers the contributions of people with disabilities and the challenges that people with disabilities face. Her current presidential campaign includes advisors on disability issues who draw not only from their own policy expertise but also from personal experience with disability. Most importantly, Secretary Clinton has a long record of fighting to improve the lives of people with disabilities. She understands that having a disability does not disqualify a person from having access to all aspects of life, and that equality is everyone’s right and everyone’s responsibility. In a response to a questionnaire by RespectAbility [source], a nonpartisan political commentary on the 2016 election with a focus on disability issues, Hillary Clinton stated, “Disability rights are civil rights. They are human rights. They are American rights. And as long as I am in office, I will fight to ensure that these rights remain visible and at the forefront of our economy, our system of healthcare, our policy abroad, and our education and employment opportunities at home.”
Deborah Pergament is the managing attorney of Children's Law Group, LLC, a law firm based in Chicago, Illinois representing parents and students in complex special education and disability matters. Ms. Pergament has devoted her entire legal career to issues affecting children and people with disabilities. She is the former Director of the Special Education Advocacy Clinic at DePaul University College of Law. She has written extensively on special education law, disability, and genetics and the law.
Meagan Nuñez, Special Education Attorney, San Diego, CA
I am a special education attorney in San Diego, California. I represent students with disabilities aged 3 through 22. My clients rely on strong legal protections enacted by the legislature and upheld by the Supreme Court. These protections afford them a measure of equality and dignity and a right to education that is relatively new in this country. Donald Trump has expressed antipathy toward public education and promotes policies that could lead to the privatization of education. Trump has mocked and degraded those who are vulnerable. As someone who fights daily for the rights of our most vulnerable children to participate and benefit from public education, I am extremely concerned that a Trump victory will have devastating effects on our nation.