This is not “Fake News”! Trump’s Proposed Budget Hurts the Disability Community.

Politicians take notice: Ignore the disability community at your own peril

By Albert J. Rizzi, M.Ed.

I am not here to endorse or stump for any candidate, party, or administration. However, I believe we can all agree, and endorse the notion of voting for someone, regardless of their politics, who has a clear vision for addressing the real issues plaguing ourselves, our communities, and our nation. That includes the nearly 63 million people with a disability living in the United States today.

Recently, the president released his proposed $4.8 trillion budget for FY 2021. As with every proposed federal budget, they are drafted with the best of intentions for the nation. After Congress purportedly “cuts out the fat” it circles back to the president for signature. It is a total crapshoot every year and with every administration. Between now and the time the budget is adopted, there will be the usual political dance done between Republicans and Democrats alike. There will be battling pundits on the television and radio to say nothing about the angry op-eds in the newspapers. Ultimately, there will be winners and losers as there are with every budget. Unfortunately, the disability community cannot afford to lose much more and still be able to survive, let alone thrive.

Members of the disability community numbering nearly 63 million and our friends and families numbering nearly 130 million have real reasons to be concerned. The president’s proposal includes cuts, and in some instances complete elimination of programs that allow some of us to put a roof over our heads, meals on the table, and if there is anything left over, medications to keep us well. Many members of the disability community live around the poverty level, yet the cuts keep coming. I fear that we will see that hovering come to an end and my community will sink into the depths of poverty the likes of which have not been seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Quoted in Disability Scoop, David Card of the National Disability Rights Network says the Trump proposal includes cuts to Medicaid, state councils on developmental disabilities, university centers on developmental disabilities, and protection and advocacy programs. The article also cites almost $50 million in cuts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, and the elimination of funding for health professional training to screen, diagnose, and treat people with autism.

This is not a comprehensive list and as with most proposed budgets, there are programs with modest increases, most of which are required by statute. Contentious politics aside, there is always a lot of “passion” on approvals of such budgets and how to fund them. Political pundits from across the spectrum and their minions will argue back and forth on this, purportedly to distinguish what is or is not fake news.

However, if you stop and take measure of what is going on as opposed to being spoon-fed interpretations by others, the real issues become very clear. The government, regardless of party lines, funds its own priorities. I think we can all agree that the higher the priority, the louder the arguments for funding become.

Now, if your household budget looks anything like mine, you prioritize spending based upon priorities and what is important for your household to operate. For example, it was important for me and my partner to get a new dependable vehicle. Our old one just up and died so, we had to consider buying a new or previously owned vehicle. We also had to reallocate resources and funding to accommodate the purchase and that meant re-prioritizing our budget and putting other things on hold. We agreed to allocate our resources in this manner because it made fiscal sense to do this instead of paying for a car service to move us from point A to point B.

Following that logic, it seems that this administration has its own set of priorities and, unfortunately, people who have disabilities are not a priority in this proposed budget. It seems, to me, we are absolutely ‘dis’pensable.

I might have gotten behind this budget and its cuts if our government, past, present, and future truly believed in every individual’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by simply enforcing laws governing digital equity and authentic inclusion. If I and my tens of millions of peers in the disability community could be included in the American workforce, and if both physical and digital environments were accessible and usable to all, we could significantly decrease the reliance on public assistance and entitlement programs while increasing the income of those capable individuals reliant on the same. This would significantly impact the need for funding because it would decrease demand and reliance on such programs. It would also build a new contingent of taxpayers in one fell swoop.

Most people with a disability would prefer to be independent taxpayers instead of taxing dependents. Unless our work environments are accessible and usable to the tens of millions of people with a disability barred from entering the workforce, budgetary cuts such as the ones proposed will only increase the gap between poverty and middle income for members of my community. In short, ignoring authentic inclusion and moving forward on these crippling budget cuts will make us even more dependent on entitlement programs that are already stretched to their breaking points.

It seems that many politicians do not understand that according to the government’s own figures, there are 63 million Americans who live with a disability. That’s more than a quarter of our total population. That number is expected to grow as Americans age into the disability community.

The disability community in our country is also becoming more politically active. Given the “get out the vote” efforts in the disability community like #CripTheVote, it doesn’t take a political scientist to determine the impact this voting block (including their friends and families) could have at the polls in November and beyond.

In my opinion, ignoring this ever-growing minority group, the only group every single American will join through no choice of their own as they age, is political suicide. This administration would be well-served by taking note. Ignoring the disability community and not focusing on true and authentic inclusion is something that both parties and our entire society has been complicit in for decades.

Now I am sure you are thinking, “What about the ADA?”

What about it indeed.

It was the beacon of hope back in 1990 when President George H.W. Bush signed it into law. But even the individuals behind the ADA are disappointed by how it lacked the teeth necessary for true change and authentic inclusion of the disability community in both our social and corporate cultures. Thirty years after its enactment and we still have far too many members of the disability community, nearly 75% of us, unemployed or underemployed and forced to rely on subsidies and programs that are being cut drastically or eliminated completely.

For those who are not aware, individuals dependent on Social Security Insurance (SSI) are provided a monthly stipend totaling less than $1,100 with no incentives to help them move away from these types of programs. People on SSI are individuals who, upon completing whatever level of education they can complete, are transitioned into the program as opposed to employment or other academic pursuits. These are the people who will be most at-risk and negatively impacted by these proposed budget cuts.

Administration after administration never really let the American public know just who is at-risk. We only assume that these people are freeloaders, sucking from the government’s teat who can and should go to work and fend for themselves. In reality, these people have multiple challenges and for all practical purposes will always be reliant on others for assistance in living day-to-day.

However, there are those of us who happen to have a disability but are lumped into a generalization that we all need assistance. As such, nothing has been done to exercise and enforce our civil rights and liberties that allow us to seek and maintain gainful employment. Forget about looking for careers with upward mobility. In short, these oversights bar tens of millions of professionals and well-educated people who just happen to have a disability from pursuing careers of our choosing and being valued members of society. Instead, we are all forced, yes forced, into entitlement programs that were intended to help those that truly need them.

As a person on Social Security Disability Insurance(SSDI), something we all contribute to from our very first paycheck, I only earn about $2,235 a month. Try living on that amount without any other forms of public assistance because, get this, we earn too much! Now you begin to understand how cutting anything from the disability community could be akin to genocide.

To date, many, though not all, of the presidential candidates have released plans for including Americans with disabilities as part of their campaign agendas. Yet, the current administration is looking to cut out life sustaining programs and, in some instances, eliminate others entirely.  Every proposal has its pros and cons, but what we cannot lose sight of is that we are talking about the lives of nearly 63 million Americans and not just a line item in a budget. Those Republicans and Democrats who do not have a plan need to take off their blinders, and intentionally consider including members of the disability community as valued citizens and constituents.

One in three of us know someone with a disability. Admittedly, some of those disabilities are more severe than others. So, if we are to focus on the budget and the fiscal integrity of our nation, we must build into the discussions a path for authentic inclusion and digital equity for those of us capable of participating in both our social and corporate cultures before blindly accepting the budget cuts that support the disability community.

The government should make it easier for people who are ready, willing, and able to go to work, to do so. By removing the barriers to gainful employment and upward mobility that we face, we could start paying taxes and remove ourselves from public assistance and entitlement programs.

This will free up resources so people who are managing their disability or condition are able to independently and proudly access and use the tools to promote their innate abilities and thereby create infinite possibilities in their lives and the lives of their families. Doing this will allow those truly fragile individuals who are never going to rise to the challenge of employment to get the support they need, so they can be comfortable in life and not be forced into lives of poverty and dismay. The results of this will be an ease of tensions on the federal budget while still serving those who are truly in need.

I wrote this with one hope in mind: that each of us take the time to investigate this proposed budget with the understanding that change needs to happen. That change needs to include avenues to employment so people who want to work can move off these programs and enjoy gainful employment as all other Americans do. Do not just get your facts or news from a radio or television station. Don’t just read a magazine or a blog. Read the actual proposals as best you can and then ask Congress to vote with the truth as you know it.

Form an appreciation for what the truth is as independent, free-thinking Americans with the power of one voice and one vote. Whatever your position is about this proposed budget, take action and please contact your senators and representatives in Congress to make your views on it known. Only then will the politicians holding the purse strings change their priorities to reflect a society of true inclusion. It should go without saying, but what the hell, I encourage you to learn all you can about the priorities of all the presidential candidates. Discuss them with your friends, relatives, and colleagues, but do it with respect and appreciations for diversity of opinion, so America can continue to be as diverse and inclusive as it was always meant to be.

Albert J. Rizzi, M.Ed.

Albert Rizzi is an international disability and civil rights advocate and the Founder of My Blind Spot, a 501(c)(3) organization that is dedicated to inspiring accessibility for people of all abilities. My Blind Spot also serves the corporate community as an expert accessibility governance adviser, reviewing and auditing corporate digital platforms assessing them for digital compliance to regulations governing inclusion, usability and accessibility for the disability community.