The Vanderbilt Alliance on Disability and Condition: Disability Under Biden

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“Joe Biden” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Gray Pearson, Contributor

The Vanderbilt Alliance on Disability and Condition hosted a presentation discussing disability under President Joe Biden’s administration on Tuesday, March 30. The speaker, Vanderbilt freshman William Romero, provided attendees with an overview of Joe Biden’s past experiences in legislating on behalf of disabled people as well as his future plans for serving disabled Americans. 

Biden’s History with Disability

Throughout his political career, Joe Biden has served as an advocate for disabled people, Romero explained. Of notable importance is his history of supporting landmark legislation advancing the rights and opportunities of disabled Americans. As a senator, Joe Biden was critical to the passing of both the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1975 and the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.  “[The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act] led to the creation of the Individualized Education Programs system which states that kids with disabilities who were in public schools needed to have interactions with non-disabled kids,” Romero explained, which has cultivated a more inclusive environment in public schools. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.

Likewise, Biden’s work as vice president was influential in furthering and reaffirming disabled rights. In 2008, Biden aided in the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act amendments, after the Supreme Court of the United States misinterpreted the definition of disability, Romero explained. He continued, “[Biden] helped pass the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, which allowed for pre-existing conditions to be protected and got rid of the annual and lifetime limits for insurance.” Romero cited the ACA as particularly influential, suggesting that the historic legislation mitigated the fear of losing health care, giving disabled people greater access to the workforce. 

Biden’s Plan for People with Disabilities

A current focus of the Biden administration has been the undoing of harmful past legislation. Romero noted,  “These Trump-era policies make it harder for disabled people to file claims under the Americans with Disability Act, they have restructured Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income in ways that hurt the economic health and security of people with disabilities.” In combination with new legislation, Biden hopes to mitigate the harm caused by current policies for disabled people. 

Romero went on to discuss actions relating to policy and civil rights, stating that Biden intends to foster greater representation and influence for disabled advocates in the Federal legislative processes. These positions would be “dedicated to visibility, community engagement and policy coordination,” stated Romero. President Biden also intends to enforce pre-existing civil rights laws, expanding the accessibility of the justice system, and voting system. 

Additionally, Biden intends to build upon and continue to champion the Affordable Care Act. “[Biden] wants to ensure that there’s a public health insurance option, and he wants to reduce costs through negotiation,” Romero explained. “[The Biden healthcare plan] would put all these disabled people who signed up for his health care into a pool, and then this pool could then do group negotiation with medical facilities and drug companies in order to negotiate the prices down. That’s how the Biden health care plan provides a more affordable version of health care because it has the advantage of group negotiation backed by the federal government.” Medicare in its current state prevents this form of group negotiation. 

With regards to employment and economic security, Romero explained that only one in five people with disabilities are employed. To combat this disparity, Biden wants to incentivize the hiring of people with disabilities and demand greater transparency and more accommodations in the hiring process and workforce. Likewise, Romero pointed out that these changes would occur in the hiring practices of the Federal government as well. President Biden wants to increase the number of federal government employees that are disabled and to institute implicit bias training programs for federal workers and contractors. 

Education is also an important facet of Biden’s plan for people with disabilities. President Biden wants to ensure easy access to early childhood development experts and resources for preschool children with disabilities. Biden also hopes to streamline the early identification of disabilities in children. Furthermore, Biden’s plan allows for easier transitions from education to employment. 

Finally, Biden hopes to advance America’s infrastructure to better serve people with disabilities by improving affordable housing and expanding housing accommodations.  Romero also emphasized Biden’s attention to accessible transportation: “[Biden] will also provide incentives to developers to develop new transportation methods with disabilities in mind, and he wants to work on passing legislation to further prevent discrimination by airlines and improve paratransit services.” This legislation would expand access to assistive technology and provide greater incentives for the implementation of assistive technologies in schools and workplaces. 

Accomplishments

Although President Biden has been largely focused on responding to the coronavirus pandemic, Romero explained that the administration has already succeeded in providing support to disabled communities as the American Rescue Plan allocates funding to Medicaid.  Additionally, the American Rescue Plan increases funding for special education teachers under the Individuals with Disabilities Act, as well as for SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Romero went on to celebrate the appointment of Dr. Kimberly Knackstedt as Director of Disability Policy. “She wants to include people with disabilities from the start of policy development and she really just wants to be a voice for this community.” 

Romero recognized the obstacles in place of substantial legislative progress for people with disabilities, but was hopeful for the future. “It is encouraging that the president has aimed to prioritize disability, [and while] it is too early to know how these things will continue to pan out for the next four years, I think that we should all be hopeful for what is to come.”