Speaker Nancy Pelosi opened the 116th Congress with a speech in which she spoke about “a Congress that delivers results for the people, opening up opportunity and lifting up their lives.” She vowed that her caucus would advance the rights of the LGBTQ community and Dreamers, and that they would protect our children and the environment. But unfortunately, she said nothing about advancing the civil rights of Disabled Americans who are fighting to secure our rightful and equal place in American society.
Speaker Pelosi lauded President George H.W. Bush’s commitment to Disability Rights when she spoke of his work to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 28 years ago. However, she made no commitment to protect the ADA, which was threatened just last year when a dozen Democrats voted to undermine the civil rights of people with disabilities by passing the ADA Education and Reform Act in the House. It is unclear whether her failure to promise to protect our rights under the ADA was just an oversight or, in fact, a signal that Democrats may caucus with Republicans to pass a bill that would significantly weaken or repeal the ADA during this Congress.
Even more concerning, Speaker Pelosi failed to mention the Disability Integration Act (DIA), bi-partisan, bicameral civil rights legislation that would ensure elderly and Disabled Americans are no longer locked away in institutions. Speaker Pelosi praised the Little Lobbyists who came out to protect Medicaid, but didn’t support the very legislation which would allow them to grow up in a society where they could live in freedom.
Not including DIA in her first speech – in which she specifically promised to pass the Equality Act – has left people in the Disability Community wondering whether this was an oversight by her staff or a signal that House Democrats intend to turn their back on the very Disabled people who put their bodies on the line to save Obamacare and Medicaid. Many in the Disability Community hope this was simply an oversight, pointing out that last summer, then Minority Leader Pelosi stood before a crowd of over one thousand Disability Rights activists and advocates at the National Council for Independent Living Rally on the Hill and promised to do everything in her power to pass DIA. Still, this omission is a grave misstep for the newly minted Speaker.
As highlighted in her own speech, support for Disability Rights issues is found on both sides of the aisle, and the Disability Community has worked diligently to secure solid bi-partisan support for DIA. Speaker Pelosi has the opportunity to lead, not just the Democrats, but the entire House of Representatives in responding to the Disability Community’s expectation that the House pass the Disability Integration Act before July 26, 2019.
Disabled Americans have waited far too long to be freed from the institutions that lock us away. In the words of Justin Dart, we call on you, Speaker Pelosi, to Lead On!