Constitutional Rights and Disability Rights

In the United States, freedom is a concept that is not only seen as a fundamental value of the American people, but is frequently cited by our government, both its documents and our officials, as one of the most important concepts to keep in mind when drafting legislation. The Declaration of Independence included the iconic phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” unalienable rights endowed to us by the Creator. The preamble of the Constitution mentions “[securing] the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves” as one of the reasons for the creation of the document and the government that it establishes. Today, lawmakers from all over the political spectrum cite freedom as a motivation for putting forward various pieces of legislation, although they often disagree on how freedom should be interpreted and to whom it should belong.

One thing that we should all agree on, however, is that the protections of the Constitution don’t have a cut-off point, limited to some Americans while other Americans are determined to be “too disabled” to be entitled to their freedoms. Recently, conservative political and social commentator Ann Coulter pointed out that “there are no asterisks on the First Amendment,” meaning that First Amendment protections apply regardless of whether those on the other side of the political spectrum disagree with them. Similarly, there is no asterisk on the Constitution that says that our freedoms only apply to those who are deemed to be “non-disabled enough.” This is particularly important because many disabled people in the United States are being forced into nursing facilities and institutions where they are stripped of their personal liberties. They have essentially been deemed “too disabled” to live in their communities, go to school, work, marry, establish a home and bring up children. The only reason that’s the case is because they have been denied the supports that would allow them to live in freedom.

Why is this the case, and why can’t they receive care in their own home?

Right now, people with disabilities may be denied community-based long term services and supports by their states and insurance providers. These services include things such as attendant care. For example, a person who needs assistance with things such as dressing, eating, and toileting could have assistance from an attendant to complete these tasks in their home. However, securing attendant services in the United States can be difficult or sometimes impossible. You may be denied services because you have the wrong disability diagnosis or require too many hours of assistance. The state may also have a waiting list for services and you can’t get them until someone else goes into an institution or dies.

The Disability Integration Act (DIA), legislation introduced by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and soon to be introduced in the House by Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), would change that. DIA would require public entities and insurance companies to provide long-term services and supports (LTSS) in the community as an alternative to institutionalization, and offer those already in institutions the ability to transition home and receive LTSS.

Disabled Americans shouldn’t be put on a waiting list for the freedom and liberty promised by the Declaration of Independence and guaranteed by the Constitution. If you say you care about freedom and value liberty, you should believe in liberating people who have been institutionalized due to the failure to provide adequate services and support in the community. Republicans, Democrats and Independents should all support the Disability Integration Act.

– The ADAPT Community