Why We All Need to Be Paying Attention to Biden’s Policy Plans for the Disability Community

The election of President Joe Biden was a relief to people of many marginalized groups, but perhaps most of all, to the disability community. It’s no secret that this huge segment of the U.S. population, approximately 26%, or 61 million people, have had it rough the past four years. The Trump administration made efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act; attempted to cut special education funding; implemented the public charge rule to block immigrants with disabilities from obtaining green cards or visas; denied the existence of police brutality that targets the disability community, especially black and brown people with disabilities; made the Social Security Disability application process even more cumbersome; and didn’t take necessary action to limit the spread of COVID-19 which has wreaked extraordinary havoc on nursing homes and residential care settings that house millions in our community. Yet, as a person with a life-long, significant physical disability, my excitement at Biden’s being our new president extends far beyond the relief of just being “better than Trump.” 

Biden’s policy proposals for disability legislation don’t only promise to “undo” damages done by the Trump administration, they are revolutionary in and of themselves. It’s incredibly important that not just the disability community, but all Americans who believe in justice and equal opportunity, are aware of what’s at stake. Being non-disabled is, as it always has been, a temporary status. Any member of society who is not disabled today, could be tomorrow, whether it be from injury, illness, or age. No one can completely safeguard against becoming a part of the disability community. Disability also doesn’t discriminate based on sex, gender, religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political orientation, or age. The intersectionality of disability with every other segment of society makes disability rights everyone’s business. That’s why understanding key points of “The Biden Plan for Full Participation and Equality for People with Disabilities” should matter to everyone.

I do not intend to breakdown all of Biden’s disability policy proposals, nor should it be assumed that the ones I focus on are of the ones of the utmost importance to all within our incredibly broad and diverse community. What I intend to do is explain, from personal experience, how some specific ones that I have an innate understanding of would be life-changing if they were to pass legislation.

First, Biden plans to “provide greater access to home and community-based services and long-term services and supports in the most integrated setting appropriate to each person’s needs.” To put this into layman’s terms, Biden’s plan includes several methods for increasing funding and resources for people to get the care and services they need to remain living in their own homes and interacting in their communities, rather than be forced to live in nursing homes or other restrictive long-term care facilities. 

If the stories you’ve surely seen on the news about the rampant abuse and neglect that occurs in these settings was not enough to convince you that living in these conditions are less than ideal, perhaps the rate of COVID-19 spread and the millions who have lost their lives too soon in them, many without even getting to see their families or loved ones as they left this world, is. As someone who does maintain a fairly high level of independence by relying on caregivers to come to their home to assist them with basic, everyday needs, having to live in a restrictive environment is my biggest fear. Unfortunately, I am just a “lucky” case. Many who need at-home services to maintain their independence do not have access to adequate services to do so and end up living in facilities that strip them of their dignity and their freedom. Increased funding and priority for so called “home and community based services”, or HCBS, will help put an end to the dangerous institutional bias that has plagued our country and put not only seniors, but young adults and even children, in living conditions that are not suitable for human beings of any age.

Next, and as a part of the focus to increase HCBS, Biden has vowed to make permanent “HCBS Spousal Impoverishment Protections,” which translates to marriage equality for the disability community. Ordinarily, people associate marriage equality with the LGBTQ+ community, but it’s long since been a civil rights issue for the disability community as well. It wasn’t until after I was proposed to for the first time in my early twenties that I learned that the right to marry did not include people like me. It’s not that I couldn’t legally do it, but to get married would have meant I would lose my Medicaid if my spouse continued working and earning money. The income threshold a married couple would have to stay beneath so that a person with a disability could keep their Medicaid benefits was too low for us to have even been able to pay our rent. To choose to marry anyway would have meant I would have to give up my caregiving services that Medicaid funds, and my spouse would need to quit his job to become my fulltime caregiver. Not only could that put tremendous strain on a relationship, if my spouse were ever to become ill or injured, I would not have had anyone at my disposal to cover for such a loss. Essentially, people like me have had to choose marriage or their lives. This legislation would allow spouses of individuals to continue earning money and keep their assets without their disabled partners being penalized, thus ending marriage inequality for the disability community.

Finally, Biden promises to “ensure our criminal justice system treats people with disabilities fairly.” It is a little-known fact that half the people who are killed by the police have a disability. Not surprising is the fact that that being black, brown, and/or LGBTQ+ as well as disabled compounds the odds, yet the impact of police brutality on the disability community, specifically, is largely ignored. Biden’s plan “to partner mental health, disability, and substance use disorder experts and social workers with police departments and first responders” will help decrease this overlooked and appalling malfeasance within our criminal justice system.

The best part of Biden’s disability policy initiatives is that the ones I’ve already listed are just a small piece. His plan is robust and addresses numerous issues that my community have been fighting to be addressed for decades. As always, the need for enough support in the Senate to push these policies through is still going to be a problem. Even with the successful flipping of the Senate to a Democrat majority, filibustering will surely be used by the right to try to block these attempts at bettering the lives of more than a quarter of Americans and their families. It will be up to us, the people, and grassroots activism to put the pressure on elected officials to pass legislation that would ultimately make us a stronger and more just society. It’s time to give the disability community the attention and support they deserve, because in the end, disability rights are human rights.

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