From the JFA Moderator: The following is SUMMARY was prepared by the individuals who attended a small meeting with President Obama to discuss Disability Policy Priorities on Friday, July 24. This conversation with disability leadership is an important first step for the President and the Disability Community to work together toward fulfilling the promise of the ADA: equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency. The Justice for All Action Network (JFAAN) was pleased to have several members of its steering committee involved in this conversation and hopes future meetings will be even more inclusive of the leaders of the national organizations representing the major disability groups run by persons with disabilities.
On July 24, President Obama invited a group of 12 representatives of the disability community to meet privately with him and other Administration officials in advance of an East Room ceremony marking the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and his announcement of the Administration’s decision to sign and seek Senate ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Attending the meeting for the disability community were Polly Arango of Family Voices; Marca Bristo of the US International Council on Disabilities and Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago; Kelly Buckland of the National Council on Independent Living; former Congressman Tony Coelho; Michael Fitzpatrick of the National Alliance on Mental Illness; Marty Ford of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities and The Arc and UCP Disability Policy Collaboration; Andy Imparato of AAPD; Ted Kennedy, Jr. of the AAPD Board and The Marwood Group; Michael May of the Sendero Group, a technology company; Maria Veronica Reina of the Global Partnership for Disability and Development; Jeff Rosen of Snap!VRS, a video relay and technology company; and Bob Williams of the District of Columbia, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Disability and Long-Term Care Policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Joining the President at the meeting were Attorney General Eric Holder; Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis; Melody Barnes, Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy; Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary Chris Lu; Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy; Paul Miller, Special Assistant to the President for Personnel; Lisa Brown, Staff Secretary to the President; Michael Strautmanis, Chief of Staff to Valerie Jarrett; Jeff Crowley, Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy and Senior Advisor on Disability Issues to the Domestic Policy Council; Tina Tchen, Director of the Office of Public Engagement; and Kathy Martinez, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy.
The disability community representatives engaged in a productive dialogue with Attorney General Holder and Secretary Solis before the President arrived, discussing our priorities for civil rights enforcement at both departments, including but not limited to internet accessibility, Olmstead enforcement, reducing the waiting period for ADA complaints to be resolved, using OFCCP to enforce the affirmative action provisions in the Rehabilitation Act, protecting children from the use of aversives and restraints; and implementing a government-wide strategy to improve the representation of people with significant disabilities in the federal workforce. Both Holder and Solis were very interested in continuing the discussion in follow-up meetings with disability community representatives in the weeks to come.
When the President arrived, he noted that we had a wide-ranging agenda that included employment, education, technology, health care, and civil rights policy, and indicated his interest in using this first meeting as a listening session. We thanked him for the meeting and for his leadership in signing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, we emphasized the importance of seeing disability policy issues as fundamentally about fairness, civil rights and human rights. We shared some personal discrimination stories and expressed our desire to work with the White House and agencies across the administration on a broad-based strategy to make progress between now and next July 26, which will be the 20th anniversary of the ADA. A significant portion of our time with the President was devoted to health care reform and the need to end the institutional bias in Medicaid, and the President offered to have Nancy-Ann DeParle and Peter Orszag and other members of his health reform team sit down with us in the next few weeks to discuss our ideas, including making the Community Choice Act a state option as part of the final bill that emerges from Congress.
The disability community representatives came away believing that the President, his cabinet representatives, and his senior White House staff are committed to working with our community to achieve the goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act. We look forward to following up on all of the issues discussed at the meeting. All in all, we felt that this historic meeting represented a very important step forward for our community and for the country.
Comment Below: Was this an appropriate way for President Obama to celebrate this significant event with our community? What are your hopes for or concerns about the UN Convention? Do you think the disability leadership addressed appropriate issues? Who would you select as representatives for the disability community?