Saturday, March 04, 2000

Candidates' disability-issues records vary

Policies affect 55 million directly

Enquirer contributor

        An estimated 55 million Americans have some type of disability. While 75 percent of those of working age remain unemployed, millions of families struggle with such issues as affordable health care, accessible housing, appropriate education and long-term care for loved ones with disabling conditions.

        If disability is on your agenda, looking at what presidential candidates are saying on those issues might be helpful.

        Justice for All, an advocacy and disability rights organization, contacted all presidential candidates months ago, requesting a campaign paper on disability issues. The only candidate to respond thus far is Vice President Al Gore.

Bradley co-sponsored ADA
        In a brief statement submitted by Bill Bradley's campaign to the same organization, we learn he has personal experience with disability. His father had calcified arthritis of the spine and was a productive worker and loving parent.

        Voters are also told that Mr. Bradley proposes a “bold health plan” that will provide our 44 million uninsured Americans with health care benefits, new benefits for those on Medicaid and Medicare and assistance for families to keep significantly disabled children at home and out of institutional settings.

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        His campaign statement says that, as a U.S. senator, he co-sponsored the Americans with Disabilities Act (although he refers to the 1990 law as having passed in 1989.)

        George W. Bush's stance as “compassionate conservative” holds somewhat conflicting messages for voters with disabilities. The Texas governor was one of only a handful who did not support the Supreme Court ruling last June in the Olmstead case, supporting the “integration mandate” in the ADA that ensures individuals with disabilities will be offered community services in the most integrated settings.

No action by Bush
        In a campaign stop in South Carolina, another side of the “compassionate conservative” was exhibited and received mixed reviews.

        Christine Green, a legally blind student at Coastal Carolina University, explained before an audience of 1,500 people that she is having trouble finishing her degree for the want of a $400 monocular needed to see the microscope in biology class.

        Neither she nor the school could afford this equipment, she explained, and asked what Mr. Bush would do as president to help people with disabilities.

        The question was thrown back to the gathering as a challenge when Mr. Bush responded that certainly somebody would step forward to help. “I bet somebody right here in this audience may stand up and help you get it,” the Texas governor exclaimed.

        Sure enough, Buck Limehouse, a Republican candidate for Congress from Charleston, stepped forward with an offer to pay. Despite her appreciation, Ms. Green pointed out that the candidate never answered the question.

Gore's record is long
        Mr. Gore has a long history of supporting disability issues. He and his wife Tipper are long-time advo cates for people with mental illness, and he has considerable knowledge of assistive technologies and has worked hard for government funding and initiatives in this area.

        His proposed Disabilities to Work Program, developed after the passage of the Work Incentives Improvement Act last November, would use assistive technology “aggressively” to employ more people with disabilities.

        John Williams, who writes a column on assistive technology for Busi ness Week Online, wrote after a recent interview with John McCain that “He doesn't seem to have the same depth of knowledge about the issues that affect people with disabilities that Vice President Al Gore has, but he has a visceral passion.”

        Elected to the Senate in 1986, Mr. McCain helped write Titles I and II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Title I prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment settings, and Title II is the section guaranteeing the same protection to employees of state and local governments.)

        Mr. McCain has personal experience with disability as well — beatings he received as a prisoner of war in Vietnam caused a permanent limitation in the mobility of his arms.

McCain proposes voting bill
        And, speaking of voting, a bill introduced by Mr. McCain last March, the Improving Accessibility to Voting for Disabled & Elderly Ameri cans Act, would make it easier for people with disabilities to vote. If passed, the bill would make polling places more physically accessible as well as allowing blind and visually impaired people to vote privately with new equipment.

        There are still more questions than answers, but the more candidates are pressed for positions on disability, the more all of us will know.

        Primaries are Tuesday in Ohio, May 2 in Indiana and May 23 in Kentucky.

        For more information, visit the Justice for All Web site at or the League of Women Voters at or Project Vote Smart at or (800) 622-7627.

        Cincinnati writer Deborah Kendrick is a nationally recognized advocate for people with disabilities. Write her at The Cincinnati Enquirer, Tempo, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202.


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