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With New Plan, Warren Pledges to End 'Shameful' Economic Injustices for Americans With Disabilities

Disability rights advocates on Thursday praised Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s plan to protect the rights of people with disabilities in the workplace, schools, and across American life—calling the proposal “thoughtful” and “comprehensive.”

On her campaign website, the Massachusetts Democrat wrote that while the U.S. has for centuries “excluded, exploited, and institutionalized them,” people with disabilities “have put their lives on the line for a more just future and changed this country for the better for everyone.”

“People with disabilities are still fighting for economic security, equal opportunity, and inclusion—and they are not fighting alone,” write Warren. “As president, I will work in partnership with the disability community to combat ableism.”

The plan is centered around correcting several key areas in which people with disabilities have been treated unfairly for generations, even after the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990.

Warren described in detail her plans to:

  • Ensure fair wages and financial security for people with disabilities
  • Provide early interventions and equal access to education for children with disabilities
  • Protect civil rights for people with disabilities, ensuring they have access to voting booths and fair treatment in the criminal justice system
  • Ensure access to affordable housing and healthcare for people with disabilities

On social media, some disability rights advocates expressed excitement over Warren’s plans to reform the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs, which are meant to provide a financial safety net to people with disabilities when they’re unable to work—but which actually “trap them in poverty,” according to the senator.

“Low monthly payments and punitive eligibility terms trap beneficiaries in poverty, punish them for receiving support from friends and family, and can even force them to choose between critical benefits and marrying the person they love,” wrote the senator.

Matthew Cortland—a lawyer and writer with a chronic illness who consulted with Warren’s policy team on the plan—praised Warren’s plan to eliminate the marriage penalty for SSI, which cuts benefits by 25% if a couple gets married, and the “cruel and unjust” asset cap which disqualifies beneficiaries if they have more than $2,000 in “countable resources.”

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“Elizabeth Warren would fight to transform SSI from a punishing sub-poverty program with a cruel labyrinth of byzantine rules into a meaningful & dignified safety net for disabled Americans,” tweeted Cortland, adding that under Warren’s plan he would be able to get married without worrying that the means-tested program would penalize him and his partner.

“In this primary, these changes to SSI and the way we treat Americans with disabilities [are] necessary,” added Dr. Christine Eady Mann, a physician who is running for Congress in Texas. “I’ve seen the suffering from our current system in my work for decades. It is shameful.”

Warren’s plan would also do away with what she called “government-sanctioned pay discrimination” affecting people with disabilities, who can legally be paid as little as four cents an hour—a “shameful subminimum wage,” the senator wrote.

“People with disabilities have the same rights to full participation in the economy and fair wages as everyone else, and I won’t stop fighting until they get them,” Warren wrote, adding that she would work to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour for all Americans, including the 61 million who live with disabilities.

Also included in the plan are measure to improve equal access to education for students with disabilities. Warren would invest $50 billion to ensure all public schools are ADA-compliant; in New York City alone, she noted, just 17% of schools fully comply with the law. Public colleges would also be required to regularly audit graduation rates for students with disabilities, who are less likely to complete their degrees than other students, and take steps to improve those discrepancies.

Warren’s housing and Green New Deal plans include provisions to ensure people with disabilities, who make up 41% of Americans who live in public housing, have access to affordable, green housing that includes accessibility features.

The senator would also expand the Medically Underserved Population (MUP) designation to include people with disabilities, which would increase access to primary health service providers. This reform would be in addition to Warren’s Medicare for All program, which, she wrote, “will be particularly impactful for people with disabilities whose frequent interactions with the healthcare system make consistent, affordable access to care all the more crucial.”

“We all do better when everyone has the opportunity to fully participate in all aspects of life,” Warren wrote. “Together, we can realize a truly inclusive world.”

The plan won praise from several people with disabilities who worked with Warren’s campaign to form the policy proposal.

“This is super comprehensive and when enacted will be huge for the community,” wrote Rebecca Cokley, director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress.

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