People First Disability Policy

Julián Castro
Nov 13, 2019 · 9 min read

Almost thirty years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) transformed the landscape of our nation to ensure that every person can fully participate in our society and have an equal opportunity to pursue their highest potential. No matter who you are or where you live, you deserve dignified work, decent housing, quality education, affordable health care, to live independently and achieve self-sufficiency. I’m running for president to fight for the most vulnerable people and the most marginalized communities so that everyone can make progress and prosper, including the more than 60 million Americans with disabilities.

Before the ADA, life for people with disabilities was very different. People with disabilities could not even cross the street in their wheelchairs because there were no curb cuts. They could not ride on the bus because there was no lift. Americans with disabilities were excluded from their own communities and were not included in the American Dream. We tolerated isolation, injustice, and inequality until a movement of disability advocates and servant leaders like Iowa Senator Tom Harkin said enough is enough. When the ADA was stuck in Congress, people with disabilities gathered at the Capitol, got down on their hands and knees, and started crawling up the 83 steps of the building. The Capital Crawl commanded national attention and provided the final push to passage. The ADA provided reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities and banned discrimination against them in employment, housing, and public spaces.

Yet despite the important progress over the last three decades, disparity and poverty is still all too common in the disability community. People with disabilities live in poverty at more than twice the rate of those without disabilities. Americans with disabilities earn only two-thirds of the pay for the same work as folks without disabilities — and it’s also legal to pay them pennies per hour. Last year, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was double that of workers without disabilities. They are more likely to be victims of violent crime, sexual assault, police brutality, and end up in prison. Health care, including mental health services, is unaffordable and irregular, and decent housing is a financial burden and inaccessible. We must recognize that rights on paper have not always translated into rights in practice.

Achieving the four key promises of the ADA — equal opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency — is a never-ending struggle for equality and requires an ongoing fight for justice. We need to do a better job of connecting the dots between poverty and disability, between equity and prosperity, to ensure that everyone can live a barrier-free life. Listening to people with disabilities, it’s clear that these challenges have been ignored by politicians in Washington. We need a new generation of leadership with bold solutions to lift up people that have been left out.

As President Obama’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, I worked with the disability community and lawmakers to promote inclusion with new civil rights rules such as Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH), and expanded opportunity with new programs like ConnectHome for internet access in public housing. As mayor of San Antonio, we invested in preK education for three-and-four-year-olds and created Café College to help underserved youth pursue higher education. And when I’m president, we will work together to strengthen the four pillars of the ADA and fight for people with disabilities to make progress and prosper.

Throughout this race for the presidency, I have centered my campaign on the most vulnerable people and the most marginalized communities. People with disabilities are strong and resilient, but too often have been excluded from the rest of society and ignored by our politics. I am determined to change that. We’ve been an accessible campaign, captioning our videos on social media, having accessible events and an inclusive website, and developing this plan by, for, and with Americans with disabilities. This campaign and our entire country still has a lot of room to improve, but I am committed to working hard every day as president because in America everyone counts.

What We’ll Fight For:

Equity of Opportunity

Education is the foundation of a person’s future, including for students with disabilities. This starts with fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to boost resources for local communities. The federal government needs to step up its support for students with disabilities, and in my People First Education Plan I proposed more than doubling our federal commitment to $120 billion over the next decade. We need to identify students with disabilities early on through Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT) programs and invest $150 billion in modernizing school infrastructure so every campus is ADA-compliant. We will also invest in high-quality universal preK education for every 3-and-four-year old to enable every young learner to start with a strong foundation.

We know that great teachers make all the difference in the lives of students, particularly those with disabilities, and I’m proposing that we raise teacher pay to retain top educators and expand residency programs to keep more special education teachers in the classroom. We will also break the school-to-prison pipeline with juvenile justice reforms in my First Chance plan and pass the Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act to protect students with disabilities from abusive disciplinary practices. As president, I am committed to ensuring that every student has a nurturing environment and the skills to succeed in a 21st century economy.

Beyond raising the minimum wage to at least $15 dollars and connecting future increases to the cost of living, we will eliminate the subminimum wage repealing Section 14c of the Fair Labor Standards Act, an unjust loophole that allows workers with disabilities to be paid mere pennies every hour. Building on President Obama’s leadership, the federal government will also recommit to being a model inclusive workplace by hiring more people with disabilities to reflect the diversity of America, enforcing Section 501 and 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, and using the procurement process to support entrepreneurs with disabilities. I was also the first candidate with a plan to eliminate lead exposure with $51 billion investment and test all children’s blood levels, understanding the impact lead has on people’s abilities. Furthermore, youth with disabilities are more likely to experience abuse and neglect than those without disabilities, and I’m the only candidate with Foster Care plan to ensure foster families able to care for the needs of disabled youth and parents with disabilities are not separated from their children.

Full Community Inclusion

People with disabilities have the right to participate fully in American life and our policies must facilitate their full inclusion in our communities. That begins with their right to vote and their participation in our democracy. As president, I will tear down barriers that exclude people in the democratic process and expand the franchise with additional polling sites, vote-by-mail, more days of early voting, making Election Day a federal holiday, and by ensuring all voting machines and locations are fully accessible for Americans with disabilities.

Second, full community inclusion means that housing opportunities and transportation options are extended to everyone. My People First Housing Plan ensures individuals with disabilities have priority in accessing housing units designed for their needs, increases the supply of accessible housing by at least 450,000 units, and ends chronic homelessness by 2028 with $50 billion investment. I’ve also proposed doubling federal investment with $120 billion for mass transit with universal design principles so that people can use physical infrastructure like sidewalks without incident and we also need to invest in our technological infrastructure to achieve universal for high-speed broadband coverage. People with disabilities are also disproportionately impacted by climate change, and as president, I will require state and local governments to have a disability-inclusive evacuation plans and will hire more Disability Integration Specialists at FEMA. As the former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, I understand that we need to connect the dots between different issues so that every resident can fully participate in their community and our entire nation has more inclusive prosperity.

Third, we need to reform our immigration and criminal justice systems to become a more fair and just nation. My People First Immigration Plan became the blueprint for the entire Democcratic field and is based on compassion and common sense. I completely reject the Trump Administration’s approach of cruelty and will repeal the public charge rule, prohibit deportation of immigrants with medical relief and humanitarian visas, and entirely reform the immiration system with sensible solutions. I also was the first candidate with a plan to reform policing with a national use of force standard to prevent brutality. Research suggests up to half of people killed by police may have had a disability. My First Chance Plan for criminal justice reform also makes courts fully accessible, ends violence against people incarcerated and disabled, and increases Department of Justice enforceemnt of discrimination against people with disabilties.

Dignity for People with Disabilities

Health care is a human right. As president, we will make Medicare available to everyone, achieving universal coverage at the lowest cost and ensuring people with disabilities have the right to live independently with dignity. That’s why we will reject institutionalization and oppose Medicaid work requirements, and instead promote home-based community care, and end the distinction between physical and mental health care. I will defend the Olmstead v. L.C. decision, pass the Disability Integration Act to expand long-term support services, and improve reimbursement rates in underserved communities. We will also pass the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act to ensure all workers are protected from abuse and treated with dignity.

As president, America will lead the world by striving to be the most inclusive nation on the planet for people with disabilities. We will ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and convene a global summit with heads of state to address the rights and protections of people with disabilities, the world’s largest minority group. The moral leadership of America is one of our greatest strengths and will not shy away from the advancement of human rights.

Economic Empowerment

Millions of Americans with disabilities live in poverty and we have a responsibility to extend economic security to everyone in our society. When I’m president, we will reform and expand Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) as part of a 21st Century Safety Net. We will end the SSDI “benefit cliff” that acts as a barrier for people with disabilities to earn an income, reduce unjust wait times, and eliminate asset limits that discourage saving. These benefits need to empower people with disabilities to seek out economic opportunities and enable them to become self-sufficient.

We also need to change the structures of work to help people succeed in a modern economy. Every worker also deserves at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, which will reduce gender pay inequality and disproportionately benefit workers with disabilities. I also support a national sick leave standard and predictable schedules to protect workers. One in three families has a member with disabilities and need time and additional support to care for their loved ones. In my Economic Plan for Working Plans, I proposed increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to ensure hard work pays more, included a $3,000 Child Tax Credit (CTC) to help with the rising cost of raising a family, and create a universal child care program capped at 7 percent of household income. Combined, these new policies and investments will help reduce poverty by more than half in the next decade, disproportionately improving the lives of Americans with disabilities and their families.

A Bold Call for Civic Action

We must not only improve our policy, but also change our culture. There are no second-class citizens in the United States. In America, everyone counts. We need to renew our sense of empathy in this country, and always remember the common humanity that unites us. Standing up and fighting for the disability community is not a partisan or a political issue; it’s an issue of right and wrong, of going backwards or moving forward. When President H.W. Bush signed the ADA, he said, “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.” And after three decades of progress for people with disabilities, there are still barriers to inclusion that hold us back from our full potential. The next president has the opportunity to fight for the rights of people with disabilities and that’s exactly what I will do.

Read the full People First Disability Plan here >>


Julián Castro for President 2020

Julián Castro

Written by

Father, husband, Texan, presidential candidate. He/Him/Él. Former Sec. of Housing & Urban Development, Mayor of San Antonio.


Julián Castro for President 2020

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