When the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990, there seemingly were as many opponents as there were proponents. All these years later, the standards and expectations of that landmark legislation have become second-nature in mainstream America. Concerns about costs and consequences were replaced by reason, acceptance and a shared sense of fairness to accommodate all Americans, regardless of their limitations.What used to be the exception became the rule.
In 2014, another piece of legislation that is important for people with chronic illnesses, among many others, became law: The ABLE Act (Achieving a Better Life Experience Act). It, too, has the potential to make sweeping, concrete changes in the way we accommodate those with disabilities. There are several amendments to the ABLE Act under consideration in Congress now. And, like the ADA was 17 years ago, they are deserving of your attention.
Following is some background on both acts, and also an online tool you can use to stay abreast of the latest news.
The ADA is not about medical care. Rather, it is a civil rights act for people with disabilities. My first experience with what eventually would become the ADA was the implementation of street curb cuts that were created, with much complaining about the cost, in my home town. Curb cuts were mandated by the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968. It turned out, like so many things derived from universal design, curb cuts were useful for many people, such as mom’s with baby strollers. The provision in the ADA that I use all the time is the mandate for dedicated handicapped parking spaces. Many people, not just those with MS or in wheelchairs, benefit from dedicated handicap parking.
ADA covers broad categories of circumstances. In addition to architectural barrier issues, there are other areas covered by the ADA, most crucially requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.
THE ABLE ACT (2014) — Achieving a Better Life Experience Act
I have written several times about this very new program that should be a financial lifeline to people with disabilities. Unfortunately, that’s only if you become disabled before 26 years of age. There are amendments to improve this in committee in Congress, so with the 2017 session having just begun, advocates need to continue to pursue passage. However, given the frenzy of the new session, it may be best to wait a while.
On the plus side, previous advocacy seems to have worked a bit because the amendments did pick up some new sponsors in late December 2016. Several more states have announced the availability of their ABLE programs to accept new applicants for ABLE accounts (Alaska, Kentucky, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Virginia). The reason I received these updates is because I signed up to follow action on the various bills, committees, legislators, and more govtrack.us. For example, a simple search on disability showed me the bill I had heard about that would provide a lump-sum payment of $250 to seniors, disabled, and veterans in lieu of the stingy no cost-of-living decision for all of us again this year.
Offense is the best defense, and people with disabilities are more vulnerable to ill-considered bills being proposed by people without disabilities to address things that are not really significant problems or are products of bias.
While I was tinkering with search terms on the website, I came across a bill that deservedly had died in committee last year. The main point of the bill seemed to be to prevent “convicted felons” from receiving disability compensation. Sen. Orin Hatch, R-Utah, introduced the U.S. Senate bill. Like the illogic of denying felons the right to vote, particularly after they have served their time, restricting disability benefits in a blanket, no-exceptions fashion is not quite right. State laws vary as to what constitutes a felony, and the basic principle of paying your debt to society and getting released from prison should not prevent you from receiving disability five years later maybe after getting in a car crash that is not your own fault.
I highly recommend the govtrack.us site to keep track of laws that really do have the power to change your life.
Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.