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Obama Unveils Disabilities and Equal Opportunities Plan

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Date:
Location: Chicago, IL


Obama Unveils Disabilities and Equal Opportunities Plan

Senator Barack Obama today unveils his plan to ensure that
Americans with disabilities have an equal opportunity to achieve the
American Dream and pledged to make implementing this plan an Obama
administration priority.

In a video released on his web site, Obama said: " we must build a world
free of unnecessary barriers, stereotypes, and discrimination," and
"policies must be developed, attitudes must be shaped, and buildings and
organizations must be designed to ensure that everyone has a chance to
get the education they need and live independently as full citizens in
their communities."

Despite the federal government's promise to shoulder 40 percent of each
state's "excess cost" of educating children with disabilities, it has
never lived up to this obligation. Restrictive Supreme Court decisions
have undermined the force of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the
employment rate of workers with disabilities continues to lag behind
other workers. And recent reports show that the Social Security
Administration's inability to deal with its backlog of disability claims
has cost individuals their homes and economic security.

Barack Obama believes the United States should lead the world in
empowering people with disabilities to take full advantage of their
talents and become independent, integrated members of society. In
addition to reclaiming America's global leadership on this issue by
becoming a signatory to â€" and having the Senate ratify â€" the UN
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Obama's plan has
four parts that are designed to provide Americans with disabilities with
the greatest possible access to the same opportunities as those without
disabilities.

They are:

First, provide Americans with disabilities the educational opportunities
they need to succeed. Obama will:

* Fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act so that students
with disabilities will get the public education they have a right to;

* Ensure that all states have the support to adopt comprehensive newborn
screening programs and set a national goal to provide voluntary
re-screening for all two-year-olds â€" the age at which some conditions,
including autism spectrum disorders, begin to appear;

* Expand Early Head Start to serve more children with disabilities and
spur states, through Obama's Early Learning Challenge Grants, to expand
programs for children with disabilities, such as IDEA Part C, and
integrate these programs with other early childhood programs; and

* Help more students with disabilities attend college by funding
Vocational Rehabilitation programs to provide better counseling and
offering a new, fully refundable $4,000 American Opportunity Tax Credit
to make college more affordable.

Second, end discrimination and promote equal opportunity. Obama
will:

* Restore the Americans with Disabilities Act by supporting legislation
reversing Supreme Court decisions that have narrowed it and appointing a
judiciary that will respect Congressional intent;

* Fully fund and increase staffing at the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs so
they have the resources to enforce anti-discrimination laws that protect
workers with disabilities;

* Secure affordable, quality, portable health care for all by the end of
his first term in office so people with disabilities can enter and/or
re-enter the workforce without fear of losing their government-provided
health insurance; and

* Support mental health parity so that coverage for serious mental
illnesses is provided on the same terms and conditions as other
illnesses and diseases. Obama passed Illinois' mental health parity law
as a state senator.

Third, increase the employment rate of workers with disabilities.
Towards that end, the Obama plan would, among other things:

* Increase the number of federal employees with disabilities and require
the hiring of an additional 100,000 federal employees with disabilities
within five years.

* Provide workers with disabilities and caregivers with greater
workplace flexibility by expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act,
mandating seven days of paid sick leave for all workers, and encouraging
states to provide paid leave, and also by protecting caregivers from
workplace discrimination; and

* Encourage more hiring of workers with disabilities in the private
sector, including by educating employers about best practices in
accommodating workers with disabilities and the availability of tax
benefits for providing accommodations, including the Disabled Access Tax
Credit, the Tax Deduction for Architectural and Transportation Barrier
Removal, and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit.

And fourth, support independent, community-based living for
Americans with disabilities. To further this end, Obama will, among
other things:

* Streamline the current application and appeals processes to reduce the
unacceptable delays experienced by individuals applying for Social
Security disability benefits, and ensure that the SSA has the funding it
needs to hire additional judges and staff and to invest in technology to
expedite final decisions;

* Assure that Americans with disabilities' right to choose the most
appropriate setting in which to live, affirmed in Olmstead v. L.C., is
fully vindicated;

* Support the Community Choice Act and direct care workers so that
Americans with significant disabilities have the choice to live in their
community rather than a nursing home or other institution;

* Support the CLASS Act to create a voluntary, budget-neutral national
insurance program to help adults with disabilities to remain independent
and live in their communities;

* Protect the voting rights of people with disabilities by fully funding
the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) so that all polling places are fully
accessible, better enforcing the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly
and Handicapped Act, the ADA, and the Voting Rights Act, and opposing
Voter ID laws;

* Amend the Medicare "homebound" rule so that those with disabilities
have the freedom to leave their homes without fear of having their
government benefits taken away;

* Invest in assistive technologies to develop 21st century solutions,
such as home monitoring and communications technologies, that will help
people with disabilities overcome stubborn barriers;

* Research treatments and search for the causes of autism spectrum
disorder (ASD) and guarantee that Americans with ASD can live
independent and fully productive lives; and

* Strengthen specialty care within the Veterans Administration by
creating additional polytrauma centers as well as centers of excellence
for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), PTSD, vision impairment, prosthetics,
spinal cord injury, aging, women's health and other specialized
rehabilitative care.


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