Accessible mainstream communication and information technologies, as well as assistive and adaptive technologies, allow people with disabilities to secure and maintain employment, exercise their right to vote, participate in educational activities, and experience entertainment as readily as people without disabilities. Assistive technology can have a dramatic impact on the quality of life and independence for people with disabilities, but funding for the equipment is often limited.
Michael would direct his Administration to prioritize innovation that improves outcomes for people with disabilities and allows them to maintain their independence. His agenda would include directing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid to incorporate assistive technology in demonstrations and to work with other agencies to ensure that these technologies are both accessible and affordable. Michael’s administration would also establish a public-private partnership to stress the inclusion of people with disabilities as the private sector develops new technologies.
Civil rights for people with disabilities is a natural extension of the civil rights movement that granted my parents and grandparents the right to fully participate in our democracy. We cannot realize our full potential as a nation unless all Americans, including Americans with disabilities, are able to work with dignity, exercise their right to vote, and engage as equals in our society.
As President, I will make major new investments in interventions that improve access to information and communication technology and lead to better educational and employment opportunities for people with disabilities. My administration will work to increase funding for the Assistive Technology Act, the only existing piece of federal legislation that provides funding for assistive technology programs, and work with Congress to reauthorize and fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Finally, we will create a Technology Bill of Rights for People with Disabilities to ensure our increasingly technology-dependent world is accessible and inclusive for all.
While advances in assistive technology can create new opportunities for people with disabilities, the inability to access AT can be isolating and intensely frustrating.
One important opportunity for the federal government to help increase AT opportunities comes in the reauthorization of IDEA. With one-quarter of students reporting that they have not been able to use AT in the classroom, and nearly 90% of teachers acknowledging that they do not fully understand the capabilities of AT, we can and should update IDEA to increase training for teachers about AT, and encourage more funding for use of AT in the classroom.
Similarly, we need to make sure that federally-supported job training centers and VA facilities are better-equipped to help connect people with disabilities to the tools that can help them get their next job, and examine tax credits for employers who invest in assistive technology for employees.
I will also push to increase federal funding for university centers on disabilities, which help connect individuals with AT. These centers accomplish a lot with minimal resources, and will be able to increase the reach of their efforts with better federal investment.
Both mainstream and specialized assistive and adaptive communication/information technologies are instrumental for Americans with disabilities to live normal lives – holding jobs, getting an education, and staying in touch with loved ones. As President, I would prioritize the goal of full digital inclusion across all federal agencies in order to ensure that Americans with disabilities can access all the benefits of technology.
We can achieve digital equity by embracing the use of digital content in education, including ensuring ubiquitous Broadband access at school, home, and within the community. It is imperative that we use America’s ability to lead the world in innovation and technological advancement to improve the lives of all Americans, including those with disabilities.
I believe that the federal government must do more to help people with disabilities afford the technology and devices they need. My universal health care plan, BetterCare, includes coverage of assistive technology and in Congress I supported legislation, the Access Technology Affordability Act, to create a refundable tax credit to help blind people afford access technologies like screen reader and voice recognition programs.
I have long been a proponent of increasing access to assistive technology. I have cosponsored the ABLE Act since I joined the Senate in 2009, which allows spending on assistive technology as a qualified disability expense. I also cosponsored the ABLE Age Adjustment Act, the ABLE Financial Planning Act, and the ABLE To Work Act, which expand and strengthen the ABLE Act. In 2014, I introduced the Caring for Military Children with Developmental Disabilities Act, which would require TRICARE and other health providers to our uniformed military to cover behavioral health treatments. I also have fought for funding for the Assistive Technology Act to increase access to assistive technology through state financing efforts such as financial loans and cooperative buys, device reutilization services such as recycling and device exchange, and device loan/borrowing and demonstration services.
Whether it is a special-purpose computer or a prosthetic, assistive technologies are crucial to helping people with disabilities live at home and fully engage with their communities. We must ensure these technologies are available to all people who need them. One reason I support Medicare for All is because it will help expand access to assistive technology by creating a comprehensive healthcare program available to all Americans, including those with disabilities. Medicare for All will cover long-term support services, reduce prescription drug prices, prioritize community-based services, and end copays and out of pocket costs.
Making sure people with disabilities get the assistive technology they need is key to building a more inclusive America, and we must pay attention to all the barriers they face to accessing them. For example, when natural disasters strike, not only is it harder for people with disabilities to evacuate, but when they do it often means leaving services like Medicaid behind, which is how many people afford assistive technologies. We should provide uninterrupted access to Medicaid services across state lines so that people impacted by disasters continue to be able to access assistive technologies. That’s why I have co-sponsored the Disaster Relief Medicaid Act (DRMA) and will fight to sign that bill into law as president.
Assistive technologies are crucial for many individuals with disabilities, but at the same time the cost of these specialized technologies can be prohibitive. Because people with disabilities often struggle to find work, or are unable to work, the cost of these technologies can present a significant barrier to employment, independence, equal access to goods and services, and telecommunications.
Outside of private sources, options for getting help to pay for these technologies include ABLE accounts, which many states have implemented, that let people with disabilities set aside money in tax-free accounts which can later be used for assistive technologies, among other things. Certain federal and state tax breaks are also available. Private insurance companies and Medicaid and Medicare can cover medically necessary assistive technologies. The Federal Communications Commission’s iCanConnect program and many state telecommunications equipment distribution programs provide accessible telecommunications relay services equipment to Deaf, hard of hearing, DeafBlind, or speech disabled individuals. State Vocational Rehabilitation Services programs sometimes cover the costs of assistive technologies where they help people with disabilities obtain and maintain employment.
Navigating these choices can be intimidating and cumbersome. I want to empower people with disabilities, and that starts with making it easier for them to get the technologies they need. We need to take a long hard look at how we can make information regarding the types of assistive technologies available today more readily available, and how we can make the technologies easier to obtain. In Washington state, the Washington Assistive Technology Act Program (WATAP) maintains a comprehensive database of services and resources regarding assistive technologies for Washingtonians, their teachers, parents, families, and employers. I believe this is a step in the right direction, and as president will work to explore barriers to obtaining assistive technologies and the best ways to overcome these barriers.
Senator Klobuchar will work to make sure that people with disabilities can access the technologies they need to fully engage in their communities. She was the lead Democrat on the Steve Gleason Act, which was signed into law in 2018 and permanently fixes the Medicare rule that limited access to speech generating devices for patients living with speech and communication disabilities resulting from conditions such as ALS, stroke, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, or Rett Syndrome.
We’ve seen how assistive/adaptive communications and information technologies, including the incorporation of Universal Design, has been a critical means of inclusion and access to public life, employment, and independence for people with disabilities. Beto will support advances in innovation and technology that originate in the United States by promoting opportunities for people with disabilities to start their own businesses, and pursue patents and startups for products, services, and innovations. Beto will also support efforts to ensure greater access and availability of assistive technology and accessible communication, including ways to reduce costs for communication devices and related equipment.
Investing in our students is an investment in our future, and this is true for all children. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) made incredible progress, but there is still work to be done. I believe we must strengthen IDEA to address the continued challenges for local school districts and those seeking higher education. It starts by investing in our public schools and supporting our teachers so that they have the resources needed to provide educational programs to meet the needs of students with disabilities. And for higher education, we must continue to make that accessible for anyone who wishes to pursue it.
Bernie believes that as a nation, we have a moral responsibility to ensure that all Americans have the supports and services they need to live at home, participate in their community, and to age with dignity and respect. Under Medicare for All, health care will be guaranteed as a right, including assistive technology and home and community based services and supports. The program will also provide transportation to and from health services for those who need it.
I support efforts to expand the availability of medical devices through public and private health plans, as well as to repeal the medical device excise tax which – if reinstated – would divert billions away from research and development for cures and therapies, stymieing technological advances that could help people with disabilities live more comfortable, fruitful lives.
Overall, I support efforts to increase funding to individuals and organizations to improve access to Social Security disability benefits, and to strengthen the Americans with Disabilities Act, Social Security Disability, and Medicaid. I also support updating the Assistive Technology Act to expand access and bring more resources to state-assisted technology programs.
I’ve fought to increase access to assistive technology for people with disabilities, including in education, health care, and transportation. To help students with disabilities, I helped pass an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization to ensure they can use assistive technology to access assessments. I also introduced the bipartisan AIM HIGH Act to create guidelines for accessible instructional materials on college campuses.
By investing in medical innovation, we can further expand the assistive technologies available to people with disabilities. Over the past fifty years, the American system of medical innovation has transformed the health of billions of people around the world. It didn’t just appear overnight as if by magic – it is the end result of generations of huge taxpayer investments in the National Institutes of Health. That’s why I’ve fought tooth and nail against President Trump’s proposal to cut nearly 20% of the NIH budget – the largest cut to the institution since its founding. I’ve also introduced the National Biomedical Research Act and the Medical Innovation Act to restore our investments in the NIH’s cutting-edge scientific research and bring us closer to critical health care breakthroughs.
We must also make sure assistive technologies are affordable. That’s why I reached across the aisle to craft and pass bipartisan legislation guaranteeing affordable, over-the-counter hearing aids for those with mild to moderate hearing loss. And why I introduced the Audiology Patient Choice Act, a bipartisan bill that ensures people with disabilities on Medicare have access to a full range of hearing and balance health care services provided by licensed audiologists.
I also believe that universal inclusion begins within our campaign and pledge that my campaign will be fully inclusive of people with disabilities. We have a staff member who prioritizes outreach to the disability community so that our campaign is deliberately listening and taking intentional steps towards inclusion. Some of the steps we’ve already taken include: hiring individuals with disabilities, making sure our offices and event spaces are accessible, prioritizing phone banks alongside canvasses so that people of all mobilities can participate, ensuring that all photographs on our website have alt-text and that our videos include captions, and asking event attendees about their accessibility needs and reaching out to those individuals directly to confirm what they need so that we can accommodate them on the day of the event.
Marianne Williamson believes that increased access to broadband and information technology infrastructure all across the United States should be a priority for economic development and social well-being. Along with that increased access, the Federal Government should increase funding to ensure that we increase assistive technology for people with disabilities and others who may need such technology to facilitate effective and independent community engagement.
As President, I’d pass a Medicare for All system, including coverage for assistive technology. We should also cover early diagnosis and intervention, ensuring that we’re able to provide this assistance as early as possible. And I’d also consider covering certain technologies for family members who are providing assistance in care.