Candidate’s response was picked up by the New York Times O’Rourke: People with Disabilities will Help Lead Campaign
2020 Presidential Primary Candidate Survey on Disability
Beto O’Rourke’s Responses
Employment: What are your views on paying a subminimum wage based on disability?
Every citizen, with or without a disability, should be able to earn a fair and just wage, and work in an integrated workplace that ensures workers are not segregated based on disability. Individuals with disabilities should have the same opportunities for benefits and career advancement as other employees, and earn the same wage as those without disabilities who perform similar work. As Congressman, Beto co-sponsored the Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment Act of 2017, which would have phased out section (14)c of the Fair Labor Standards Act (which presently allows employers to obtain a permit to legally pay workers with disabilities less than minimum wage). To complement this bill, Beto believes we should explore ways to incentivize employers to hire individuals with disabilities including increased support for Employment First initiatives which prioritize employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in integrated settings within the community.
Assistive Technology: What do you plan to do to increase access to assistive technology for people with disabilities who need it to effectively and independently engage in their communities?
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.
Special Education: How would you propose to strengthen the IDEA when it is reauthorized so that it truly fulfills its stated purpose of preparing children with disabilities for post-secondary education, employment, and independent living, including children with the most significant disabilities?
Beto will begin by fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to ensure students with disabilities receive the services and specialized instruction in grades K-12 that they deserve, so they can graduate, and are ready to transition to post-secondary education, which will prepare them for competitive, meaningful employment, and independent living. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) also provides accountability and protections for students with disabilities to support their right to receive a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment, with access to services and supports to meet their individual needs. To help meet these goals, we must also ensure the safety and protection of all students with disabilities in every state from the dangerous practices of seclusion and restraint by prohibiting their use through federal legislation. Furthermore, Congress must reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA) with key provisions, including those programs which provide inclusive higher education for students with intellectual disabilities, teacher training, and preparation programs for special education, as well as improvements to accessibility for students with disabilities.
Mental Health Services: What is your vision for a system of services to support people with mental illness?
A system of services to support people with mental illness must go beyond the concept of focusing solely on the individual, but should also address family, school, home, work, and community conditions, as well as economic or environmental factors. Beto will call for additional funding for states’ mental health and substance use programs and services; pass universal healthcare with parity for mental health services; and oppose any attempt to cut Social Security Income and Social Security Disability Income. Beto will work to address the lack of mental health professionals and enforcement of parity in mental health and substance use services and treatment, and the culture of stigma that prevents many individuals from seeking needed treatment. In creating a detailed, national plan for increased access to mental health care, Beto will consult with impacted individuals as stakeholders; state and community-based organizations; national disability advocacy and civil rights organizations; mental health professionals; teachers; faith leaders; veterans; criminal justice reform advocates; and organizations whose successful mental health and substance use initiatives, research, and best practices to inform how we can vastly improve upon the present complex systems of services, supports, and treatments necessary to improve lives and ensure civil rights of people with mental illness.
Workforce Shortage: Please explain how you would address this immediate and growing workforce shortage?
In many states, institutional bias and long waitlists are a significant barrier to accessing Medicaid waivers to qualify for community-based direct support staff professionals (DSP) services. As in New Hampshire, the average wage in many states for DPSs are near the poverty level or minimum wage, and often DSPs earn less than those working in institutional settings. As a member of Congress, Beto supported the Disability Integration Act as well as the EMPOWER Care Act (formerly Money Follows the Person) to ensure that people with disabilities can live in the least restrictive setting and free from forced institutionalization. It is paramount that we work to ensure the civil right of individuals with disabilities to live in their home and community. To achieve this goal, we must address the increasing demand for DSPs, the workforce shortage, and the high turnover rate. Beto will propose state and federal workforce incentives and tackle low wages by passing a $15 minimum wage to ensure we have a robust workforce and retain those critical direct support staff professionals, who are vital to ensuring that people with disabilities can live in their community and in their own home, where they belong.