On Dignity, Inclusion, and Equal Rights for
People with Disabilities
I am a longtime champion for the equal rights of all Wisconsinites. I believe that people are defined by their own strengths and abilities, not by their disability. People with intellectual, developmental, mental or physical disabilities are people first and are entitled not only to equal treatment under our laws but to the freedom to make informed choices about how to live their lives. Policymakers who are able-bodies should partner with people with disabilities, their advocates, and caregivers to transform our communities so they are truly accessible and welcoming to everyone. I believe in including the voices of people with disabilities in policy decisions that impact their lives, and find meaningful opportunities for stakeholder engagement.
Address Transportation Barriers
Limited access to transportation has consistently been identified as a priority issue for people with disabilities across our state. Most people with developmental disabilities in Wisconsin neither drive nor own cars, and many Wisconsinites with disabilities rely on the bus system and taxi services to maintain their independence and employment, and to engage in their communities. Affordable, accessible, and effective public transit is also vital for direct care providers to get to work. Recent budgets have failed to make meaningful investments in public transportation or to increase funding for transit that serves people with disabilities and their caregivers. I support regional transit authorities, to allow communities to plan for and serve the current and future needs of their residents. I will seek appropriate funding for transit, so people can get to work, medical appointments, and community supports. For many people with disabilities, shared-ride systems also offer tremendous potential to help address transportation needs. These vehicles should be accessible, require background checks for drivers, prohibited from charging people with disabilities additional fees or higher fares or discriminating against riders who need to travel with mobility equipment.
Invest in Wisconsin’s Direct Care Workers
Many people with disabilities and older adults rely on workers like home health aides, personal attendants, and nursing assistants to help with daily tasks, keep them healthy and enhance their independence and ability to live at home. Yet a recent survey indicated that 85% of Wisconsin residents with disabilities cannot find enough direct care workers to meet their needs. Wisconsin is experiencing a direct care workforce crisis that our current political leaders have failed to address. Direct care workers are overwhelmingly female and women of color and they work for appallingly low wages, with few benefits and little training. Investing in our caregiving workforce will lead to improvements in the health and quality of life for Wisconsin’s older adults and people with disabilities, provide much-needed respite for family members who are also providing care, and strengthen our economy. All direct care workers – including those who provide home and community-based care – must be paid a fair wage, and have access to a meaningful career pathway. I support development of a Direct Care Workers’ Bill of Rights that not only protects the health, independence, and well-being of their patients, but provides these important workers with increased training and advancement opportunities, benefits like paid leave, and protection from harassment and mistreatment.
Improve Employment Opportunities
Individuals with disabilities experience much lower rates of employment, far less than half the rates of able-bodied counterparts, and many of their jobs pay very low wages. All citizens should have the opportunity to earn income, to achieve greater stability, and financial security. Employment helps people achieve independence, economic self-sufficiency, and better health. Wisconsin can ensure that people with disabilities will be employed in integrated jobs of their choosing in the community. I will champion programs that expand employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, and programs that pay fair wages for that work. Wisconsin should be a leader in employment and work accommodation programs for people with disabilities, including finding ways to ensure that our public sector is providing training and hiring opportunities for Wisconsinites with disabilities.
Strengthen Our Public Assistance Programs
Many of Wisconsin’s residents with disabilities live on very low incomes — so low that they rely on programs like Medicaid, FoodShare, Wisconsin Works, and housing assistance. Attacks on these vital supports and spiteful welfare “reform” tactics significantly impact people with disabilities and their caregivers. Changes to eligibility, reductions to time limits, and new punitive practices all create major barriers to accessing assistance, and often result in a loss of household supports that parents or families with disabilities with children with disabilities living in poverty need to meet their basic needs. We must reverse these harmful policy changes so Wisconsin’s public assistance programs work to stabilize these families and prevent loss of employment, homelessness, serious health deterioration, or other negative consequences.
Involve Stakeholders in Maintaining our Long-Term Care Programs
Wisconsin’s system of long-term care services helps people with disabilities stay healthy and maintain/gain their independence through community-based care and at-home supports and services. Despite the success and efficiencies of our Family Care and IRIS programs, Republicans have repeatedly proposed dramatic changes to these vital programs that neither come from nor reflect the recommendations and needs of people with disabilities, their advocates, or their caregivers. Stakeholders must be involved before any changes are made to long-term care programs. Long-term care programs must be regularly monitored and evaluated, and data about these programs’ outcomes compiled regularly and shared transparently and collaboratively with stakeholders. Wisconsin should strengthen community-based support systems that allow people the dignity and independence to live inclusive lives in their communities.
Ensure that Our Public Schools Help Students with Disabilities Succeed
Research is clear that students with disabilities can learn and succeed in school if they’re given appropriate supports. Our public schools can and must prepare students with disabilities to become contributing members of their communities and participate in our workforce. We must ensure adequate special education funding for our public schools, which has been stagnant for a decade even as costs have increased; and I will end the costly special needs voucher program that siphons public dollars away from public schools and funnels them to unaccountable private voucher schools.