The wheelchair imagery used by the campaigns of both candidates running for governor of Texas has drawn praise and fire from the public and from the media.
What has drawn less attention is something far more important. Disability issues are unfortunately reserved for the back burner during elections. Candidates and media, let's move them to the front burner.
Disability is neither a barrier nor an advantage in public service. Public policy impacting the 3 million Texans with disabilities is what matters. The presence of disability is not a factor for most voters with disabilities. Far more important is the candidates’ positions on these major issues:
- The workforce crisis in the cost-effective community care programs for seniors and people with disabilities. Home health professions are among the lowest-paying jobs in Texas. The floor wage of $7.86 per hour, with no benefits, results in huge challenges in recruitment and retention and a sky-high turnover rate. Unreliable care leads to health decline for patients, more ER and hospital visits, and unnecessary institutionalization. Both gubernatorial candidates support a wage increase for this section of the Texas workforce, but will it be enough to make a difference?
- Rebalancing long-term services and supports. Texas focuses too many resources on too few people in controversial state supported living centers, or SSLCs. It's time to rightsize the SSLC network and shift funding to the community services that are overwhelmingly preferred by Texans and families. We must reduce the current wait list for community services of up to 13 years. Where’s the candidates’ plan for this?
- It seems far-fetched that a state would deny civil rights protections to citizens with disabilities. Yet Texas claims state sovereign immunity from its violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal law barring discrimination based on disability. Isn't it time to end sovereign immunity, a practice offensive to the disability community?
- People with disabilities want to work, yet they continue to face a multitude of obstacles. The September 2014 labor participation rate for people with disabilities was 20.1 percent, compared with 68.5 percent for able-bodied workers. Surely we can do better. What specific policies and practices will the next governor support?
State Sen. Wendy Davis and Attorney General Greg Abbott have previously submitted responses to a survey on disability issues. You can find those answers here.
Now that both sides have pulled out the wheelchairs, let's get past the imagery and discuss the real issues.