It’s been more than a year since the Disability Integration Act has seen any movement on Capitol Hill. It was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (otherwise known as the HELP Committee) in April of 2017, where it hasn’t moved since. But while sluggish movement is commonplace in the House and Senate, many disability advocates aren’t willing to idly wait for progress.
On May 16th, roughly 200 disability rights activists organized by ADAPT visited Capitol Hill in the hopes of encouraging Congress to pass the Disability Integration Act, which would prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities and ensure that anyone qualified to live in a nursing home or another institution also be granted access to services that would allow them to live independently within their communities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 made assurances that people with disabilities be allowed to live independently, rather than being forced into an institution. This tenant of the legislation was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in 1999 in Olmstead v. L.S., which found that the unjustified segregation of people with disabilities is unlawful discrimination.
But despite the Olmstead ruling, few States are fully compliant with Olmstead or the ADA, and most are not providing adequate accommodations for people with disabilities to live independently.
“Disturbingly, nearly three decades after the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law, too many Americans with disabilities are still fighting for the right to live independently rather than in isolating institutions. This must end,” said Rebecca Cokley, Senior Fellow for Disability Policy at the Center for American Progress. “CAP commends ADAPT for its leadership in raising awareness about this injustice and is proud to support the Disability Integration Act.”
The Disability Integration Act would remedy these issues, if the Senate’s HELP Committee would make the effort to review it.
Disability Integration Act Gaining Bipartisan Support, If Not Momentum
The bill has plenty of support. More than 700 disability advocacy groups support its passage, and it has generated bipartisan backing as well. Bipartisan support has become a rare commodity in Washington in the past decade or so, as American politics continuously grow more and more hyper-partisan. So it’s rather strange that the Disability Integration Act hasn’t budged in committee in over a year.
Initially Introduced by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the Disability Integration Act has picked up support from a large collection of Democratic Party power-players, with co-sponsorships from Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Patty Murray (D-WA), to name a few.
But while the bill doesn’t yet have any Republican cosponsors in the Senate, it does have growing bipartisan support nonetheless. “Conservative, progressive, bipartisan, nonpartisan, whatever. We can all agree that [the] DIA needs to happen,” said Josue Rodriguez, an organizer with El Paso ADAPT.
Not everyone on Capitol Hill is showing the love, though. On Monday, ADAPT approached two key figures within the HELP Committee—Senator Murray, who signed on as a cosponsor, and HELP committee chairman Lamar Alexander, (R-TN), who refused to meet with ADAPT activists. Capitol Police later arrested 51 peaceful activists at Senator Alexander’s office.
A Long Road Ahead for the DIA?
Despite growing bipartisan support for its passage, the Disability Integration Act will not see any movement until the HELP Committee puts in the effort to advance it forward.
The road for a bill to become a law can be a long and arduous one. It’s not uncommon for committees to take their time with discussing, or even beginning to discuss, potential legislation. And many bills “die in committee” and never see the light of day.
But ADAPT and the massive collection of advocacy groups supporting the Disability Integration Act aren’t losing any momentum, nor are they backing down. The fight to see the DIA’s passage will continue so long as advocacy organizations retain their faith that positive change is worth every ounce of effort.