California resident and climate activist Tom Steyer is the second presidential candidate who took some time to share his policies, specifically regarding people with disabilities, with ABILITY Magazine.
Steyer discusses with ABILITY’s Chet Cooper increased funding of the ADA, community-based services, education, affordable housing, ‘visitability,’ fair pay for workers with disabilities, the health-related effects of climate change on people, and Nazi Germany.
Tom Steyer and Chet Cooper were able to connect via phone during Steyer’s busy day.
Chet Cooper: I would like to start with your plans in dealing with issues around disabilities. Could you explain what policies you have in mind?
Tom Steyer: I could give you four quick ones. The first goal is – and I think a lot of people say this – to fully fund the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). I believe everybody deserves a world-class education, and I would fully fund this. My second policy would ensure that people with disabilities remain integrated within their community. And Medicaid funds more than half of home- and community-based services, which are instrumental for people with disabilities to live independently. However, I know that people with disabilities face many issues regarding healthcare and home- and community-based services differ by state. I would work with state partners and advocates to make sure that the standards and money are sufficient to meet the needs of everybody. And the third one: I’m a big believer in affordable housing. We have way too few housing units. And my housing plan has a $47 billion investment, specifically to create more affordable housing for low-income people, seniors, and people with disabilities.
Cooper: Regarding housing, are you familiar with the term “visitability”?
Steyer: I could guess, but tell me, Chet.
Cooper: ‘Visitability’ has become a law in a few states. The first one was Georgia. This law means – as the word ‘visit’ suggests – that any new home construction – not business – should have at least a zero-step entrance somewhere, a hallway wide enough, and an accessible downstairs bathroom so that people of all abilities can visit.
Steyer: In large part, this is just a question about awareness and sensitivity to the needs of people with disabilities, and thinking of this is just respecting people’s dignity to live a full life.
Cooper: And what was your fourth policy?
Steyer: I’ve talked to a lot of people with disabilities, and they have told me how hard it is to live and to work, and to put both of those things together. It’s important that corporations aren’t underpaying people with disabilities, and we’ve given them the right to do so in the past. So no more carve-outs to let employers underpay people with disabilities.
Cooper: Statistics suggest that as we age, we get more and more disabilities, whether it’s osteoporosis or something else. The first one usually is hearing loss. Disability affects all of us unless you get hit by a bus and die instantly. We forget that it’s part of the fabric of life.
Steyer: Hearing loss is the first one; is that right? I did not know that. That’s interesting.
Cooper: I know you don’t know who we are. You see us as a publication. But we’ve been advocates for 30 years. We built the first website for the employment of people with disabilities in 1995, and we’ve helped hundreds of thousands of people find a job.
Steyer: Just so you know, I did read up on you.
Cooper: (laughs) Oh, good, OK!
Cooper: I know you are limited on time, but I have so many questions. One primary focus of yours is the environment. Have you ever looked at the connection between an unhealthy planet and people acquiring disabilities, for example, due to pollution?
Steyer: Just before I got on this phone call, I was speaking with a group of what I believe to be the most distinguished environmental justice people in the country, talking about leaking nuclear plants, inadequate water treatment facilities, and the disabilities that result. In fact, I am a big climate person, and I have always done a lot in this area.
Cooper: I think people miss that. They don’t realize climate change affects much more than ‘just’ the environment.
Steyer: To me, it’s a human issue but also a race issue. When you go out and visit the communities, you discover almost immediately that this society vastly and disproportionately poisons black people and Latinos.
Cooper: Yeah. I guess you could say low-income in general.
Steyer: Yes. That’s the lens through which I look at climate.
Cooper: We haven’t spoken about your father’s work yet. He prosecuted Nazis after World War II during the Nuremberg trials. How much of this was discussed in your family?
Steyer: I was born in 1957. That means I grew up right in the middle of the civil rights movement. The context in which we talked about prosecuting Nazis was in the context of justice.
The last prosecuted Nazi, Albert Speer, came out of prison in 1970. He got reasonably good press. So I asked my father, “Is he a decent guy?” And he responded, “No, that guy had slaves working to their deaths for him, and he told me to my face he didn’t know they were slaves.” They’re doing horrible things, and then they’re trying to justify them.
Cooper: I keep looking back at how Germany was able to convince a whole group of people to do these things and how this relates to what’s happening in our country with all the propaganda that is put out. It seems as if it’s somewhat of a roadmap to take control. The question is, knowing the history, how do you stop it?
Steyer: Well, I tried: “Need to Impeach.” (laughs)
Cooper: (laughs) You did, didn’t you?
Steyer: I don’t know if you noticed.
Cooper: I’m in California, I noticed! (laughs)
Steyer: 8.5 million people signed that petition. Isn’t that the story of all of those movements, including civil rights, that you have to stand up against something that’s wrong? And you have to do it all the time? Whatever that old saying is, “The only thing it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing”? Isn’t that the point?
More information about Tom Steyer’s policies: https://www.tomsteyer.com