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Op-Ed: People with Disabilities Must Remain Vigilant

Many of us unfortunately need government assistance to live and remain as healthy as possible, but we are not a line item to easily be slashed

kevin nunez
Kevin Nunez

As a person with cerebral palsy, a lifelong developmental disability, I appreciate the obvious acknowledgment that people like me are valuable and contributing members to society.

However, I have to question the sincerity of government leaders who claim to be actively supporting the needs of people with developmental disabilities. Just look at the recent debate on Capitol Hill.

I was shocked when the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the ADA Education and Reform Act, which removes the responsibility of owners/operators of public accommodations to make their facilities accessible according to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. This law would require a person with a disability, who cannot gain access, to file a formal written notice of an ADA violation, then wait up to 60 days for the violating business to acknowledge the complaint, plus an additional 120 days to allow for the violation to be corrected.

As far as I know, no other instance of civil-rights violations requires the victim to wait 180 days for resolution. Can you imagine waiting roughly six months to be able to enter your local drug store, movie theater, or grocery?

This proposed law is now before the Senate, where people with disabilities like me pray it will progress no further.

There have also been calls for $1.4 trillion in cuts to Medicaid, the safety net for millions of Americans with disabilities. I was proud to join thousands of disability advocates nationwide to rise up against that idea, forcing sheepish politicians to quietly move away from such an outrageous proposal that would shatter the lives of many of the voters who put them in office.

An essential safety net

I understand that, with the recent sweeping tax-reform legislation passed in Congress, our leaders have high hopes to grow the economy and ease tax burdens for some individuals and businesses. However, I feel a prolonged tightness in my chest knowing that the only perceived solution to accommodate for the potential loss in future tax revenue seems to be to raid vital entitlements like Medicaid and other social programs. Our safety net is essential to the life and wellbeing of America’s most vulnerable citizens, including people with developmental disabilities.

Our lawmakers need to be reminded, once again, that Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provide health and long-term care coverage to nearly 1.8 million low-income children, pregnant women, adults, seniors, and people with disabilities in New Jersey.

Yet the national dialogue has glided away from disability rights and protections for all Americans. Suddenly the notion that people with developmental disabilities should enjoy a strong quality of life, like any other American, appears to be in question.

Yes, many of us unfortunately need government assistance to live and remain as healthy as possible.

But we are not a line item to easily be slashed. We are Americans, always eager to contribute what we can.

Our lawmakers must be reminded that even minor cuts, let alone the draconian cuts that members of the executive and the legislative branches have suggested, would be catastrophic to a fragile support system.

New Jerseyans must demand strong and ongoing Medicaid funding. Our lawmakers need to hear us, see us, and understand just how important the continued full funding is to the fabric of our society.

Gov. Phil Murphy and our other lawmakers on the state and federal level need to be consistently reminded that Medicaid begins supporting people at birth, with healthcare and early-intervention programs.

In schools and at home, the program supports special-education programs — including both the equipment and the professionals who help students thrive. Medicaid continually supports people who require it, through end-of-life care. Not one New Jerseyan can afford for Medicaid to be cut.

I suspect we will very soon be fighting against another disastrous bill in Washington to divert Medicaid money elsewhere. Why is there a continuous attack on people with developmental disabilities? Last month we celebrated “Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month,” bringing awareness. Now, going forward, it is about demanding caution and vigilance.

Kevin Nunez has been a fierce advocate for much of his adult life. He is a council member of the New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities.

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