Disabled Americans and National Policy Reform

by Bridget Geegan Blanton

Public input on national policy reform by disabled Americans is critical in face of the imminent reform and restructuring of the Social Security system. The inclusion of the disability community in the discussion is imperative since the outcome will impact the lives of disabled beneficiaries. Social Security was not initially designed with the needs of the disabled in mind, yet proposed changes will address real-life issues. By entering into the national debate, disabled Americans can identify the challenges they confront in the system, as well as voice concerns regarding proposed budgetary efforts to curtail or eliminate programs considered crucial by the disability community.

Legislation before Congress is duly affected by results of the Census data collection. Therefore, it is imperative that the Census Bureau determine with greater accuracy the estimated number of people living with disabilities in the United States. This statistical information made available to Congress will enable legislators to proceed in matters of national policy, with a more accurate grasp on the percentage of the population with disabilities. By implementing legislation that facilitates effective measurement of this population, disabled Americans will receive improved representation in Congress. The 2010 census is on the horizon and the importance of statistics guiding public policy cannot be underestimated. The disability community can ensure the inclusion of improved statistics if the Census Bureau is held accountable through legislation for an increase of disability-related variables in data collection.

In the national debate on health care, issues confronting disabled Americans can only be addressed if they are acknowledged. People with disabilities often receive a combination of health care and income support programs. The unavailability of data on people aged 65 and older with long-term disabilities presents a problem in the discussion of Social Security reform in the area of projected cost implications. This lack of data in turn affects the debate on Medicare and Medicaid reform. Insufficient statistical findings does not preclude acknowledging the clear and present need for the provision of resources in any reform model put forth by Congress. The disability community can provide the impetus behind a requirement of flexibility within the reform model in order to allocate resources for the needs of the disabled.

Members of the disabled community, including the disabled, their care givers and disability professionals are encouraged to offer their input as national policy reform is debated in Congress. Changes and reforms must be broad enough to address the diverse needs of disabled Americans for whom health care and income support can range from temporary to long term. Policymakers make decisions based in part on economic factors such as costs, statistics and future projections. The disability community can widen the decision making process by providing policymakers with an analysis of needs, alternatives and potential impacts. In the end, it is crucial that there is no confusion between issues of medical and financial necessity and questions of cost. Cutting the budget of a relevant program could inject fear, where once there was hope and personal empowerment for a disabled American.

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