On July 26, the Senate narrowly defeated a health care bill that would have ended life as they know it (or for some, life period) for many people with disabilities across the nation. It was the end of a hard-fought battle, but the war over Medicaid isn’t over.
Since their overwhelming victories in November, Republicans have bandied about notions of capping and block-granting Medicaid payments to states. The health care bill was simply the latest version of this ongoing campaign. I have no doubt that these crippling cuts will be back on the table before long.
As I watched the disability community rally to fight these cuts and get hauled out of Sen. Cory Gardner’s office in Denver and arrested on Capitol Hill, I had to wonder how we got back here.
Disability activism is not new. Back in 1978, the “Gang of 19” brought Denver traffic to a halt as they clogged the busy intersection of Colfax and Broadway and demanded access to public transportation. That is now hailed as the beginning of a movement that led to the 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Fast forward 27 years, and the struggle for disability rights has been pushed back into the closet. Though people with disabilities and their friends and families still keep up the fight, the battle has been largely invisible to the general population. Sure, you occasionally hear of an ADA lawsuit brought against a business, but those are largely scorned as lining the pockets of attorneys rather than making improvements that benefit the disability community as a whole. In 27 years, we haven’t made the impact we needed to make in order to prevent our congressional leaders from seeing people with disabilities as an unnecessary investment.
At least one organization, ADAPT, has been championing the cause for 40 years. ADAPT is a national grass-roots community that organizes disability rights activists to engage in nonviolent direct action, including civil disobedience, to assure the civil and human rights of people with disabilities to live in freedom. Those people in wheelchairs you saw dragged out of Gardner’s office and off the Capitol steps were ADAPT.
And those were the people who brought the Senate’s health care bill down. At the very least, they completely changed the conversation around Medicaid cuts. On the day after the defeat of the Affordable Care Act repeal, I felt despair at the lack of impact our voices in Colorado made with Gardner. Luckily, a friend reminded me that we had managed an even greater victory. We had brought the needs of people with disabilities back out of the closet. Direct action by people with disabilities was making headlines again.
Disability rights groups and activists are rallied again for a common cause, and that is a momentum that we must continue if we are to win this war against the lives and livelihoods of people with disabilities. Learn more about ADAPT and the Free Our People campaign at www.adapt.org.
Tara Kiene is president/CEO of Community Connections Inc.