On January 3rd, in her first speech after being elected Speaker of the House, Speaker Pelosi began the first day of the 116th Congress by promising that Congress would “redeem the promise of the American Dream for every family, advancing progress for every community.” She continued by listing several communities and issues that the Democrats would advance progress for, including immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and children, but notably missing was a promise to advance the rights of the Disability Community.
It is not that Speaker Pelosi left disabled Americans out of the discussion completely – she did touch on people with pre-existing conditions in healthcare, she applauded the work of the Little Lobbyists which is a group of disabled children who advocate for their rights on the Hill, and she even praised the late President George H.W. Bush for working with both sides of the aisle to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Unfortunately though, Pelosi’s mentions of the Disability Community fell short of the commitments that she made to other marginalized communities. Though she praised President Bush’s work on the ADA, she did not promise to protect it which is concerning because twelve Democrats in the 115th Congress voted for HR 620, a bill that would have significantly weakened the ADA. We are hopeful that this omission was a mistake in messaging and not an indication that the Speaker supports the House of Representatives working to dismantle the most significant disability rights legislation our country has passed into law.
Additionally, although the Speaker mentioned people with preexisting conditions in the context of healthcare, she made no mention of the Disability Integration Act (DIA) which is a bill that would secure the civil rights of disabled and elderly Americans to live in freedom instead of being forced into nursing facilities and other institutional settings. This bicameral bill is supported by hundreds of organizations, thousands of people with disabilities, and both sides of the aisle. Speaker Pelosi herself promised to do everything in her power to pass DIA in front of a rally of over a thousand disability rights advocates in Washington, D.C. this past July. Therefore, it is concerning that Speaker Pelosi did not mention DIA in her speech, especially because she specifically mentioned the Equality Act for the LGBTQ community and she promised that the House would “take action on overdue legislation that has bipartisan support in the Congress and across the Country.”
The Disability Community is now left to question whether Speaker Pelosi simply forgot to mention the most important Disability Rights bill before Congress, or if she intentionally left out the promise of freedom for Disabled Americans. However, given Speaker Pelosi’s commitment last summer to work to pass DIA, we are hopeful that this glaring oversight was just that – an oversight – and that Speaker Pelosi will reaffirm her commitment to passing the DIA by attending the reintroduction of the bill on January 15th in Washington, D.C.
Disability Rights activists from around the nation will be gathered in D.C. on Washington, D.C. to celebrate the reintroduction of the DIA and urge the House of Representatives to pass DIA by July 26, 2019, the 29th anniversary of the ADA. We hope that Speaker Pelosi will join the celebration and use this event as an opportunity to cosponsor the bill and urge her colleagues in the House to pass this landmark legislation and secure life, liberty, and the American dream for elderly and Disabled Americans.