Saturday, December 10, 2016

Time to Be Brave, Think Big, and Engage President Elect Trump's Administration

Last week I attended the Association of University Centers on Disabilities' annual conference in Washington, D.C. AUCD had a record turnout. And no wonder! People were looking for like-minded colleagues with whom to mourn, given the presidential election results. They fear for the continued availability of federal funds to continue their work. Sixty-seven Centers belong to AUCD. Their bottom line is a commendable one -- helping individuals with disabilities achieve their full potential and the American dream. The Centers do this through research, training, community-based demonstrations, and dissemination. They maintain a healthy emphasis on interdisciplinary projects and initiatives so that professionals across many disciplines collaborate and develop a common language, making it easier for families with disabled members to get help. They partner with state agencies, State Developmental Disabilities Councils and State Protection and Advocacy Systems to develop policies, procedures, and advocacy that make services systems work better, ensure that rights are protected, and that families and individuals are better equipped to advocate for themselves. Federal funding for these amazing networks, authorized by the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act should be expanded, period. So tell the Trump Transition Team about them. It needs these details now. Mr. Trump likes things that work. At the AUCD conference I heard many good presenters, but Neil Romano's really hit home. Neil recommended that we urge the creation of a cabinet level position for a national office on disability program coordination. What a great idea. There are over 140 programs that touch the lives of persons with disabilities. There are multiple, conflicting definitions of disability and eligibility for services. Neil urged us to stop thinking in incremental terms and go big. Well if there was ever the time to do it, now is such a time. Mr. Trump loves big ideas. He will have no problem with us outlining the best way for a big idea to be realized. So let's get to work and lay out a plan for him. Finally, for many years Presidents have had a disability advisor on the Domestic Policy Council. Unfortunately, this person was usually borrowed and paid for by a federal agency. The position was typically for one year. We need to tell Mr. Trump that we want a disability advisor on the Domestic Policy Council, who is not only qualified, but permanent and paid for out of his staffing funds. With 54 million Americans with disabilities, we have a reason to have our own "ear" on the Domestic Policy Council. We are taxpayers, we are employers and employees, we are family members, we are strong voices who contribute everyday to the vibrancy of American society! So friends, enough mourning. Now is the time for action. The choice to act or sit back and watch is ours. You know where I stand. Where do you stand? Thank you. Common Grounder

Sunday, November 13, 2016

First Step to Being Smart

Aloha, On December 1, 2016 is the fundraising gala for the U.S. Council on Disabilities (USICD) at the Chamber of Congress in Washington, D.C. It is a bipartisan celebration of the role USICD plays in promoting disability rights. I am president of USICD. I am so proud of USICD. We acknowledge and celebrate the bipartisan role associated with supporting USICD and like-minded organizations in providing technical assistance to advocacy groups and governments so they create policies that promote universally designed communities around the world. Here's the link to the details: Please buy a ticket and come join us. I'll be there, all the way from Hawaii. Yes, I am crazy to leave paradise in December! Common Grounder

Friday, November 11, 2016

What about Disability Expertise in the Trump Administration?

Historically appointing people to fill political jobs in disability-related positions, regardless of the party who wins a presidential election, takes a long time to fill -- 12 to 18 months on average. On the one hand, that suggests less than optimal status in the food chain. On the other hand, it gives us some time to encourage smart, thoughtful, knowledgeable, and experienced people to apply.

What would President-Elect Trump do related to disability policy? On the one hand, that's a hard question to answer given the scarcity of substantive detail even remotely connected to disability policy or possible initiatives. He has made strong, affirmative statements about assisting vets, so maybe reviewing them will give us some ideas. He has said he would block grant Medicaid, giving states control of it, so perhaps we should invest in strengthening disability advocacy coalitions in individual states. He is all about growing jobs here in America, so whatever mechanisms that emerge to make that happen, people who represent people with disabilities need to be at the table. Perhaps someone needs to tell him that undoing some executive orders related to employment of persons with disabilities would be counter productive. His positions on education matters are not part of a comprehensive plan, but the ones we know about would definitely give states more discretion and control and give parents more choice. Again, strong voices in individual states advocating for the right processes and outcomes will be most necessary.

The things I have identified are not inherently horrific. It's a matter of how they are done. It's a matter of whom President-Elect Trump HIRES to steer the disability ship. I encourage him to hire people who believe, have experience with, and would practice these principles when placed in positions of power:

1. Take a serious look at what is before you attempt to alter it.
2. If you decide ultimately to alter it, get broad input from end-user stakeholders.
3. Don't make things more complicated by always believing 50 ways of doing something is better than one way of doing something.
4. Protect with strong conviction the disability rights laws that are on the books.

If you believe and practice these principles, you are someone President-Elect Trump could use in his administration. You could do a lot of good. The worse that could happen is that he would fire you or you would quit. But, before that you could shape things in ways that would pay off for people with disabilities. Doing so, even only for a while, would be worth it.

Common Grounder

Monday, November 7, 2016

Time to Choose

The key word in this election is change. How you view it. How you define it. How you think it will happen. What will result because of it.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump agree on one thing -- they each pronounce that they will bring about the change that everyone needs and wants. Of course, that is debatable. Some things are critical -- They each need a Congress with which they can work. They each need a nine-person bench on the Supreme Court. They each need smart people around them who can get things done. They each need to avoid non-productive distractions.

I own property in Virginia so I voted by absentee ballot. What did I weigh in reaching my decision?

What is most important -- experience in or out of government?
What is most helpful -- experience negotiating based on facts and a sense of desirable outcomes or negotiating using raw power and all that comes with it?
What is most essential -- knowing how to prepare for the anticipated and the unanticipated or having people around you, you think have the answers because you picked them and you are good at that?
What should be done with health care -- correct a flawed system or start over?
What should be done about the economy -- let it flourish naturally or tick off every company that has business overseas?
What should be done about education -- listen and build consensus before acting or close the Department of Education?
What should be done about security -- recognize where we are and document it for the American people or start shutting out people, shrink our ally pool, and eliminate ISIS in all the countries it resides, using brute force.

I want to wake up the day after the inauguration with a president that supports the Constitution, cares about people and their circumstances, cuts deals within the law, has learned from past mistakes, knows how to react to criticism as a mature adult, and has canceled her Twitter account.

Common Grounder

Saturday, November 5, 2016

What Is One Thing That Could Help You Decide Your Vote on Tuesday?

Getting rid of gridlock in the Senate, maybe? We have the power to change things, friends. Let me offer an example -- Many of us worked for ratification of the disability rights treaty, the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) by the Senate. In December 2012, the last time the treaty was brought up for a vote, we lost by 6 votes. We needed 67, not 51, to secure ratification of the treaty.

In the new Congress, that will take over in January 2017, we will once again try to get the treaty ratified by the Senate. The first step will be the treaty being voted on by  of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In every day language, ratification means something is a good idea, so let's do it. Voting for ratification means a senator likes the idea. Voting against ratification means a senator doesn't like it.  The House of Representatives has no role in treaty ratification.

All Democrat senators voted for ratification of the CRPD in 2012.

Well, as it happens, several Republicans up for re-election are on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In 2012 some of these senators voted for the disability treaty -- McCain (AZ) and Kirk (IL). Some did not -- Rubio (FL), Paul (KY), and Johnson (WI). So we need to see that ANYONE who supported ratification gets our vote if we live in that state.

Twenty-four incumbent Republicans are up for re-election. Here are the Republican senators, up for re-election, who voted for the disability treaty in 2012 -- Ayotte (NH), Kirk (IL), McCain (AZ), and Murkowski (AK). Republican Senator Collins (ME), not up for re-election this year, voted for the treaty. Three other Republican senators, no longer in the Senate, also voted for the treaty -- Brown (MA), Snow (ME), and Lugar (IN). Bottom line of this historical snapshot is the treaty failed to be ratified by a vote of 61 to 38. A majority voted for it, but not enough; 67 was the magic number.

So, why rehash all of this?  If candidates support policies that affirm the rights of persons with disabilities, then chances are that they care about people generally and will work across party lines to make things better for all Americans. If we all were to vote on Tuesday for candidates who support the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, it is highly likely the Senate in 2017 would be made up of people who oppose gridlock and want to address and resolve challenges faced by the American people. If you vote for someone who supports the disability rights treaty, you are not a single issue voter, you are a smart voter who will help vanquish gridlock in the Senate.

Thank you.
Common Grounder

Saturday, October 22, 2016

You Still Have Time to Request and Submit an Absentee Ballot in Most States

Every presidential election is a big deal. But this one, my friends, is a zinger! The contrasts between the two major candidates are stark. The mud that's being thrown makes many wonder, what an embarrassment, what a choice. But the fact of the matter is one of them -- Hillary or Donald -- is going to win. So don't you dare not vote just because you are disgusted or upset. This is not the year to sit one out.

One option that is still out there is to vote by absentee ballot. I counted -- most states are still accepting requests for absentee ballots. Most states allow you to make a request on line. Most states' criteria for voting absentee are easy to understand and reasonable.  This information ( should be especially useful for people, including some with disabilities, who are not sure if or how they will get to the polls on Election Day, November 8, 2016.

Please check out your state. Please consider the absentee ballot option if you are unsure of a ride on Election Day. This is one year when EVERY VOTE WILL COUNT big time. Anyone, who is eligible to vote and doesn't, is saying they don't care about their future or the future of the rest of us. We need the biggest turnout ever so everyone knows where the USA stands. We need clarity. We need direction. Then, we can work on finding common ground and a prosperous future for all.

Common Grounder

Friday, October 21, 2016

On Election Day Think Like an Uber Driver, Help Your Contacts with Disabilities Get to the Polls

I moved to Waikiki in August of this year. I am now the Director of the Center on Disability Studies at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. It is a very rewarding job. I get to interact with people who do all sorts of things to help the people of Hawaii lead fuller lives and achieve their potential in paradise -- individuals with disabilities of all ages, Native Hawaiian children, parents, and leaders in state agencies.

Another amazing thing that has happened to me is that I met an Uber driver, who has become my friend. He can collapse and open my electric scooter and put it in and out of his trunk with lightening speed. He did it on my first ride. He is always available and always on time. We talk about everything, including how to solve the world's problems. He has made transportation a non-problem (Is there such a word?) for me.

Transportation is a big deal, especially when you need it and don't have it. Election Day is November 8th. It is a holiday. Everyone who reads this post and has a car consider giving someone with a disability, perhaps more than one person, a ride to the polls. Also, consider helping them with the voting process if they need it. Workers at the polls have become very attuned to accessibility and reasonable accommodations in the last 15 years. Most polling places have procedures that allow one person to help another.

Pundits are speculating about voter turnout out. Let's help set a record. We can. We should. The United States of America needs it. And who knows, you might make or strengthen a friendship.

I'm back.

Common Grounder