Ensuring fair and inclusive access for all Americans

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Shams Ghoneim and Harry Olmstead, guest columnists

Twenty percent of Americans are people with disabilities, one out of every five. Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, worked with many leaders including Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas to author the Americans with Disabilities Act. He was the first Senator to testify for the ADA on the floor of the U.S. Senate using Sign Language.

In the 1992 article, The History of the Americans with Disabilities Act — A Movement Perspective, Arlene Mayerson, directing attorney for the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, wrote, “The ADA owes its birthright not to any one person, or any few, but to the many thousands of people who make up the disability rights movement — people who have worked for years organizing and attending protests, licking envelopes, sending out alerts, drafting legislation, speaking, testifying, negotiating, lobbying, filing lawsuits, being arrested — doing whatever they could for a cause they believed in. There are far too many people whose commitment and hard work contributed to the passage of this historic piece of disability civil rights legislation to be able to give appropriate credit by name. Without the work of so many — without the disability rights movement — there would be no ADA.”

In July 7, 2015 Senator Harkin was interviewed by the Daily Iowan in celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the passage of the ADA. Senator Harkin responded to a question about potential challenges and obstacles facing the ADA during current political climate. He said, “We’re still facing obstacles in expanding the ADA and making it a reality. Many difficulties are inherent in changing this vast system. We’ve overcome most of them and the law is well settled. Now, we have regulations coming out to enforce the ADA, and that’s where the stumbling blocks might be in the future — you have to have regulations on how the law is to be implemented and enforced.“

In 2015, two ADA related bills were submitted to the U.S. Senate: S. 1830 and S.2427.

The first, The Seniors Mental Health Access Improvement Act of 2015, would extend Medicare benefits to cover mental health counselor, marriage and family therapist services and authorize those providers to develop discharge plans for post-hospital services. The second would prohibit insurance providers, state or local governments that provide institutional placements for individuals with disabilities from denying community-based services that would allow those individuals to lead an independent life. It also would increase the availability of affordable, accessible and integrated housing to people with disabilities.

Iowa Senator Grassley serves on the critically important Finance Committee with jurisdiction over the Medicare program. We urge Senator Grassley to co-sponsor bill S. 1830, which provides Medicare reimbursement to counselors. We also urge both Senators Grassley and Ernst to support Senate Bill 2427.

These two critical bills would represent positive steps in repairing the mental health system and ensuring sufficient availability of affordable, accessible, and integrated housing that is not disability-specific residential setting in Iowa and nationally. We encourage all readers to Write, call, or email Senators Ernst and Grassley asking them for their support of Senate Bills 2427 and 1830.

• Shams Ghoneim, of Iowa City, is coordinator of the Iowa chapter of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Harry Olmstead, of Iowa City, is a disabilities activist involved with several civic organizations, including the Olmstead Consumer Task Force, Iowa City Human Rights Commission and the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights. Comments: shamsghoneim@mchsi.com

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