Will Americans with disabilities be a priority in the White House?

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Giving People with Disabilities a Voice at the Table

Currently, the number one underserved demographic in the United States are Americans with disabilities. The equity gap is vast, and there is little oversight of the current disability laws in both the private and public sectors, without lawsuits and complaints filed. The Department of Justice Office of Civil Rights only steps in if an individual makes a complaint, which can be a barrier to resolution. 

Luckily, the president issued a broad executive order that focuses on underserved communities. Americans with disabilities are part of the underserved community regarding policies, accessing services, removing barriers, and achieving equality. All federal agencies must work with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to identify specific areas of need and improve equity.

Historic Appointment is a Win for Millions 

The president didn’t specifically address Americans with disabilities in the initial White House priorities but now has taken some historic steps. Kimberly Knackstedt was appointed to the Domestic Policy Council as the Disability Policy Director, a newly created position. This is the first time Americans with disabilities will be represented at the beginning of policy formation in the Executive Office.

The responsibilities of the Domestic Policy Council include ensuring policy consistency with the administration’s stated goals and execution for the American people. This is good for the 61 million adults in America who have disabilities to have an ally at the top level of policymaking and implementation. 

Knackstedt has been a longtime advocate for Americans with disabilities. She most recently served as the Senior Disability Policy Advisor for the Senate HELP Committee. She also served as a Disability Policy Advisor for the House of Representatives. Her career in the disability setting began as a special education teacher. So, she has a vast understanding of the needs of people with disabilities at multiple stages of life. 

Related: Discrimination at First Sight; The Reality of Government Agencies Not Being 508 Compliant

Be the Voice! 

The executive order outlined specific areas of concern for equity in underserved communities like people with disabilities, but there’s a need to identify more areas. Part of identifying areas of need and improvement will come from a wide variety of people and organizations. 

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a Request for Information (RFI). The OMB will collect information through July 6, 2021. After that, all submissions will be published per the Freedom of Information Act. The RFI is for all stakeholders, agencies, advocates, individuals, and organizations. 

person yelling into a microphone

You can help by providing detailed information to help the OMB gather data for each agency to create an equity assessment. 

Think of the different government agencies that you have interacted with over time. Focus on your experience with the policies, services provided, ability to understand your areas of need, and the outcomes. 

Share your experience. What did the agency do to promote or remove equity? Did the agency add or remove barriers or hurdles? Are there policies that prevent or promote equity? Were you able to present ideas and requests equitably? 

Recommend ways for equity improvement. How can an agency better serve and support you as an individual? What areas need better oversight? What areas need an overhaul? 

The goal is to educate the decision-makers on the issues, needs, and solutions to equity issues at all levels. Now is your opportunity to be part of the solution. 

What will the agencies do with the information collected? 

The executive order requires each agency to review the data collected and create an assessment of the “state of equity” for underserved communities and individuals. Each agency must provide its findings and data to the Domestic Policy Council’s assistant to the president by August 8, 2021. 

The agencies then have until January 19, 2022, to form a plan for the areas in the assessment that prevent full and equal participation in programs and procurement opportunities. This plan will identify how to assess and close gaps that prevent full and equal participation. 

The Barriers and Inclusion

All too often, the needs of individuals with disabilities are identified, and nothing changes. Hopefully, the Domestic Policy Council will break the cycle of inaction and make real changes for people with disabilities.

So please take your seat at the table and help eliminate the gap of inequity.

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This post was written by Christine Sket

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