Obama and Disability Policy: More Action Needed on Core Issues

In the 2007 Presidential election, disabilities in general and autism in particular were specifically mentioned Obama in his plan to “build a world free of unnecessary barriers, stereotypes, and discrimination“: 


  1. to provide Americans with disabilities with the educational opportunities that they need to succeed; 
  2. to end discrimination and promoting equality of opportunity for persons with disabilities; 
  3. to increase the employment rate of works with disabilities; 
  4. to support independent, community-based living for persons with disabilities.


Much was promised. While some initial measures have been taken—in February of 2009, Kareem Dale was appointed as the first Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy and in December of 2009, Obama nominated eight individuals including self-advocate Ari Ne’eman, President of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network to the National Council on Disability—-much remains to be done regarding individuals with disabilities and their needs: Whether the proverbial glass is full or empty remains to be seen.

When the site Whitehouse.gov was launched on January 21, 2009, autism was listed as a specific agenda item in the Disabilities section and was said to “top” the President’s “medical to-do list. During his presidential campaign, Obama’s plan on “supporting Americans with autism spectrum disorders” had promised to:

  1. appoint a federal ASD Coordinator to oversee all federal ASD efforts;
  2. fully fund the Combating Autism Act and Federal Autism Research Initiatives; 
  3. support Special Needs Education for Children with ASD; 
  4. support universal screening.

An “autism czar” has yet to be named to coordinate federal efforts concerning ASD. While Obama’s plan to “”build a world free of unnecessary barriers, stereotypes, and discrimination” had mentioned fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, there has not been much discussion about this in the past year. Legislation under the name the Autism Treatment Acceleration Act (S. 819, H.R. 2413) was introduced in the Senate in April of 2009 and in the House in 2009, respectively. These bills call for insurance companies to provide coverage for diagnosis and for treatment and especially in the form of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy; assistive communication devices are also mentioned. 


That is, these bills focus more specifically on insurance for children, for fairly specified types of treatment. Legislation providing insurance coverage for certain types of treatment for children has indeed been passed in a number of states. But this legislation is just a start. Autism is a lifelong disability. While individuals vary greatly in their needs, some—my son included—will need support and services to work and live throughout their lives. 


Legislation and programs that can make it possible for individuals to work and live in their communities—rather than in nursing homes or other institutional settings—are vital and, in these areas, Obama’s administration needs to take a much, much more active stance. Assessing his remarks on the American with Disabilities Act in July of 2009, self-advocate Dora Raymaker refers to New Mobility’s blog on Obama’s ADA “Speech Bombs” which suggest that his administration still has some ways to go in creating a world “free of unnecessary barriers, stereotypes, and discrimination.” Another key piece of disability legislation, the Olmstead decision, calls for “persons with mental disabilities” to be placed “in community settings rather than in institutions when the State’s treatment professionals have determined that community placement is appropriate.” The President’s press release on the anniversary of Olmstead referred to 2009 as “The Year of Community Living” and announced “several new initiatives including details about increased numbers of Section 8 (housing) vouchers and enhanced interagency coordination to address this critical civil rights issue.” While these are, as Raymaker writes, a “move in the right direction,” much more aggressive action is need to truly realize Olmstead; Obama’s press release failed to make “any mention of the core issue of institutional bias in the health care system and the need for significant health care reform.”


More aggressive action that recognizes the “core issue[s]” facing individuals with disabilities of all ages and those are support them: This is what we need to see from the President in 2010. “Creating a world “free of unnecessary barriers, stereotypes, and discrimination” is a beautiful ideal that we’d all like to see come to pass but it won’t—it can’t—unless we roll up our sleeves and start making real changes now.






UPDATED: How To Help Haiti

Haiti Orphanage Update

Haiti’s Hard Life: Analysis By Jared Diamond

Success: Haitian Refugees Granted Temporary Legal Status

Founder Of Haiti Orphanage Needs Some (Very Concrete) Help

Long-Term Health Problems Facing Haiti After Earthquake

Animal Victims in Haiti Need Your Help

Haiti After the Quake + How to Help

Rescue Dogs Sent to Haiti from Around the World

Pat Robertson is Going to Hell 

Help Haiti: a Day Without Pay


Haiti in Chaos After Earthquake


How to Help Haiti



Haitian Earthquake Has Destroyed the Capital City   Mercy Corps

Haiti’s reconstruction by Haitians living aboard     For these noble goals, we ask that the government of the country in which we reside to task our pay check $10 per pay period for the next 50 years so that we can rebuild our dear Haiti.

Pat Robertson: APOLOGIZE

Support the UN’s Response to Haiti Quake Victims United Nations Foundation

Honor UN Peacekeepers in Haiti  Better World Campaign


Help Haiti – Drop the Debt   ONE

Help Haiti’s Furry Ones!    Cans4Pets.tk

Tell members: new Haiti butterfly reward  ClaudiaL

Care2: let us use Butterfly Credits to help Haiti!   Hannah Hh


Photo by Kristina Chew.
Kristina Chew, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Classics at Saint Peter's College in New Jersey. Since 2005, she has been blogging about autism, disabilities, and education, previously at Autism Vox and now at We Go With Him, a daily journal about life with her 12 1/2 year old son Charlie.


Ellinor S.
Ellinor S7 years ago

thank you

Hilda Perrett
Hilda Perrett8 years ago

so many good causes to fight for

Linda W.
Linda W8 years ago

One other thing...NYS is broke, broke, broke. As a retired state secretary I know that there is ton's of money being wasted. There will be cuts to education aid, and that is not going to be good for anyone, whether or not the person has any type of disability.

Linda W.
Linda W8 years ago

Ever hear the saying "the more things change the more they stay the same"? In my unhumble opinion and as a direct result of my own experience with the education system and the healthcare system, Wini and Elsie are right on the mark. I' m also aging with post polio, and have an adult son with learning disability. As hard as I tried I was never able to get "appropriate" services for him through our NYS public education system. He's bright, and dyslexic (as I am and believe my father was knowing what we know now).

Our system sets many students up for failure. Every parent's meeting I ever went to at our local BOCES was divided. Parents of students with "severe" disabilities on one side of the room, and the rest of us on the other. It was almost impossible to have any meaninful dialogue because of the divisive nature of our system. My son is 29 and still does not have his GED. This is a guy who reads and comprehends complex physics. Parents with money sue the district to get services for their kids. As a single mother with a secretary's salary that was not an option for me. Until the parents come together instead of scrapping with each other over who get's the biggest share of the pie (or any pie at all), nothing will change. This, for me, is heartbreaking. At 60, and very ill at this point, I worry constantly about my son, and though I know I did everything humanly possible to get him through school, I have that inbred "mother's guilt". The only thing he has go

Ant m.
Ant m8 years ago

Dang ............,

Angel Sch
Past Member 8 years ago

I've noted, thanks :).
NEW click to donate here on Care2:
You click daily, our sponsors donate.
It's quick, easy and FREE! >> http://www.care2.com/click-to-donate/haiti/ > http://www.bhook.com/ - Feed People! > http://www.freerice.com - Feed Rice! > http://www.hungerfighters.com - Feed People! > http://www.hungrychildren.com - Feed Children! > http://www.OneClickOneMeal.com > http://www.porloschicos.com/PorLosChicos.NET /index_english.htm - Feed! > http://www.thehungersite.com - Feed People! > http://www.okruszek.org.pl/ - Feed a Homeless person! > http://www.worldhunger.org/contributefood.htm - Help Feed!

gerlinde p.
gerlinde p8 years ago


Wini A.
Wini A8 years ago

I'm somewhat distressed at this article. As a disabled individual, I hope that the administration will work for all people with disabilities. All of us are still facing barriers to work, to health care, to transportation. Autism is important but it is not more important than any other disability. Also, mainstreaming intellectually disabled individuals into the community must be done on an individualized basis. There are many families with intellectually disabled children will never be able to care for their disabled children at home and depend on the availability of institutions which proved quality of life for their children, not nursing homes that provide only care and feeding of the intellectually disabled. My friend has a child aged 35, who is mentally 6 mos. old. He is the size of a fully grown man but can not walk, talk, care for himself in any way, or even think. He is not only intellectually disabled, he is physically disabled. He needs specialized care that only a institution dedicated to care of the intellectually disabled and physically disabled can provide. Mainstream those who can be and maintain good institutions for those who need them.

Elsie Wilson

Why is it that when special education needs and opportunity for the disabled to obtain jobs fairly are presented, some people start jumping to extreme examples. As a disabled person, I have Post Polio Syndrome (Thanks to Jonas Sulk only those my age in US will have that.) I would not expect to be doing a job that my disability totally would not permit. But, I would expect to be educated in the least restrictive classroom my disability permits and I would expect to be a serious candidate for any job that my disability would permit me to do well. If I was blind, I would not be able to drive any vehicle, school bus or otherwise. While I may not be able to be an airport controler with epileptic disability, I could be considered a prime candidate for many, many jobs that I might be not considered for by those who do not realize the great advances in medicine that have released people with epilepsy from the very limited life they once had. Autism is a very misunderstood condition. It comes in many forms and a broad range of abilities of those who have this condition. I hope that many of the people who are members of CARE2 will urge legislation that will open doors and respectfully allow the ability to suit the job. Become more informed about every conditon before you make blanket statements that do not recognize ability. The disability is only ONE part of that person, they have many, many abilties besides that one. That is all we ask.

Linda M.
Linda M8 years ago