Topeka activist helps draft federal disability rights legislation

Oxford: 'We took a civil rights approach. It's a civil rights bill'

By Justin Wingerter, Topeka Capital-Journal, January 13, 2016

Mike Oxford speaking at the TILRC Issues Forum

Mike Oxford speaks Tuesday during a forum in Topeka.
(Photo by Justin Wingerter/Topeka Capital-Journal)

A Topeka disability rights activist worked with a New York senator to draft legislation aimed at improving the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Mike Oxford, director of the Topeka Independent Living Resource Center, said Tuesday that he helped draft the Disability Integration Act, introduced by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

“We took a civil rights approach. It’s a civil rights bill,” Oxford said. “We have rights under the law and that’s never been fully realized.”

Under the legislation, any state that provides long-term services to disabled citizens would be barred from denying them home and community-based care.

“Individuals with disabilities have the right to live independent, fulfilling lives amongst their families and friends,” Schumer said in a speech Thursday, “but right now, they are often denied the kind of at-home services and supports that then keep them in institutional settings, far from their loved ones and communities.”

States would be unable to use a waiting list or screening process “that delays or restricts access” to home and community-based care for disabled individuals if the bill is passed.

“It addresses the unfinished promise of the ADA,” Oxford said, referring to the 1990 law’s guarantee of independent living for individuals with disabilities. The Schumer bill comes with a financial incentive for states. Those that comply within a yet-undetermined time frame could receive up to a 5 percent boost in their annual Medicaid funding from the federal government.

The bill has one co-sponsor, Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and will now go to the Senate Committee on Health. The bill’s prospects in Congress aren’t yet clear.

Disability rights legislation has traditionally benefited from bipartisan support — the ADA passed overwhelming through a Democratic-controlled Congress and was signed by Republican President George H.W. Bush. But the Senate failed to ratify a U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities treaty in 2012 and Oxford is concerned partisanship could hinder the Disability Integration Act’s chances.

Rep. Lynn Jenkins, a Republican, said in a statement that “there should be no discrimination against individuals with disabilities.”

“While the Disability Integration Act was recently introduced in the Senate, I will be sure to monitor its status as it makes its way to the House of Representatives and I look forward to listening to Kansans’ thoughts on this legislation,” Jenkins said.

The legislation was a topic of discussion during a forum at the Topeka Independent Living Resource Center on Tuesday. As some of the two dozen attendees nodded along, Oxford said it was the product of two years’ worth of work.

“Basically every problem or concern you’ve ever heard of around community living … it either outlaws that problem, fixes it, or both,” Oxford said.

Justin Wingerter can be reached at (785) 295-1100 or justin.wingerter@cjonline.com.
Follow Justin on Twitter @JustinWingerter.

http://cjonline.com/news/2016-01-12/topeka-activist-helps-draft-federal-disability-rights-legislation

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