QUESTION 1: Do you have designated advisors and clear processes for making decisions on disability issues? If yes, please describe. If no, what plans do you have to accomplish this?
I do not have a designated advisor specifically for disability issues. However, I have several campaign supporters who either work with or are members of this community who are willing to advise me as necessary. I also plan to meet with organizations, experts and advocates in the disability community to better understand and guide my decisions on disability issues and the policy changes that are needed to address those issues.
QUESTION 2: Is your campaign accessible and inclusive to people with disabilities? If yes, please describe. If not, what plans do you have to accomplish this?
I have volunteers who have disabilities, disabled children, and are former special education teachers. Although I don’t have a professional advisor, I strive to be accessible and inclusive. I have a team member with a neuromuscular disease who feels quite comfortable advising me and informing me of issues that are important to her and to others with disabilities. I have a team member who is a former special education teacher and is the co-founder and board member of a non-profit dedicated to disability inclusion advocacy who helps me shape policy. I actively seek out the participation of those with disabilities and ask for their input. I welcome all residents to join my campaign team so we can serve the needs of the community with compassion and respect.
QUESTION 3: Do you have a proven record on improving or a plan to improve the lives of people with disabilities? If yes, please describe. If no, what plans do you have to accomplish this?
I am still a candidate for office rather than an officeholder, but I have given great thought to how to help improve the lives of people with disabilities. Workforce initiatives, Medicaid expansion, transportation initiatives, etc. are so important. However, I would like to focus on a recent problem that has occurred with the Texas Education Agency … an 8.5% enrollment cap on providing Special Education services. I have spoken with mothers of children who have been directly impacted by this decision. TEA has been tasked to implement changes, but they need to be monitored to be sure their plan is effective and in accordance with the law as well as best practices. We must also make sure that TEA’s plan is implemented effectively and appropriately. Vulnerable students with many different types of disabilities should have the opportunity to utilize services that may help them manage the severity of their diagnoses. I would also like to increase funding and accessibility for early childhood education. These programs need more educators and staff to provide excellent care.
QUESTION 4: Do you have a plan/commitment to reduce stigmas about people with disabilities that are barriers to employment, independence and equality? If yes, please describe. If no, what plans do you have to accomplish this?
This is a complex issue that deserves a multi-pronged approach. Bullying behavior/language toward people with disabilities begins at an early age in the schools (most likely modeled by parents at home). Encouraged by the Texas Education Agency, districts need strict guidelines and procedures on discouraging discriminatory language and behavior. In addition, schools/districts could implement Disability Awareness Experiences that focus on understanding differences. As far as employment is concerned, our state could establish job targets to increase the number of people with disabilities working in the state government. In addition, financial incentives such as preferential treatment in government contracting could be offered to those businesses that create positive environments for employees with disabilities.
QUESTION 5: Do you have legislative or practical experience in regard to supporting workforce training, competitive employment, fair wages, and entrepreneurial opportunities for people with disabilities? If yes, please describe. If no, what do you envision?
I have a vision for improving employment opportunities for people with disabilities. I have researched this topic and found that earnings inequalities are very common between non-disabled employees and those employees with disabilities. This inequality seems to grow larger as educational levels increase, leading me to believe that the problem lies with lack of awareness/education of businesses rather than any training/education lack of employees who are disabled. I believe this offers an opportunity for the government to provide education to businesses and to offer increased financial incentives for complying businesses. We must also continue to work with higher education institutions and job skill training programs to ensure that they are fully inclusive so that people with disabilities are competitive in the workforce. In addition, stronger, clearer language in existing laws could help reduce discrimination while enforcement of existing protections should be increased. And we must monitor wages to be sure employees with disabilities are receiving fair pay, as they have even more need than non-disabled employees for fair wages since they most likely have increased medical/transportation/housing challenges.
QUESTION 6: What is your experience and/or commitment to insuring that children with disabilities have access to Early Childhood Intervention as infants and toddlers?
I am very committed to early education for all children, but especially with children with disabilities. Studies have shown that the earlier the intervention, the higher the chance of positive impacts for children. We need to assure appropriate funding for programs such as LifePath Systems ECI and that cuts to Medicaid, preventing parents from seeking needed services, are stopped are to ensure children are receiving early intervention. In addition, we must be sure our public schools are identifying children for PPCD services beginning when a child turns 3 in accordance with federal law.
QUESTION 7: For school age children with disabilities: how will you address the need for students with disabilities to have access to free, appropriate public education in inclusive settings? What is your response to the TEA’s actions in regard to the confirmation that TEA had capped special education enrollment at 8.5%? Please explain.
Not only was the TEA 8.5% enrollment cap disgraceful, it was also a violation of IDEA and it was unlawful. I personally know students who have been impacted by this situation. The Department of Education has entrusted the TEA to devise a plan to remedy their violation of federal law. We must carefully monitor that they do this sufficiently and that their plan is implemented effectively. Furthermore, as our population grows, it should be expected that the number of students needing special education services will increase, creating a strain on local school districts. We must ensure that we provide the funding and resources our local public schools will need to address this strain. We also must make sure that we are prepared for the need to increase special education staffing again by making sure funding is available to train and hire teachers and paraprofessionals.
Our schools remain highly segregated by ability despite laws meant to protect students and ensure they have access to a free, appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. Students with disabilities who do not have access to appropriate education have greater difficulty mastering necessary coursework and suffer other side effects from being secluded in their schools. Research indicates that children who are in inclusive school environments have lower rates of depression, have higher academic achievement and earn more through employment when they exit high school. We need to advocate for initiatives and pass legislation to ensure we are training special education and general education teachers to effectively co-teach in inclusive classrooms.
QUESTION 8: Do you have a plan to reform the benefits system (Medicaid, Medically-Dependant Children’s Insurance Program, Medicaid Buy-In, Managed Care, etc.) to enable people with disabilities to work without losing vital federal and state supports? If yes, please describe. If no, what plans do you have to accomplish this?
It only makes financial sense (both for those with disabilities and for the government that is obligated to provide medical services) to encourage working amongst those who are able. I support increasing eligibility for benefits for working employees with disabilities.
Although increasing eligibility for benefits would be very helpful, I realize that the majority of Medicaid recipients are children who couldn’t work if they wanted to. We should also increase the budget for all disability-related services, including Medically-Dependent Children’s Insurance Program, STAR Kids health insurance, Home and Community-Based Services, the Medicaid Buy-In, and Community Living Assistance and Support Services. We must also educate for the general public so they will know the challenges adults and children with disabilities face so we can get public buy-in for budget increases. For example, we should communicate that most of these specialized services are not for sale (even if you could afford them) on the free market for health insurance nor can they be obtained in the non-profit sector. We must also communicate that institutional care isn’t as effective and is more expensive, not to mention less humane. We should welcome advocates and experts who work directly with people in these existing programs to testify before the House about new bills and programs that could improve care and decrease costs.
QUESTION 9: One in six Texans are uninsured. What is your plan to expand access to healthcare for all Texans including people with disabilities and chronic illness who don’t qualify for Medicaid and Medicare? Please describe.
Accepting the Medicaid expansion would bring much-needed revenue to our state. Our governor needs to do the right thing and advocate for this money. With more dollars to work with, the state could also funnel more funds to community-based living arrangements rather than institutions that are more expensive, take more Medicaid resources, and do not adequately care for the residents.
We should expand the Medicaid Buy-In to include adults as not all disabilities begin or are diagnosed in childhood. Some of our residents with disabilities are forced to live in poverty to qualify for Medicaid (especially when some services are not even available on the free market even if they could afford them) when they could otherwise be productive, employed citizens.
QUESTION 10: In light of the opioid crisis in America, what is your position (for or against) on the legalization of Medical Marijuana as an effective treatment for people with disabilities and those who have chronic pain and illness? Please describe.
I am in favor of legalizing medical marijuana as a treatment for chronic pain and illness. It’s heartbreaking that families have to move from Texas in order to access medical marijuana in other states. We must offer compassion to desperate families.
QUESTION 11: Do you have a plan to provide home and community-based services to people with disabilities who would rather live in their own homes instead of institutions and congregate settings? How would you address the critical need for wage increase for Community Attendants (who presently earn as little as $8 per hour) and place workforce shortages at critical levels for people with disabilities who rely on attendants to remain free from institutionalization? Please describe.
I believe employees who care for vulnerable populations need to make a living wage to encourage quality employee participation. Although I don’t know an exact amount that would be adequate, I think a minimum target would be an hourly rate that is at MINIMUM 2X the U.S. poverty level for an individual.
We need to fund programs that currently exist, like the Community First Option and Home and Community-Based Services so we can reduce waiting list times. This would increase available jobs for potential Community Attendants and attract more attention.
We need to expand hiring programs that offer jobs beyond home health nursing. Community Attendants do not require nursing degrees or advanced education. The attendants could offer compassionate, in-home care at a reduced cost than institutionalized care, thus keeping Texans in their homes and saving the state money.
QUESTION 12: Texas currently operates 13 State Supported Living Centers (SSLCs) for people with Developmental Disabilities. These facilities are under a settlement agreement with the DOJ for civil rights violations. These institutions are extremely costly, have witnessed a census decline, and account for nearly half of all Medicaid costs. What do you propose should be done in regard to SSLCs? How would you address the Medicaid waitlist that currently has over 143,000 people with Developmental Disabilities (the longest waitlist in the nation) waiting up to 14 years for services in order to remain living in the community?
Funding must be increased to decrease the waitlist. When medically possible, those with disabilities should be able to live in their communities with access to appropriate medical services.
Shutting the doors on fellow Texans with disabilities is neither humane nor cost-effective, plus these institutions cost us money in lawsuits and settlements with the Department of Justice. We must fully fund community and home-based service programs.
QUESTION 13: Do you have a plan to:
- ensure that individuals with disabilities receive services that would prevent them from being swept up into the criminal justice system,
- divert individuals with disabilities who are arrested to treatment options in lieu of jail where appropriate,
- receive needed accommodations in the criminal justice process and while incarcerated, and
- offer appropriate reentry support to help individuals with disabilities leaving jails and prisons reintegrate into communities and secure jobs? If yes, please describe. If no, what plans do you have to accomplish this?
As with most issues, education is key here. Criminal justice professionals must be trained on how to handle mental health issues and physical disabilities. In addition, there must be mandated procedures to assure the safety and access to needed medical care for arrested individuals with disabilities. I believe there should be specially trained advocates who can intercede on behalf of victims, accused or convicted individuals with disabilities to assure their rights are not abridged.
QUESTION 14: What experience or plan do you have to address disability justice, police brutality, and the school-to-prison pipeline for children with disabilities (particularly children who are also children of color)? How would you address the prevalence of people with mental illness, substance abuse disorder, and developmental disabilities as over-represented in the criminal justice system? What actions will you take or have taken, to prevent reentry of people with disabilities into the criminal justice system for non-violent offenses? Please describe.
Training law enforcement professionals on the appropriate way to handle both intellectual and physical disabilities is an important part on the path to improving disability justice. Many situations that lead to prison could be avoided if professionals were well versed (or had access to experts) on disability issues. While speedy reactions are sometimes important, sometimes slowing down before rushing to an arrest could be instrumental in reducing the population of those with disabilities in jail. Once incarcerated, those with intellectual disabilities (or suffering from addictions) should have the opportunity to receive counseling and help with these issues, thus reducing the likelihood of re-entry into the prison system again after release.
QUESTION 15: Both children and adults with disabilities are more likely to be victims of rape or sexual assault; people with developmental disabilities are seven times more likely to be the victims of sexual assault and abuse. How would you address this issue? Please describe.
This is a long-term problem that will require many different solutions. I would like to see law enforcement officials educated on warning signs of abuse from caregivers (including family). Instituting expanded employment background checks on those who are caregivers in a community setting or an institution is a must. Education and discussions on sexual behavior, consent, abuse and appropriate relationships should be introduced whenever possible to vulnerable populations.
QUESTION 16: Do you have a plan for veterans with disabilities facing barriers transitioning from active duty to civilian life and employment? How have you addressed, or would respond to the lack of healthcare and mental health services for veterans who do not receive VA benefits? Please describe. If no, what plans do you have to accomplish this?
Veterans, especially those who face disabilities, deserve our highest level of thanks and financial, emotional and employment support. Funding must be increased for VA benefits. More hospitals in more communities should be made available to serve veterans with disabilities. We need to continue funding research for medical issues that affect our veterans with disabilities. Increased mental health services should be made available to those suffering from disabilities from service.
QUESTION 17: Do you have a plan to advance innovations (i.e. assistive technologies, etc.) that promote increased employment, access and independence for people with disabilities? If yes, please describe. If no, what plans do you have to accomplish this?
Legislation can be introduced to encourage increased funding for scientific endeavors and research that focuses on our communities that have disabilities. Scientific progress must continue to make strides in addressing mobility and medical improvements.
QUESTION 18: Do you have a plan to address the lack of accessible transportation options that are a barrier to work for people with disabilities? If yes, please describe. If no, what plans do you have to accomplish this?
Lack of transportation options is an impediment of our community as a whole. We need mass transit options, including those that are appropriate for those with disabilities. Until those mass transit options exist, cities need to offer low-cost programs that get those with disabilities to/from work, shopping and medical professionals.
QUESTION 19: Do you have a plan to advance innovations (i.e., assistive technologies, devices) that improve the lives of people with disabilities? If yes, please describe. If no, what plans do you have to accomplish this?
As mentioned above, legislation can be introduced to encourage increased funding for scientific endeavors and research that focuses on our communities that have disabilities. In addition, incentives and tax credits can be offered to those companies that focus on disability science and medical equipment/assistive technologies and devices that make life easier for those with disabilities.
QUESTION 20: If you could sponsor any single piece of legislation that would benefit people with disabilities, what bill would you propose?
As public education is near and dear to my heart, I would propose a bill that increases funding and services for those with disabilities, beginning with early education and developmental training for infants, toddlers and school-aged children. This funding could also serve to hire qualified educators and caregivers so waiting times for services would be drastically reduced.