The rule of law is under attack, especially the civil rights of minorities, immigrants and people with disabilities. In an August 10, 2017, online essay posted on Rewire, Lisa Needham characterized it this way: “The [Department of Justice] is telling people with disabilities that it doesn’t care if their needs are met and it doesn’t care if they’re able to fully participate in society. This is troubling and lamentable.”
It is far, far worse than troubling and lamentable. The Trump administration’s policies, especially those of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, are proof of bias and discrimination toward people with disabilities. Think about that. The arm of the government that is responsible for protecting our civil rights is itself in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The rule of law has been hijacked and replaced by the rule of prejudice.
Prejudice is defined as: 1. Preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience [it is based on ignorance]; and 2. Judgment or action that results in harm or injury in disregard of one’s rights. In our current political atmosphere, not only has the Republican-dominated House of Representatives voted to substantially weaken the ADA, the Trump administration has taken additional actions that strip us of our rights.
To put this in perspective, in 1990, Congress was overwhelmingly supportive of our need for civil rights protection and enforcement, with 93 percent of legislators voting in favor of the ADA. But those days are long gone.
Here is what we now have: A president who publically mocked and humiliated a respected disabled reporter; a secretary of education who at the time of her confirmation was ignorant of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; an attorney general who as a senator blamed IDEA for the “decline in civility and discipline in classrooms all over America” and later, as AG, opposed his own Department of Justice’s previous stance on a civil rights discrimination case, resulting in a damaging limitation of the ADA’s “reasonable accommodation” clause. As if that was not enough, Attorney General Jeff Sessions also rescinded 25 guidelines, 10 of which were specific to the ADA. And remember Trump’s very first “success?” He appointed a new Supreme Court justice who, as a lower court judge, had issued a ruling against a student with autism so offensive that it was unanimously rejected by the Supreme Court.
Then in mid-February of this year came HR 620, a bill that was opposed by every national disability rights organization. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) called it “a disgraceful message to Americans with disabilities that their civil rights are not worthy of strong enforcement.” The Alliance for Justice called the bill an “inexcusable affront to Americans with Disabilities.” And the Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities issued this statement: “We know of no other law that outlaws discrimination but permits entities to discriminate with impunity until victims experience that discrimination and [then the victims must] educate the entities perpetrating it about their obligations not to discriminate. Such a regime is absurd, and would make people with disabilities second-class citizens.”
Indeed, we are already there, not only in the thoughts of those in power, but in their actions.