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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

Civil Rights & the ADA

New Report: Challenging the Use of Algorithm-driven Decision-making in Benefits Determinations Affecting People with Disabilities

Last month, the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) released a new report called Challenging the Use of Algorithm-driven Decision-making in Benefits Determinations Affecting People with Disabilities. The report focuses on algorithm-driven tools that reduce or terminate public benefits. It analyzes how people with disabilities and their lawyers have challenged these tools in court.

In the report, CDT cites several important court decisions when describing states’ constitutional requirements and their obligations under the Administrative Procedure Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Some cited cases require states to provide notice to recipients prior to algorithm-driven cuts to benefits, and to provide enough information for people to know how to contest algorithms’ results. Other cases require states to inform the public that they are planning to use the tools and to allow people to submit comments prior to implementation.

The report also describes institutionalization as a form of discrimination on the basis of disability, because it isolates disabled people from the community. Plaintiffs have shared that their care hours were cut almost in half. When algorithm-driven tools cause such deep cuts to supports and services, people with disabilities may have to go to institutions to receive necessary care that they should be able to get at home.

CDT’s recommendations to state governments, attorneys, and disabled self-advocates flow from a few key takeaways. First, when states implement an algorithm-driven tool to make benefits determinations, they are making a policy decision that affects people’s lives and evokes new legal and constitutional questions. Second, disabled people and other experts on algorithms know best the impact of algorithm-driven benefits determinations, so they should drive attorneys’ litigation and advocacy strategies. Finally, in addition to litigation, self-advocates have several avenues to call attention to unjust algorithmic tools, including social media, public government meetings, and the press.

Elevate Blog: Fundraising and the Power of Disabled Leadership: Interview with Dom Kelly

Elevate Logo - Campaign Training for People with Disabilities. Graphic features the US Capitol Rotunda.

Dom Kelly works for Fair Fight, a voting rights organization founded by Stacey Abrams and based in Atlanta, Georgia, where he helps lead fundraising efforts for both the organization’s PAC and 501(c)(4). He is also a person with Cerebral Palsy who is passionate about disability justice and building political power within the disability community. He took the time to tell us why it’s important for people with disabilities to run for office, and to share his wisdom about fundraising.

Why do you think it is important for people with disabilities to run for elected office?

Dom: I am extremely passionate about getting disabled people to run for elected office, and there are a couple reasons I think it’s important. The first is that lawmakers who understand what it’s like to be disabled can create and uphold laws that actually benefit folks with disabilities. Too often we see that the disabled community is ignored and disregarded; COVID-19 and the events surrounding the pandemic has really brought to light what we in the community have known to be true, which is that our lives are often considered expendable. Lawmakers think nothing of taking away our access to affordable healthcare if it’s politically beneficial to them. Congress’s inability to address issues like gun violence, systemic racism, and police brutality mean that the disabled community is even more at risk of being harmed. Some politicians engaging in voter suppression have actively tried to take away our right to vote. All of these are just some examples of what we could be addressing through a disability lens if people with disabilities ran and won elected office. Second, I believe representation matters. As a kid, I rarely if ever saw people on TV, whether they be characters, actors, politicians, or news anchors, who were disabled like me. Seeing someone with a disability in a leadership and decision-making role can go a long way in cultivating confidence and power among folks in our community. “Identity politics” is a dirty term among some, but not for me – identity is vital for our survival.

Some people who want to run for office are afraid of having to ask for money. How can people who are afraid of fundraising get comfortable with it?    

Dom: Like it or not, raising money is a necessary activity for any organization, campaign or otherwise. The first time getting on the phone to ask someone to give can be scary, but it gets easier with each ask. It may be easier to start by planning an email or social media fundraising campaign before you start asking for larger amounts of money. At the end of the day, though, you are really selling yourself and your vision to voters, so if you feel confident in your candidacy and your platform, you’ll be able to get more comfortable with asking them to contribute.

What goes into setting a fundraising goal?

Dom: It really depends on your budget and what staff you plan to hire/what activities you undertake. When you’re soliciting, it’s always good to go to donors with a total number you are trying to reach in that stretch and an idea of what their contribution will go toward, so really understanding what your budget is and how you plan to spend the money is integral on multiple fronts. In an email or social media campaign, it might be a good idea to set a smaller goal and ask your supporters to help you reach it in a specific timeframe.

Let’s say you’re reaching out to a supporter to ask them to donate. How do you decide how much money to ask them for?  

Dom: Before you sit down for call time, you have to make sure you have done all the research on the potential donor. That includes understanding their background, what they currently do, and most importantly, their giving history. Knowing what they’ve given to other candidates, PACs, etc. will be necessary in being able to decide on an ask.

Do you have any other advice for our readers, especially first-time fundraisers?

Dom: I like to think that fundraising is akin to community-building in that you are developing a group of supporters that believe in a similar vision and have aligned values, so just as if you were creating and growing a group on Facebook and feeding them content constantly, donors need to be kept equally engaged. They are going to want to be fed lots of information and understand how their investment is actually making an impact. Remember, the people who give you money are the ones who believe in you the most. You have to keep them engaged beyond continuing to ask them to contribute to your campaign. That engagement can translate into volunteering, more giving, and ultimately, for candidates, their enthusiastic vote at the ballot box. Your donors are not just ATMs – they are people who believe in you, and you need to keep them engaged.

A young white man wearing a blue button-up shirt smiles at the camera


Dom Kelly is the Development Manager at Fair Fight Action, a voting rights organization founded by Stacey Abrams, as well as a lifelong disability justice activist. As a person with Cerebral Palsy, he is passionate about furthering disabled representation in politics and government. A native New Yorker, he currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife Catie.

Introducing the Elevate Blog

Elevate Logo - Campaign Training for People with Disabilities. Graphic features the US Capitol Rotunda.

In 2017, you couldn’t find any information online on running for office with a disability. There were no campaign training programs for people with disabilities. There weren’t many news stories on candidates with disabilities. It seemed like learning how to run for office with a disability was a well-kept secret.

At the same time, more Americans became interested in running for office. More than twice as many women ran for Congress in 2018 than in 2016. Programs that teach people how to run for office became more popular. New campaign training programs were created. There were campaign trainings for members of different political parties. There were campaign training programs for different identities, like people of color and first-generation Americans. These great resources grew and trained more and more Americans to run for office. Still, there was a major information gap for people with disabilities.

At NCIL, we decided that it was time to fix this problem. Diverse leadership is important because the government’s decisions impact many parts of our lives. Elected officials decide how to run our towns and cities. They make decisions about public transit and schools. They decide how to use our tax dollars and create the laws that govern our society. People with disabilities should be involved in making those decisions.

For two years, I interviewed candidates with disabilities. I learned about how they ran their campaigns and the challenges they faced. What I learned made it even clearer that we need a campaign training program for people with disabilities. In 2019, I teamed up with Neal Carter of Nu View Consulting to solve this problem. We created Elevate, the first and only campaign training for people with disabilities. Hundreds of people tuned into the five Elevate webinars or watched the recordings on our website.

I’m thrilled to say that we will be continuing Elevate in 2021.  We’re working hard to improve the program based on the feedback we received in 2019. We are so excited to continue training people with disabilities to run for office.

Creating this program is challenging because there is no one “disability experience.” A candidate who is a wheelchair user will have a different experience from a Deaf candidate. A candidate who is blind has needs that are different from the needs of a candidate who has chronic pain. The campaign process for one person may look different from the campaign process for another person. So how can we learn about these different experiences?

We can learn by talking to people with disabilities, of course! In this blog, we will interview candidates, volunteers, and staff with disabilities about their experiences. We will also answer common questions about running for office. We will talk about what you need to think about if you want to run for office or join a campaign.

It’s clear that the disability community has a passion for civic engagement. With the right tools and knowledge, we can take that passion and commitment beyond the ballot box. We can represent our community in elected office or on a campaign. We can effect change.

We’re excited about starting this blog, and we want your input! What would you like us to talk about? Send your questions to:

Sarah Blahovec
sarah@ncil.org
202-207-0334 extension 1103

It’s Election Day. Go Vote!

We have compiled some information and resources to help you get #VoteReady.

Same-Day Voter Registration 

Although voter registration deadlines in many states have now passed, 22 states and Washington, DC offer same-day voter registration. Find out if your state has same-day voter registration

Vote Planning and Know Your Rights Resources

1. NCIL Plan Your Vote 2020 

2. Brink Election Guide is a free app that helps you find out where to vote, who and what you’re voting for, and everything you need to make Election Day a breeze.

3. ACLU Know Your Rights 

4. ASAN Easy Read Toolkit: “Your Vote Counts: A Self-Advocate’s Guide to Voting in the U.S.” 

5. “Vote: It’s Your Right: A Guide to the Voting Rights of People with Mental Disabilities” 

Election Protection and Protection and Advocacy Hotlines 

If you have questions about voting, or experience any issues while voting, there are several hotlines available to help answer all of our questions.

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Election Day is Less Than One Week Away! Are You Ready to Vote?

Election Day is less than one week away, and millions of Americans have already cast their ballots through early voting or voting by mail. This year, it is more important than ever to know your rights and have a plan. We have listed some resources and events to help you prepare for Election Day.

Plan Your Vote 2020 

NCIL, along with other members of the National Coalition on Accessible Voting, created “Plan Your Vote 2020,” a vote planning guide that walks you through every step of the voting process.

Brink Election Guide 

Brink Election Guide is a free app that helps you find out where to vote, who and what you’re voting for, and everything you need to make Election Day a breeze. This nonpartisan, accessible app is available on iOS and Android, and it was built by people with disabilities to provide all of the necessary information a voter needs to know. Brink provides completely non-partisan information designed to inform our users on the candidates running for office and other initiatives on the ballot. The app also provides a list of resources to help voters navigate any potential issues they face when voting.

SignVote Series: Election 2020 

SignVote is dedicated to informing and engaging deaf communities throughout the 2020 election by developing and sharing resources in ASL. They recently launched the second episode of the SignVote Series: Election 2020, where you can learn everything you need to know about making your voting plan. View SignVote’s “Your Plan to Vote”.

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Help Consumers Get #VoteReady this October

This week is National Voter Education Week, a civic holiday created to equip voters with the tools, information, and confidence they need to cast their ballots. With less than a month until the General Election, it is a great time to provide consumers with information and tools that they can use to prepare to vote.

NCIL has created resources to help Center for Independent Living (CIL) and Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC) staff and consumers get ready to vote this year. The NCIL 2020 Voter Registration Toolkit provides you with information to conduct nonpartisan voter registration. Check to make sure that your state’s voter registration deadline hasn’t passed, or see if same-day voter registration is available in your state.

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CILs and SILCs: Sign-On to the Letter Urging the Senate to Oppose Amy Coney Barret’s Nomination – DUE THURSDAY!

Judge Amy Coney Barrett has been nominated to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s vacant seat on the United States Supreme Court. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stated that the Senate will hastily move forward with her confirmation hearings in two weeks, with a vote planned shortly after. Judge Barrett’s opinions on a number of issues are damaging to disability rights, and her appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court would threaten the rights and lives of Americans with disabilities. NCIL strongly opposes her nomination. We have signed on to a letter urging the Senate to oppose her nomination and we hope you will join us in signing your organization on as well.

As outlined in the letter, Judge Barrett has a history of decisions that have harmed the disability community. From siding against disabled students who were being discriminated against, to her opinion that the public charge rule does not discriminate against disabled people, to being a vocal opponent of the Affordable Care Act, Judge Barrett’s appointment to the US Supreme Court would bring immeasurable harm to our community.

Further, in the midst of a pandemic that has killed over 200,000 Americans, it is shameful that the Senate is prioritizing rushing through this highly politicized Supreme Court appointment, rather than focusing on much-needed additional COVID-19 relief. The situation for their constituents around the country is increasingly dire, and filling a vacant seat is absolutely not more important than our lives and livelihoods. 

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Organizers Forum: Getting Out The Vote (in a Pandemic!)

Let’s make sure disabled people vote in this fall’s election! How do we do voter outreach during the pandemic? How do we ensure that disabled people CAN vote? What can we learn from other marginalized communities? 

  • Tuesday, September 15, 2020
  • 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. Eastern (12:00 – 1:00 p.m. Central / 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Mountain / 10:00 – 11:00 a.m. Pacific)
  • RSVP
  • Video link: https://zoom.us/j/158367875
  • Call-in: 1-929-205-6099, Meeting ID 158 367 875# or find your local number.

Speakers:

  • Dom Kelly, Fair Fight
  • Rachita Singh, American Association of People with Disabilities
  • Mike Dark, California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform

Please join us! If you have questions or suggestions, please email jessica@sdaction.org.

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New Resource Available: NCIL Voter Registration Toolkit

Did you know that Centers for Independent Living (CILs) can participate in non-partisan voter registration? The National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) encourages every Center for Independent Living to provide an opportunity to register to vote to their consumers. 

There is still plenty of time to register voters before the 2020 General Election. We have compiled some resources below to help Centers for Independent Living provide their consumers with the opportunity to register to vote. It also includes information on registration deadlines, guardianship rules, and voter ID laws. 

The NCIL Voter Registration Toolkit is available in PDF, Word, and plain text formats.

If you have any questions, please contact Sarah Blahovec, Voting Rights and Civic Engagement Organizer, at sarah@ncil.org or 202-207-0334 extension 1103. 

Information Alert: Court Limits Geographic Scope of Injunction Stopping the Public Charge Rule to NY, CT, and VT

Note: this is an update to yesterday’s Information Alert, “Public Charge Rule Updates”.

Source: Center for Public Representation

Yesterday, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals partially stayed the nationwide temporary injunction issued by a district court in New York last month against the Department of Homeland Security’s discriminatory public charge rule. That decision had halted the rule for the duration of the national public health emergency declared by the Trump Administration. This new decision means the rule is now back in effect nationwide, except in the states of New York, Connecticut, and Vermont.

Read the full article from the Center for Public Representation.