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

Civil Rights & the ADA

New ADA Notification Bill Introduced in the 117th Congress

An Update from the NCIL ADA / Civil Rights Subcommittee

On January 14, 2021, Representative Ken Calvert (R-CA), along with Representative Tom Rice (R-SC), introduced the ADA Compliance for Customer Entry to Stores and Services Act (H.R. 77), deceptively referred to as the ACCESS Act. This bill is essentially the same as previous Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) notification bills, like H.R. 4099 and H.R. 620. H.R. 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act, passed the House in February 2018, and resembled many of the previous versions. H.R. 4099 was introduced in 2019 with an additional provision (Section 6) regarding Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 standards. This section is again included in H.R. 77.

Like the ADA notification bills before it, H.R. 77 would create additional barriers that would weaken our protected civil rights enforced under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Specifically, H.R. 77 would amend Section 308 of the ADA as it pertains to architectural barrier violations outlined in Sections 302 and 303, requiring that anyone who has been discriminated against (based on the failure to remove an architectural barrier to access an existing public accommodation) complete a cumbersome series of steps before commencing a civil action, detailed below.

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Disability Rights Organizations Join the National John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Action Day

May 8, 2021

Washington, D.C. – Today, the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD), the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL), and the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) will participate in the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Day of Action in support of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Following the record-breaking turnout in the 2020 elections, state legislatures across America have released an offensive onslaught of undemocratic legislation designed to specifically suppress the vote of voters with disabilities, voters of color, and youth voters. 

These actions were made possible beginning in 2013 when the United States Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 in its Shelby County v. Holder decision. Prior to 2013, jurisdictions were subject to preclearance under Section 5 of the VRA and jurisdictions with known discriminatory practices were required to seek approval before enacting voting changes. In the Shelby County ruling when the Supreme Court struck down the primary avenue to determine which states require preclearance, it immediately freed jurisdictions with known discriminatory practices to change how their elections are administered without the voter protections offered by federal preclearance. Voters across the country are negatively impacted by new barriers created after the Shelby County decision. Following the enactment of strict voter identification laws, voter purges, and polling place closures, not all voices are being heard on Election Day, and worse, they are being deliberately silenced.

For the past several years, Congress has introduced legislation that would restore the preclearance provision of the VRA, including the Voting Rights Advancement Act, recently renamed as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4). AAPD, NACDD, NCIL and NDRN strongly urge Congress to protect and restore voting rights in America through the enactment of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The VRA protections are needed as much now as they were almost 60 years ago. We urge Congress to take swift action to ensure that Americans will not experience another election without the crucial protections of the Voting Rights Act.

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The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is a convener, connector, and catalyst for change, increasing the political and economic power of people with disabilities. As a national cross-disability rights organization, AAPD advocates for full civil rights for the over 61 million Americans with disabilities by promoting equal opportunity, economic power, independent living, and political participation. To learn more, visit the AAPD Web site: www.aapd.com.   

The National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD) is the national association for the 56 Councils on Developmental Disabilities (DD Councils) across the United States and its territories. The DD Councils receive federal funding to support programs that promote self-determination, integration, and inclusion for all people in the United States with developmental disabilities.  Please check out www.onevotenow.org for NACDD’s work on voting.

The National Council on Independent Living is the longest-running national cross-disability, grassroots organization run by and for people with disabilities. Founded in 1982, NCIL represents thousands of organizations and individuals including: individuals with disabilities, Centers for Independent Living (CILs), Statewide Independent Living Councils (SILCs), and other organizations that advocate for the human and civil rights of people with disabilities throughout the United States. To learn more, visit www.ncil.org

The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) is the nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and the Client Assistance Programs (CAP) for individuals with disabilities. Collectively, the Network is the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States To learn more, visit www.ndrn.org.    

NCIL Statement on Violence and Acts of Hate Against Asian Americans Pacific Islanders

We all watched in horror at the news of the murders of eight people in the Atlanta area, including six Asian women.  NCIL condemns this deplorable act of violence that has occurred under the umbrella of white supremacy, misogyny, and racism. The suspect must be held accountable, but we must also acknowledge the systems that enable such actions to take place. 

Asian Americans have always experienced racism and violence, but Anti-Asian violence and rhetoric have risen sharply since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.  While we know that hate crimes are vastly underreported, there has been a surge of hate incidents toward Asian Americans since the pandemic began, with Stop AAPI Hate tracking nearly 4,000 reports between March 19, 2020 and February 28, 2021; the true scope of anti-Asian harassment and violence is likely much higher. AAPI communities need our support and to be listened to. 

NCIL stands in solidarity with Asian Americans Pacific Islanders.  As NCIL actively works to become an anti-racist organization, we will call out and work against violence, hate speech, stereotypes, xenophobia, or racism of any kind.  There are so many great resources and ways to educate yourself on racism and marginalization faced by Asian American Pacific Islanders, donate to AAPI organizations, and actively work to disrupt racism and white supremacy in your community.  We hope the resources below will be helpful. 

Stop AAPI Hate has an outstanding list of actions you can take immediately and a hate incident tracker.

Read more and donate to these organizations:

Information Alert: Executive Order on Promoting Additional Access to Voting

This past Sunday, President Biden signed a new voting access executive order entitled “Executive Order on Promoting Additional Access to Voting”. The Executive Order was released to coincide with the 56th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” when civil rights activists, beginning their march from Selma to Montgomery, were brutally beaten by State troopers while crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

The executive order (EO) aims to expand access to voting in a number of ways, including:

  • Giving the heads of every Federal agency 200 days to evaluate and create a plan to promote voter registration and voter participation (Section 3);
  • Requiring the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to coordinate efforts to improve and modernize Federal websites and digital services that provide election and voting information, including ensuring accessibility to people with disabilities and people with limited English proficiency (Section 3); and
  • Requiring the General Services Administration (GSA) to coordinate with the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and other agencies, as well as seek input from affected stakeholders (including civil rights advocates, disability rights advocates, and Tribal Nations) to modernize and improve the Vote.gov (Section 5) website.
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Election Assistance Commission Voting Guidelines Fail Disability Community

The National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) is disappointed by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s (EAC) recent adoption of the Voluntary Voting System Guideline (VVSG) 2.0 Requirements. The adopted VVSG 2.0 requirements ignored the recommendations made by the disability community to:

  • ensure accessible remote voting,
  • prohibit segregated in-person voting,
  • and require a reasonable voting system upgrade schedule so that voters with disabilities are not expected to use old, inaccessible ballot marking devices for decades to come.

As a result, VVSG 2.0 does not ensure a private and independent ballot for all voters in a non-discriminatory manner. 

The extensive security requirements in VVSG 2.0 require the use of a voter-verified paper printed ballot. The requirements also limit remote voting to blank ballot delivery. These requirements create major barriers to ensuring accessibility for all in-person and remote voting options. 

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Action Alert: Ask Your Representatives to Oppose H.R. 1’s Paper Ballot Mandate

In January, Congressional Democrats introduced H.R. 1, the For the People Act. This broad legislation addresses many areas of democracy reform, including voting rights, election security, and voting accessibility. While there are many positive provisions in the legislation, the National Council on Independent Living and other disability rights organizations are concerned about a requirement for voter-verified paper ballots. Paper ballots are not accessible to many voters with disabilities and can limit the right to a private and independent ballot.

Last week, NCIL joined 19 other national disability rights organizations in signing onto a statement by the National Disability Rights Network expressing concerns over a paper ballot mandate. This statement laid out the disability community’s concerns that the paper ballot mandate would:

  • End all voting system innovation and advancement to produce a fully accessible voting system that provides enhanced security without relying on inaccessible paper
  • Limit voters with disabilities’ federal right to privately and independently verify and cast their ballots
  • Segregate voters with disabilities

Read the full statement: “Disability Community Fears Paper Ballot Mandate Will Hurt Voters with Disabilities

H.R. 1 Section 1502 requires that voting machines use “an individual, durable, voter-verified paper ballot.” It also requires that voters are given the option to mark their ballot by hand, which further limits the availability of ballot marking devices for people with disabilities. This will further segregate voters with disabilities who must use ballot-marking devices. Furthermore, it will increase the likelihood that poll workers will not be properly trained on how to use ballot-marking devices. Poll workers will also be expected to decide who is “disabled enough” to use a ballot-marking device, although they do not have the legal right or qualifications to make that decision.

Take Action: Contact your Representative to tell them to oppose the paper ballot mandate in H.R. 1, as it will limit disabled voters’ right to a private and independent ballot.

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Shield and Intersectional Rights Protection

An Update from the NCIL Mental Health Subcommittee

Successful comics can be particularly good at recognizing what hovers below the illusions that most of us accept as unchallenged reality. The late George Carlin exposes one of the myths that many of us accept. He riffs that it is comforting to believe that we have rights, but what we really have is privileges and privileges can be taken away. It is this challenge that too often confronts select groups of people who find themselves alone and easy targets for discrimination and misguided treatments.

The Shield program of MindFreedom International (MFI) was developed to support the right / privilege of informed choice as a bedrock of social justice for people who have been labelled. Shield is designed to counter the power inequities that confront those who oppose decisions and treatments where their complaints and input are ignored.

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NCIL Presents a National Webinar & Teleconference… Challenging the Use of Artificial Intelligence in Public Benefits Determinations: A CDT Report

January 20, 2021; 3:00 – 4:00 p.m. Eastern

Register online (NCIL members only)

NCIL and the Center for Democracy and Technology are excited to announce a national webinar and teleconference to share the findings of CDT’s recent report “Challenging the Use of Algorithm-driven Decision-making in Benefits Determinations Affecting People with Disabilities”. This report analyzes the various litigation strategies for challenging AI used to cut public benefits. This is a critical issue as many state governments are increasing their reliance on algorithms to determine whether, and to what extent, people qualify for public benefits.

Join us for a presentation of the report’s key findings and how states’ increasing turn to algorithmic decision-making is affecting the rights of people with disabilities. Our presenters will discuss how advocates have challenged these harms inside the courtroom and through other advocacy strategies.

Registration Fee

This webinar is free for NCIL members. Non-members may join NCIL to attend.

Meet Your Presenters

  • Lydia X. Z. Brown, Policy Counsel on CDT’s Privacy & Data Project
  • Ridhi Shetty, Policy Counsel on CDT’s Privacy & Data Project

Accessibility & Accommodations

This webinar will be held via Zoom, but participants can join by webinar or telephone. CART captioning will be provided. Training materials and connection instructions will be sent 1-2 days prior to the live event. Other accommodations may be requested on the registration form.

Elevate Blog: Rajah Sandor on Being a Disabled Campaign Staffer

In October 2020, we sat down with Rajah Sandor to learn about his experiences as a disabled campaign professional, his successes, obstacles he has faced, and advice he has for other disabled people who want to work on campaigns.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you become a campaign professional, and what do you do now?

My name is D. Rajah Sandor, I go by Rajah. I’ve almost completed my 31st year, I’m Indian, and I was born without arms. I definitely came to campaigns later than the typical staffer does, I was 27 the first time I was a paid organizer. I got involved in a local mayoral election in 2015 but did not truly start with campaigns until the primary of 2016. By the end of the primary, I had essentially become a volunteer organizer which got me an interview to be an organizer with the PA coordinated campaign. And that was really it. Campaigns have a very addictive nature to them and so as long as the next gig appeared, I’d take it. Over the last 4 years, I have worked on every type of race except a U.S. Senate, and have served as an organizer, a department head, and as the campaign manager. I am currently the Western Regional Director of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Campaign Committee and have been since July.

Why do you think it is important for people with disabilities to volunteer or work on campaigns? 

  1. I think the more people with disabilities that interact with campaigns, the more we normalize it.
  2. By being involved in campaigns, you present the opportunity for the candidate to understand disability issues better.
  3. To force these spaces to become more accessible. Campaigns are all about doing things as cheaply as possible. If they think they can get away with using a space that isn’t ADA accessible, they will.
  4. Because this work is important. For a campaign to truly be successful, even outside of winning or losing the election, the campaign needs to be representative of the community, and the only way we can make sure the disability community is represented is by showing up.
  5. And finally, because we have things to fight for. There are still a number of different ways that our society is and is allowed to be ableist and society will continue to be ableist as long as we let them. Getting involved with campaigns, to elect leaders who care about our issues, or with issue campaigns surrounding our issues is a way we can fight to make our society more equitable, both for our community and other disenfranchised communities.

Did you experience any barriers while working on campaigns? 

Answering this question is hard for me, because I’m sure I have experienced barriers, but by in large I’m too stubborn to notice them as barriers until later. I will say gaining employment was tough, especially in the beginning. Before I was hired as an organizer with the PA coordinated I had easily applied for 15+ organizer jobs and I remember feeling frustrated enough that I disclosed my disability in that interview and said, I know I can do I just need someone to believe me. Even after being an organizer, I was unemployed until March of the following year, when I showed up at a gubernatorial primary campaign where a friend was working & that was understaffed and I made myself useful enough that they had to put me on staff. The only other barrier of note, is the fact that I essentially broke even during my first 2 years working on campaigns, because of shared rides costs. As I don’t drive, early in my career I would let whomever I disclosed my disability to know that I would take on my transportation costs for fear of being seen as too expensive or even a financial liability. 

What have been some of your successes as a campaign professional? 

I won the first race I managed, by 793 votes. I have developed & executed multiple successful Get Out the Vote & Election Day strategies. I have largely taught myself what I need to know to understand voting data & craft a successful DVC (direct voter contact) program.

What can campaigns do to make it easier for people with disabilities to work on them?

Make sure they are in accessible spaces. Hire folks with disabilities. Include our issues before we get there. Get rid of some of the classist expectations, that you should be able to pick up and move, or do this work without healthcare, or able to commit to 10-14 hour days at least 6 days a week. 

What advice would you give to people with disabilities who want to work on or volunteer for campaigns?

Do it. Understand that it is going to be tough, but do it. Don’t be deterred by the 25th person who underestimates what you bring to the table, just be a badass. You’re going to have to make space for yourself, but it’s important that you take up that space. If you’re thinking about actually working on a campaign, make sure you that this really is what you want for the next X number of months of your life because winning isn’t guaranteed and some days you feel the ableism so much more strongly. Find friends with disabilities that you can vent to, that can relate. You are clearing the way for whoever is coming next. Fight like hell to be treated equally so that whoever follows may be able to fight a little less.

Elevate Blog: Want to Run for Office? Think Local

Did you know that there are 519,682 elected positions in the United States? When we think of elected officials, we often think about the President and members of Congress. However, there are only 542 federal offices. Our state governments make up only 3.6% of the elected positions in the country. Local elected officials are 96% the elected officials in the country. There are over 500,000 local elected positions in the country.

If you are considering running for office for the first time, think local. There are many different positions in local government, such as:

  • City council
  • Mayor
  • School board
  • County commissioner
  • Positions requiring specific knowledge, like auditor or coroner

Each local government has a different structure, and different elected offices. You should research what positions are available in your community. Think about how you want to be involved in your community. Do you want to change laws? Are you interested in education? Do you have specific skills in an area like finance or engineering? Some offices require specific knowledge and training, while others are open to everyone.

Holding a local office allows you to serve your community directly. Big, sweeping legislation at the national level is important. But the fact is that local government has a large influence on our lives. School board members make decisions on education for children in their community. Mayors and city councils make many small and large decisions to run a city. Local government influences law, finances, education, community programs, and more.

Running for local office makes practical sense for a first-time candidate. It costs money to get on the ballot and to run a campaign. A local campaign usually requires a smaller budget than state or federal races. A local campaign may require a smaller time commitment, and you may be able to keep your current job. Keeping your job is important if the position you’re running for doesn’t have a salary or has a low salary.

Local campaigns make strategic sense as well. If you want to run for a larger office someday, you need to build name recognition. Having name recognition means that voters know who you are and what you represent. If you are active in your local community, you may have name recognition. You may be known as a community member, a volunteer, or an advocate, for example. In a campaign, you build more name recognition through campaigning. This lets voters know who you are and why they should vote for you. Running for and serving in local office can help build name recognition for future state and federal races. It will also help you gain experience that will make you a better candidate in future races.

Have we convinced you to consider running for local office? Here are some resources to learn more: