Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which my Dad signed into law in 1990.
Florida has a significant number of citizens who live, learn and work with disabilities, and it is my fundamental belief that they should be given opportunities to do so with support, respect and dignity. During my eight years in office, I worked to create policies and programs so that these citizens were no longer overlooked and they could enjoy greater independence and choice over the services they receive.
I pressed for the creation of the McKay Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships for students with disabilities so they can attend an eligible public or private school of their choice. Before this program, students with disabilities had to accept whatever was offered to them by their local public school districts – and not surprisingly, many of these students and their families were treated poorly and taken for granted.
The scholarship program changed that – and these students benefitted directly. The educational gains of our children with disabilities has outpaced those in other states since then. More than 28,000 McKay Scholarships were granted in the 2013-14 school year – and each one of these students is getting something that was their right: A quality education.
Before I was governor, citizens with disabilities were handled by a hodgepodge of programs and sub-departments. Very little was coordinated, and there wasn’t accountability. So I signed a law creating the state’s Agency for Persons With Disabilities. This agency has changed the way our citizens are treated, and the quality of adult care, help with education, jobs and housing has increased dramatically.
Every year I was in office, I attended a statewide summit on disabilities and disability issues. In our last year, more than 10,000 people attended – and I showed them that they weren’t fighting for their rights alone or without a friend in the governor’s office.
“I showed them that they weren’t fighting for their rights alone or without a friend in the governor’s office.”
We did some basic things, such as increasing the property tax exemption for disabled veterans and eliminating the fee to get a disabled parking permit.
And we did some really transformative things. We invested in a waiver programs so people with disabilities could use their Medicaid resources for support programs to stay in their communities, near their families, rather than at costly institutions. This way, the money went for what our disabled citizens wanted, not what they were forced to accept.
This program has enjoyed significant public support, from both Republicans and Democrats, and it’s a model for the rest of the nation. What we achieved through this program wasn’t just better services for those with disabilities. We proved that we get the best outcomes when we give individuals the ability to make decisions for themselves and hold providers accountable for the care they give.
These are achievements I’m proud of, but the work isn’t done. And it’s time we promote continued progress for Americans living with disabilities. I believe as a society we must work on behalf of those who are most vulnerable, and serve those who cannot always help themselves.
In our schools, we need to work to create a safer and more inclusive culture for children with disabilities. Today, these children are subject to bullying, physical restraint and seclusion – often in violation of the law. Every child deserves the right to go to school and to learn without fearing pain or isolation. This is an outcome that every American – especially our school leaders – should take seriously. As someone with a long record on the issue of education reform, I look forward to addressing these issues directly as president.
“Every child deserves the right to go to school and to learn without fearing pain or isolation. This is an outcome that every American – especially our school leaders – should take seriously.”
At work, we need to do more to enhance opportunities for people with disabilities. When I was governor, I traveled the state and spoke directly with business owners and employers about the need to hire people with disabilities. These individuals have talents and skills to offer, and with the right effort to integrate them into daily operations, they can make a significant contribution to a growing business.
To me, one of the greatest needs in our treatment of those living with disabilities is in the private sector – and it’s up to each of us to look for opportunities to hire, train, retain and promote people with disabilities. Adaptive technologies are making these opportunities more possible, and as more businesses see how much value is created by people with disabilities, the more we will achieve on behalf of all Americans through greater growth, earned success and shared prosperity.
These steps are the kinds of things we need to do to keep the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act alive. We’ve seen 25 years of progress – but we can’t ignore all the things that still have to be done – and I intend to do everything I can to continue empowering individuals with disabilities.