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Let's Include One of the Most Neglected Communities in Pending COVID-19 Economic Relief Legislation

Congress is currently crafting an economic stimulus bill to assist struggling families and businesses. But as of this writing, it doesn’t specifically address the needs of one of society’s most neglected communities: people with disabilities. They face far more challenges to not only participate fully in many aspects of daily life but also keep themselves safe from a global pandemic.

But some have been even more neglected. They lack political representation. They are a relatively small subset of the larger community, who have spent decades trying to be heard, only to be drowned out by a cacophony of powerful interest groups clamoring for influence in shaping public policy. Because they do not have the political clout to succeed in their demands for equal treatment, it is easy for politicians to ignore them and let them struggle every day just to live their lives in a world dominated by sight and sound. They are people with combined vision and hearing loss.

I call on Congress and President Biden to give voice to Americans with disabilities. Specifically, I urge our government to include the needs of those who have dual vision and hearing loss. COVID-19 poses serious unique challenges for this community: they can neither hear nor see to stay safe in the outside world, especially when danger can be avoided only through either sound or sight. Congress should, therefore, provide funding for a national program to provide qualified professionals who act as the eyes and ears of these people thereby going beyond protection from COVID-19 by ensuring the equal participation in and enjoyment of American life.

These professionals are often called “support service providers”. The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates the provision of qualified sign language interpreters, but it does not require these critically needed professionals. For instance, if a person with both vision and hearing loss goes to the local grocery store or bank branch on any given day, an interpreter cannot be readily provided. The result is the direct interaction between workers and persons who cannot hear or see, potentially exposing both groups to COVID-19.

When we talk about “equality,” we should not focus only on certain groups, perhaps because we need their votes. To live by our values as “one nation, indivisible, with justice and liberty for all,” we must endeavor to include everyone, particularly the most disadvantaged among us. What we do should not be based on the political power of any group, but on a genuine commitment to a fair and inclusive society.

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