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In March 1990, hundreds of Americans climbed the steps of the Capitol building in Washington, DC to advocate for the Americans With Disabilities Act, a bill outlawing discrimination against people with disabilities. Among the climbers that day was Jennifer Keelan, an eight-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who said, “I’ll take all night if I have to” as she pulled herself up the Capitol’s 83 steps. Back then, activists were fighting for legislation that would greatly improve their standards of living. Now, as President Donald Trump’s plan to overhaul the healthcare system awaits its day on the Senate floor, they’re preparing to combat legislation they say will adversely affect them.
The American Health Care Act (AHCA) – popularly referred to as “Trumpcare” – proposes changes to the United States’ insurance structure and at least $800 billion in cuts to Medicaid, a government-sponsored healthcare programme for low-income individuals and people in need. If legislated in its current form, disability rights advocates say Trumpcare will classify various ailments as “pre-existing conditions”, creating a significant barrier to the necessary services, medicines, and treatments they need to manage their lives. Many schools, which rely on Medicaid to help fund programs for students with special needs, would also be affected. Curtis Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, says such measures have “nothing to do with health care or with premiums or anything that [proponents of the bill] say they’re trying to fix”. Kelli Simpkins, whose son was born with a congenital brain abnormality, says reductions in coverage would be “detrimental” to her family. “We wouldn’t be able to afford everything he needs to live a full and healthy life”.
Even before President Trump’s proposal was approved by the US House of Representatives on May 4, activists were already voicing their displeasure with the bill. In March, 54 disability rights activists were arrested after a protest inside the Capitol building. But what happens next for opponents of the AHCA, and what are they doing to ensure their Congressional representatives fight “all night” for their livelihoods?
In this episode, The Stream speaks with disability rights activists about their efforts to organise against Trumpcare.
Joining The Stream:
Andrew Pulrang @AndrewPulrang
Disability rights advocate
Elsa Sjunneson-Henry @snarkbat
Author and disability activist
Vilissa Thompson @VilissaThompson
Disability rights consultant and writer
Julia Bascom @JustStimming
Executive Director, Autistic Self Advocacy Network
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