Monday, October 12, 2015

Five Ideas for Putting Metro Riders in the Driver Seat and Improving WMATA:

1. Governance – Require the WMATA Board to be elected by the public; at least two third of the directors rely on the system daily; and, directors specifically be elected and paid full time salaries to represent otherwise disenfranchised riders – e.g., riders with disabilities or are elderly, people of color, low wage workers or have low incomes.

2. Lead by Example – Require all board directors, GM and managers to rely on the system routinely. Seek constant feedback via monthly dialogues in accessible locations thru-out the region, virtually and other venues.

3. Set and meet quarterly SMART goals – Steadily improve the system’s accessibility, safety, punctuality, trustworthiness and customer service via quarterly benchmarking and awarding challenge prizes to riders and Metro workers whose commitment and hard work help achieves such aims.

4. Create a Chief Innovation Officer –Empower the CInO to drive innovation and improvement via transparency, rider engagement and community partnership. Require the CInO to be an official elected by the public who reports directly to the ridership and Board.

5. Make the subway a great means to get to A to Z by making it a better place to be -- Reduce system and riders’ stress by incenting staggered commute times; allowing more time to deboard/board safely, using “traffic cops” at peak times; and inviting artists in to perform. Nudge accessibility, reliability, safety and excellence.

Bob Williams -- @rrw1957

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Why Disability Matters in the District of Columbia and Why We Can’t Wait

Bob Williams, @rrw1957.

The next elected Mayor and DC Council – like all that have preceded them – will face the following dilemmas and opportunities to improving the vitality and moral compass of our great city state.

Disability matters in DC for all the wrong reasons. As a community, we continue to experience some of the highest and most endemic rates of high school drop outs, joblessness and poverty among people with disabilities, especially among those of color, in the nation. The largest gap in full time employment earnings among those with and without disabilities exist here as does the second highest rate of poverty among disabled vets in the nation.

These fundamental opportunity gaps and inequities have not appeared overnight and they will not go away on their own. The good news is that the next Mayor and Council will have tools and opportunities at their disposal with which to attack, chip out at these problems.

Fully two thirds of DC students with disabilities spend less than 2 days a week learning beside their peers without disabilities. DC had the worse rate of separate and thus, inherently unequal education in the country and it shows. Nearly 4 out of 10 our students with disabilities drop out of high school. The Mayor and Council could take aims closing these enormous gaps, including by investing in tutoring, mentoring, college readiness and career paths aimed at offering these kids a real chance at leading a better life and future.

Similarly, DC has the highest concentration of government agencies as well as federal contractors in the nation, all of which must comply with new and heighten requirements to recruit, hire, employ, and promote people with disabilities. Moreover, States and local governments like Montgomery County have adopted and applied similar standards to their employment practices as well as to businesses that contracts with them. The next Mayor can aggressively apply all of these strategies to begin to chip away at what is increasingly described as the disability poverty trap. Or, they can continue to ignore and write off these inequities as the inevitable consequence of having a disability and living in the Nation’s Capital. Which shall it be?

If elected, what are three specific actions are you committed to taking to begin to measurably reduce and reverse these enormous opportunity gaps in our city?

Houtenville, Andrew J. (2013). 2013 Annual Compendium of Disability Statistics. Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire, Institute on Disability.

Excerpts from the Compendium:

Table 11.1: Special Education—Students Ages Six to 21 Served under IDEA, Part B, as a
Percentage of Population
In the fall of 2011, there were 67,789,851 students ages 6-21 in the United States. Of these students, 5,670,680 or 8.4 percent received special education services under IDEA, Part B. Idaho and Hawaii had the smallest percentage (6.3 percent), while New Jersey and the District of Columbia had the largest percentage (11.2 percent).

Table 11.4: Special Education—Educational Environment—Students Ages Six to 21 Served under IDEA, Part B, that Spent 40 Percent or More Time Inside Regular Class
Of the 5,670,680 youth ages 6-21 who received special education services under IDEA, Part B, in the fall of 2011, 4,581,991(or 80.8 percent) spend 40 percent or more of their time in the regular classroom. The District of Columbia had the smallest percentage (65.3 percent), while North Dakota had the largest percentage (92.5 percent).

Table 11.6: Special Education—Graduation Rate among Students Ages 14 to 21 Served under IDEA, Part B
Of the 396,997 students ages 14- 21 who exited IDEA, Part B, special education services in 2010-2011 by either graduating with a diploma, receiving a certificate of completion, dropping out, dying, or aging out of service, 63.8 percent graduated with a diploma. Utah had the smallest percentage (14.8 percent), while Minnesota had the largest percentage (87.9 percent).
DC 850 445 52.4

Table 11.9: Special Education—Change in Dropout Rate among Students Ages 14 to 21 Served under IDEA, Part B
From the school year beginning in fall 2010 to the school year beginning in fall 2011, the dropout rate among students ages 14-21 served under IDEA, Part B, decreased in the U.S. by 1.1 percentage points. The dropout rate increased the most in Utah (by 57.9 percentage points) and decreased the most in the Delaware (by 17.8 percentage points).
DC 29.5 38.9 9.4

Table 4.2: Poverty - Civilians without Disabilities Ages 18-64 Years Living in the Community for the U.S.
In 2012, of the 19,909,538 individuals with disabilities ages 18 to 64 years who were living in the community, 5,816,545 individuals lived in poverty—a poverty rate of 29.2 percent. In contrast, of the 173,240,240 individuals without disabilities ages 18 to 64 years living in the community, 23,491,472 individuals lived in poverty—a poverty rate of 13.6 percent. The poverty rate for people with disabilities was highest in the District of Columbia (38.4 percent) and lowest in Alaska (16.7 percent).

Table 4.3: Poverty Gap - Civilians Ages 18-64 Years Living in the Community for the U.S.
In 2012, the poverty rate of individuals with disabilities ages 18 to 64 years living in the community was 29.2 percent, while the poverty rate of individuals without disabilities ages 16 to 64 years living in the community was 13.6 percent—a poverty gap of 15.7 percentage points. The poverty gap was smallest in Alaska (7.9 percentage points) and greatest in the District of Columbia (23.5 percentage points).

Table 2.13: Full-Time, Year-Round Gap - Civilians Ages 18-64 Years Living in the Community for the U.S.
In 2012, the full-time, year-round employment rate for individuals with disabilities ages 18 to 64 years living in the community was 19.0 percent, while the full-time, year-round employment rate for individuals without disabilities ages 18 to 64 years living in the community was 50.0 percent—a full-time, year-round employment gap of 31.1 percentage points. The full-time, year-round employment gap was greatest in the District of Columbia (36.3 percentage points) and smallest in Alaska (25.4 percentage points).

Table 5.1: Median Earnings of Civilians 16 Years and Over in the Past 12 Months for the U.S.
In 2012, for the individuals with disabilities ages 16 years and over living in the community that had earnings from work, median earnings were $20,448. In contrast, among individuals without disabilities ages 16 years and over living in the community that had earnings from work, median earnings were $30,881, a gap of $10,433. This gap is smallest (meaning the earnings of people with disabilities are closest to the earnings of people without disabilities) in Nevada ($5,688) and largest (meaning the earnings of people with disabilities are furthest from the earnings of people without disabilities) in the District of Columbia ($19,762).

Saturday, March 15, 2014

22 Tweets from ‏@MayorAllen2 on #DisabilityInDC

22 Tweets from ‏@MayorAllen2 on #DisabilityInDC The following are Tweets from Carlos Allen, a candidate for DC Mayor, in response to two questions: 1. Why were u a NoShow @ DC Mayoral Forum on Disability? 2. What would you do to > opps 4 DC resid w/ @disabilities re educ. jobs, living wage, acc/aff hous, trans/taxis ? My Qs and his responses went to @kojoshow as well. I will not vote for Allen. But, he did respond and that is something: 1. Mayor Allen ‏@MayorAllen2 • 21h @rrw1957 @disabilities @kojoshow Have not been doing! We need to provide free transportation for our disabled and seniors they deserve it! 2. Mayor Allen ‏@MayorAllen2 • 21h 3. @rrw1957 @disabilities @kojoshow The the same with the housing enforce the laws that are already on the books and that's what our leaders 4. Mayor Allen ‏@MayorAllen2 • 21h 5. @rrw1957 @disabilities @kojoshow We should work and make sure housing is affordable which normally the basis is 30% of your income. 6. Mayor Allen ‏@MayorAllen2 • 22h 7. @rrw1957 @disabilities @kojoshow We need to put more funds towards the Housing Trust fund and not just let it sit there. 8. Mayor Allen ‏@MayorAllen2 • 22h 9. @rrw1957 @disabilities @kojoshow A living Wage Income!!!! 10. Mayor Allen ‏@MayorAllen2 • 22h 11. @rrw1957 @disabilities @kojoshow Meaning we now have a person doing something with their lives and making an income. 12. Mayor Allen ‏@MayorAllen2 • 22h 13. @rrw1957 @disabilities @kojoshow The city can pay for the training for 6 months if the person can be trained we now have a tax payer! 14. Mayor Allen ‏@MayorAllen2 • 22h 15. @rrw1957 @disabilities @kojoshow Then work with business partners to incent these companies to train individuals for certain tasks! 16. Mayor Allen ‏@MayorAllen2 • 22h 17. @rrw1957 @disabilities @kojoshow We need to evaluate individuals situation separate and find out what they would like to do in life! 18. Mayor Allen ‏@MayorAllen2 • 22h 19. @rrw1957 @disabilities @kojoshow More than anything we need to enforce any type of discrimination towards individuals with disabilities! 20. Mayor Allen ‏@MayorAllen2 • Mar 13 21. @rrw1957 Just wanted to say that there was a misunderstanding with schedule ling and I apologize to the Disabled for not being there!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Your Right to Call Me A Retard Doesn’t Trump Mine to Call You A Bigot

First Published as a letter to the editor in the Washington Post on February 18, 2010
What is glaringly missing from the debate over the epithet "retard" in The Post [" 'Retard': The language of bigotry," op- ed, Feb. 15] is the voice of anyone with a disability who spent a lifetime enduring such garbage.
Since I was a child, growing up with cerebral palsy, I have put up with and, worse yet, witnessed others putting up with derision from schoolyard bullies, so-called satirists and politicians. Is such speech protected by the First Amendment? Certainly it is. Free speech, however, is a two-way street. If you are going to claim the right to utter the word, don't pretend to be foggy about its meaning.
The R-word is a slur based on the rankest forms of prejudice, fear and stereotyping, and everyone from kindergartners to those in high positions knows it. If you want to use the word, use it. But if you are an adult, don't try to shield yourself from criticism by claiming that those who challenge your words and your intent are just being "politically correct" when they call you out for being what you are -- a bigot.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Building on Success Works

Previously published on on October 25, 2010
By Guest Blogger Bob Williams, Office of Employment Support Programs, Social Security Administration

In his best seller, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell explores what enables certain people to experience extraordinary success that defies the odds and falls far outside of the norm. To Gladwell, the success of a Bill Gates or kids playing soccer does not depend so much on someone’s innate abilities, as it does on the "accumulative advantage(s)" he or she experiences in life.

For Gates, these included having access to some of the first computers in high school in the 70’s and then going to a college where he could live in a computer lab 24/7. This is known as the “10,000 hours rule.” Research shows kids born in January or March are likely to be far better at soccer than their friends born later the same year. Why? Because youngsters born in the spring get more coaching and time to play than their friends six to eight months younger.

Gladwell argues the more we understand what factors combine to create personal success, the more we can make those conditions available to others. I agree.

As a baby boomer with significant disabilities, who has a well-established career and a good income, I consider myself an outlier, having beaten more than a few statistical odds. The older I get, the more interested I become in figuring out how what I have experienced might enable young people to access a similar path to success. Here are some of the critical lessons that continue to guide me:

Setting the bar high. Some of my earliest memories of growing up in the 60’s are those of my parents telling me that I would go to college someday. I will never know what prompted them to hold out such hopes, but their belief became my talisman. I failed to make it into college right after high school. By luck and hard work, however, I was eventually accepted and enjoyed every minute.

Working hard pays off. I learned early that hard work matters. I saw my Dad, who owned a small construction company, leave for work early every day and return late. Similarly, my Mom worked long hours cleaning, cooking and taking me to therapy. And going to therapy, I learned that paid off as well. I learned through therapy how to keep my balance, put one step in front of another, to type and ride a tricycle – things that enabled me to keep up with my brothers and sisters, to surpass the low expectations of others and demonstrate to myself that I could do far more than others thought. When a child experiences small successes early, it has a huge cascading effect. Successes build on each other. Setbacks do not become permanent realities. The child learns to define him or herself by his or her successes rather than failures.

Learning from others. Many people in my life – my parents, family, teachers, professors, friends, bosses and colleagues – have offered me critical insights. Increasingly, however, I realize that other people with disabilities have taught me the most. In high school, when I seemed destined for a day activity program, friends with disabilities – some of whom had attended college after having been denied even a basic education – were insistent on making me see that I would go on to college. Largely, it was their confidence, experience and steadfast refusal to accept anything less for or from me that made me push past my initial rejections from college admissions offices.

Capitalizing on the times. Looking back, it is abundantly clear that one of the greatest advantages I have in life and my career is having grown up in the latter half of the 20th Century and living as I do now – in the Digital Age. There is simply no better time to have a significant disability and to be alive. Revolutionary changes in civil rights, technology, the workplace and national mores have occurred over the past 50 years and continue to take place with breakneck speed, leveling the playing field in ways that were scarcely imaginable a few years ago!

I am certainly aware and appreciative of the accumulative advantage I continue to enjoy. More than this, though, I am angry and perplexed that with so many opportunities and possibilities, so few Americans with disabilities have been able to reap the benefits. Building on success works. The challenge is making success a part of everyone’s life so it can work for us all.

Bob Williams was the Commissioner of the Administration on Developmental Disabilities and later headed the Office on Disability, Aging and Long Term Care Policy (in Health and Human Services) in the Clinton Administration. Bob is currently a Senior Advisor to the Acting Associate Commissioner of the Office of Employment Support Programs in the Social Security Administration.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Disability Rights and the Tenth Amendment Movement

Several weeks ago, I was mocked when I said that the Tenth Amendment movement needs to be recognized and addressed as a serious threat to the fundamental rights of Americans with disabilities. The attached blog post on why and how IDEA should be regarded as unconstitutional under the Tenth Amendment is just the most specific example of why I believe this. It is far from the only reason, however. Like it or not, the more I follow the tenthers the more I gain in my respect for their sophistication, organization and coherence. For the most part, they go out of their way to appear rational, reasoned and reasonable -- distinguishing themselves from the Tea Party without even saying so. Some of their leaders also seek to distant the movement from the States’ rights legacy of the past even though one of its central and explicit tenets is that each state is free to nullify any federal law it chooses not to follow. According to the Tenth Amendment Center, which seems to be the virtual hub of the movement, defines this concept as follows:

Nullification: When a state ‘nullifies’ a federal law, it is proclaiming that the law in
question is void and inoperative, or ‘non-effective,’ within the boundaries of that state; or, in other words, not a law as far as that State is concerned.

The center is methodically organizing state by state to enact such measures as “State sovereignty” resolutions/legislation, “health care nullification” bills, medical marijuana bills, firearm freedom statutes and a host of similar items. All of which are, I believe, is meant to create constitutional fodder to challenge, curb and roll back the authority of the federal government to regulate all types of activities across states.

Make no mistake about it, though, the aim of the movement is broader still. Simply put, its adherents argue that if the original framers did not conceive or could not conceive of it in the eighteenth century – e.g., 21st century interstate commerce, civil rights, semi automatic weapons, the concept of United States vs. state citizenship, the need for a national social compact – the federal government has no business in interfering in such matters. What is most disturbing is their ultimate goal appears to be to undermine the very idea of America: E Pluribus Unum -- Out of many, one. Instead, they would divide and untie rather than unite the nation. Such notions to cannot go unchallenged.

“Has the Federal Government Violated California’s 10th Amendment Rights by Forcing Funding Under IDEA?”
“The Tenth Amendment Movement”
Tenth Amendment Center’s State Affiliates,

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sovereign Immunity v. One Nation:

Note: I wrote the following more than 5 years ago. The book I refer to -- Narrowing the Nation -- addresses "sovereign immunity" (the 11th Amendment)not the 10th Amendment and broader notions around state sovereignty. However, it seems fair to say that both Amendments are seen by strict constructionists as essential to "narrowing the nation", including by rolling back the ADA, the reach of equal protection, etc. Given the increasing demands of the Tea Party, the Tenth Amendment movement, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul and others to allow states to nullify and otherwise pick and choose what national laws they choose to follow, I am reposting it:

Sovereign Immunity v. One Nation:
One Nation, indivisible. I’ve been thinking about this tenet of our democracy and the need to reclaim it a lot lately. Perhaps this is because I’ve spent the summer reading several books about the civil war. Or because I just began a new one called Narrowing the Nation’s Power about the current Supreme Court’s attempts to inoculate States, localities and their agents against any and practically all efforts to enforce a national set of protections in our Constitution and civil rights laws (Noonan, 2002). One thing that my summer reading is making clear to me is that supporters of “States’ rights” during the Civil War and Jim Crow era and the majority on today’s Court seem to share the following in common: The belief that each State is a sovereign that is somehow equal to, if not superior to the Nation. And, that as such it must be free to act and mete out “justice” as it sees fits without fear of having its laws, policies or practices challenged or called into disrepute by its citizens (or subjects) or the Congress.

According to the Court, each State is entitled to this type of immunity under the 11 th Amendment because private lawsuits imperil its “sovereign dignity” or credibility to govern (Noonan, 2002). Its majority argues that the founders clearly meant this to be the case. However, in his book John Noonan, a senior federal appeals judge in California appointed by Ronald Reagan, takes their logic to task. He points out that the plain language of the 11th Amendment does not limit the rights of citizens living in a particular State to bring a lawsuit against that State. Rather, it merely says that the federal courts should not arbitrate legal disputes brought by citizens against a State other than the one where they reside. In other words, the amendment is completely silent on issues of immunity, sovereign or otherwise.

Noonan also takes issue with the Court’s assertion that the Framers somehow meant this to be its “original intent” even absent such language. English common law provided immunity to the king so that he would be viewed as the maker of the law and his authority could not be challenged. The Court, therefore, believes the Framers naturally would have wanted to accord this same divine right to States. But as Noonan points out those who had fought a revolution against such unbridled power were not likely to confer the same authority upon either the States or the new national government.

Unfortunately, while like many great dissents Judge Noonan’s writings can help to set the judicial stage for reversing several edicts the Court has handed down in recent years, there is much to be done and suffered through in the meantime. In a string of 5 to 4 decisions, the high court has held that State actions must be regarded as being beyond reproach in two key ways. First, it has ruled in several cases, including those involving employment discrimination by States on the basis of age and disability, that common citizens aggrieved by a State’s action cannot be granted damages even when they prove that they suffered harm as a result. The Court has similarly held that because States enjoy this supposed constitutional right to sovereign immunity that it will take it upon itself to police Congress to ensure that it does not overstep its authority to provide citizens a private right of action to sue States and localities.

The case of Garret v. the University of Alabama, which involved disability related job discrimination at a State funded institution, is a good example of how the Court is flexing its muscles in this regard. In a decision written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist the Court ruled that in passing the Americans with Disabilities Act Congress failed to show that employment discrimination on the basis of disability was such a pervasive problem that States should be made to pay damages in such cases.

The Chief Justice said that Congress relied on anecdotes and second hand information when designing the ADA's State employment discrimination provisions and doing so failed to meet constitutional muster. Under Garrett, people with disabilities still have the right to sue States and localities for injunctive or other relief targeted to remedy specific acts of discrimination.

For the time being the Garrett decision also leaves intact both the employment and public services provisions of ADA. However, many civil rights and disability rights leaders as well as independent legal experts believe that the reasoning used in the decision will be used by the States’ rights majority on the Court to whittle away at and do fundamental damage to the ADA and other civil rights laws in other cases in the future. Moreover, the Garrett decision and others like it are certain to have a chilling effect on two groups in particular. It will severely hamper the ability of individual citizens to compel States to comply with the ADA and other federal civil rights protections as well as effectively hamstring the ability of Congress to try to find legislative remedies to widespread civil rights, economic and social injustices in the future.

Why? Because the Supreme Court now believes that it along with each of the States are in a far superior position to the American people and our Congress to decide the great rights and wrongs of the day far atop of a hill. The Court seems hell bent on making itself and, its cause celebre, the States accountable to no one and with a sovereign immunity writ large enough to impress King George III. There is much about the doctrine of sovereign immunity as propounded by the Supreme Court that will, hopefully, cause many all along the political spectrum – especially those who are centrists – alarm that the Supreme Court and the States are indeed “narrowing the power of the Nation” while greatly expanding their own spheres of influence and domination. This is the one possible silver lining in this ominous storm cloud looming large on our national horizon.

Placed in its proper perspective, however, the legalizing of the notion that States should be immune from being made to pay for violating the federal civil rights of its citizens in the form of monetary damages is but one symptom of a far more endemic and serious problem. Since colonial times up to the present, States have exercised great “discretion” in deciding to what degree, if any, the poor, children, people with disabilities, minorities, prisoners and others are to be afforded the same dignity, liberty and tools to live their lives as freely and fully as other citizens. Today, this is done every time a State allocates both how and how much of its resources as well as a great deal of federal funds are to be spent on education, Medicaid, corrections, welfare to work efforts, etc.

This is very much of a “time honored tradition” in our country and one that is likely to not only continue to rule the day well into the foreseeable future but ruin the everyday lives and futures of millions of Americans, particularly those with significant disabilities and others easily marginalized. It is also a tradition that can and must be shown to be at irreconcilable odds with national principles of fundamental fairness and equal protection under the law. Future essays will explore why this is the case, why it matters and what must be done about it.

Source: Noonan, John, Jr. Narrowing the Nation’s Power. University of California Press, 2002.