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Source: United States House of Representatives – Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Jim Langevin (D-RI-02) today wrote a letter urging President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to hire and appoint people with disabilities across all agencies and departments and select appointees who will prioritize the rights of people with disabilities from Day One of the incoming administration. In their letter, Duckworth and Langevin noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted the disability community—which approximately 61 million Americans belong to. Millions of Americans with pre-existing medical conditions are at higher risk of severe complications from COVID-19, and people with intellectual and development disabilities are three times more likely to die from the disease compared to others. Further, many employees and students with disabilities have lost access to reasonable accommodations due to precautions taken because of the ongoing pandemic.

“It is therefore imperative that you expeditiously fill political appointments across the federal government with disability policy experts to address these challenges, including appointees with a diversity of lived experiences,” Duckworth and Langevin wrote. “To that end, we urge you and your administration to hire people with disabilities at all levels of the executive branch—from the Cabinet down—and across all departments and agencies.”

“We also urge the swift appointment of highly qualified candidates in key positions, including at the National Council on Disability (NCD), Access Board, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Administration for Community Living, HHS Office of Civil Rights, Division of Civil Rights at the Department of Justice, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services and Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education,” Duckworth and Langevin continued. “Additionally, we hope you will fulfill your campaign promise of appointing a Director of Disability Policy within the Domestic Policy Council on Day 1 and encourage you to appoint the chair of the NCD at the same time. Finally, it is crucial that the Biden-Harris administration involve people with disabilities at all stages of policy development.”

Since she was first elected to Congress, Duckworth has been a fierce advocate for disability rights. She led efforts to protect the ADA last Congress, gathering enough support from her Senate colleagues to block a House bill that would have gutted enforcement of the landmark civil rights legislation and rewarded businesses that have failed to make their facilities accessible to people with disabilities. Duckworth passed legislation to require airlines to disclose the number of lost bags and broken wheelchairs to ensure travelers are treated with dignity. Duckworth has also been a vocal opponent of recent GOP attacks on the disability community in the GOP COVID-19 relief proposals and has fought for increased funding for home and community-based services for seniors and people with disabilities.

Langevin, co-founder of the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus and the first quadriplegic to serve in the House of Representatives, has been a fierce champion of disability rights since his election to Congress. Langevin has promoted disability rights across all sectors, including disaster planning and transportation. He is committed to furthering policy that expands the hiring of people with disabilities in the workforce and focuses on upholding the rights of all Americans to achieve social and economic independence.

A full copy of the letter is available online here and below.

Dear President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris:

As Congressional leaders in disability policy, we commend you on your stated commitment to hiring a diverse workforce that reflects the American people. Our country is currently in the midst of a public health, racial justice, and economic crisis, and it will require all of us working together to recover. As you work to fill key positions in the executive branch, we urge you to hire and appoint people with disabilities throughout all agencies and departments and select appointees who will prioritize the rights of Americans with disabilities from Day 1 of your administration.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 61 million Americans have a disability. Physical, mental, intellectual and developmental disabilities impact people of all ages, races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations and geographic locations, and anyone can become disabled at any time. Major federal laws ensuring the rights of people with disabilities—the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Air Carrier Access Act and more—have been in place for decades. However, people with disabilities continue to face discrimination and a lack of equal access in almost every aspect of daily life, including in employment, education, healthcare, housing, transportation and goods and services.

On top of existing and longstanding barriers to equal access, the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to ravage communities across the Nation, has disproportionately impacted people with disabilities. In general, the millions of Americans with pre-existing medical conditions are at higher risk of severe complications from COVID-19, and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are three times more likely to die from COVID-19 compared to others diagnosed with the disease. Further, people with disabilities are more likely than the general public to live in congregate settings, rely on public transportation and depend on caregivers who come into their homes, all of which increase the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Moreover, many students and employees with disabilities have lost access to reasonable accommodations at school and in the workplace.

It is therefore imperative that you expeditiously fill political appointments across the federal government with disability policy experts to address these challenges, including appointees with a diversity of lived experiences. To that end, we urge you and your administration to hire people with disabilities at all levels of the executive branch—from the Cabinet down—and across all departments and agencies. We also urge the swift appointment of highly qualified candidates in key positions, including at the National Council on Disability (NCD), Access Board, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Administration for Community Living, HHS Office of Civil Rights, Division of Civil Rights at the Department of Justice, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services and Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education. Additionally, we hope you will fulfill your campaign promise of appointing a Director of Disability Policy within the Domestic Policy Council on Day 1 and encourage you to appoint the chair of the NCD at the same time. Finally, it is crucial that the Biden-Harris administration involve people with disabilities at all stages of policy development.

Thank you for your commitment to hiring a diverse workforce and ensuring the rights of people with disabilities are at the forefront of all decision-making and executive actions throughout your administration. We look forward to supporting your efforts and working with you along the way.

                                                              Sincerely,

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