Presidential Candidates Offer Different Positions on Issues Related to Special Needs Community

As with almost every other issue in this year's presidential campaign, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain differ when it comes to their plans for helping people with special needs. The two candidates also contrast sharply in the depth of their specific policy proposals. While Sen. Obama's campaign Web site offers a detailed nine-page "Plan to Empower Americans With Disabilities," Sen. McCain's Web site doesn't address disabilities directly except for a two-paragraph discussion of his support for greater funding for autism research and treatment. Given the vast difference in information available from the two campaigns, we have attempted to give the best possible summary of each candidate's plans for people with special needs and their families.

Obama's Plan

Sen. Obama's campaign outlines a four-part plan for helping people with disabilities. The first part of the plan focuses on providing people with disabilities greater access to educational opportunities. As part of this plan, Obama supports fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and creating a study of ways to improve transition to work programs. The second part of Obama's plan addresses discrimination against people with disabilities, and includes, among other proposals, support of legislation to overturn recent court cases limiting the scope of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and increased funding for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The Obama plan's third part seeks to increase the employment rate for people with disabilities. Obama sets the goal of 100,000 federal employees with disabilities, and calls for the creation of educational and incentive programs for employers who hire people with disabilities and a national Commission on People with Disabilities, Employment, and Social Security. The fourth and final part of the Obama plan supports independent community living for people with disabilities. Obama proposes enforcement of court decisions granting greater access to community living, and also supports an increase in funding for the Social Security Administration to process applications for benefits in a timely manner.

McCain's Plan

Sen. McCain's campaign materials highlight his support and co-sponsorship of the Combating Autism Act that funds autism research, education and outreach. He also calls for increased federal research on the causes of autism, as well as autism detection and treatment. McCain's campaign highlights his plan to provide disabled veterans with the same health coverage as members of Congress and access to federal disability and retirement benefits at the same time (currently disabled veterans must give up their disability benefits in order to receive their pensions).

McCain co-sponsored the original Americans With Disabilities Act and, according to his remarks at July's National Forum on Disability Issues in Columbus, Ohio, he also supports amendments to the act designed to make it easier for people with disabilities to access community care. At that same forum, McCain discussed how spending on programs for people with disabilities would have to be cut or streamlined unless the government could provide adequate funds to properly pay for the services.

People With Special Needs Feel Left Out of Political Discussion

Even though both candidates have addressed the issues facing people with special needs during the campaign, a recent survey finds that 91% of people with a disability feel that they receive less attention from the candidates than other minorities. The same survey also points out that 44% of the people with special needs surveyed think that healthcare is the most important issue they face.

For Sen. Obama's plan to help people with disabilities, click here.

For a transcript of Sen. McCain's discussion at the National Forum on Disability Issues, click here. The portion of McCain's Web site highlighting autism issues can be found here.

For an article detailing the recent survey of people with special needs, click here.

As many voters know, Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin recently delivered a child with Down syndrome. For a recent article in the New York Times titled "Parents of Special-Needs Children Divided Over Palin's Promise to Help," click here. Article Last Modified: 09/02/2008