Justice Ginsburg, Congressman Lewis: A Call to Action For The Work Ahead


September 22, 2020 | by Amber Smock

Justice Ginsburg, Congressman Lewis: A Call to Action For The Work Ahead

The passing of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg this past Friday was not only a loss of a towering figure in gender advocacy, but also a reminder to bear down on our work towards meaningful freedom for all. Together with the passing of civil rights hero Congressman John Lewis earlier this year, it becomes only even more clear that the progress we have made in civil rights over the last century is both remarkable and fragile. Justice Ginsburg and Congressman Lewis knew that social change comes about through the work of many people. Today’s email is about looking at the work we have in front of us-right now.

Notably in disability rights, Justice Ginsburg was famous for penning the Supreme Court’s 1999 decision on Olmstead v. L.C. In that case, the Court held that that “unjustified segregation of persons with disabilities constitutes discrimination in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Furthermore, the Court held that publicly-funded agencies must provide community-based services to persons with disabilities when the services are appropriate, reasonably accessible, and when the person with a disability does not oppose community-based service. (See this link for source.) The 1999 Olmstead decision was part of a decades long effort to end institutionalization of people with disabilities that continues today.

But what else is in front of us? There is so much work to do. Let’s take a look.

Fight for access to voting: Today is National Voter Registration Day (you can check out whether you are registered to vote at this link). People with disabilities experience a range of barriers to voting, as noted in this article from the American Bar Association. The American Association of People with Disabilities offers a number of helpful resources for voters with disabilities at this link. Voting is a fundamental right, hard won by legions of advocates including Congressman Lewis; your vote matters! Be sure you have a plan to make sure your vote is counted in November.

Racial disparities in access to healthcare: Here in Chicago, the City of Chicago put out a new five year plan to address problems in racial disparities in access to quality healthcare. Healthy Chicago 2025 looks at what it truly means to get to the root of racism in healthcare, and points out that the number one contributor to the racial “death gap” is chronic disease, which of course can be a disability. In other words, access to good healthcare is a massive issue for disabled people of color in Chicago.

Improving visitor policies for people in nursing homes: The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has taken steps towards addressing the virtual shutdown of visitor access to people in nursing facilities. You can see the guidance here. The guidance includes outdoor visitation, indoor visitation, visitor testing, and compassionate visits. At this point, many nursing facility residents have not been able to leave their buildings, and sometimes, their rooms, for over six months now. Share this guidance with state officials.

Ending the subminimum wage for workers with disabilities: The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has issued a new report condemning the payment of sub minimum wage to workers with disabilities. Across the nation, self advocates and other disability advocates are urging a phase-out of the sub minimum wage, urging for-profit and non-profit employers to change their models integrated, competitive employment with at least minimum wage. Check out this release from the Center for Public Representation, which gives more background on the report.

Calling out government sterilizations of immigrant women: Forced sterilization has long been a way of oppressing disabled, Black, and indigenous women in the United States . See this link for a summary of the eugenics movement and the effort to “control” people considered “undesirable.” A famous case involving disabled women was Buck v. Bell. Recently, a whistleblower named Dawn Wooten, a Black nurse, alleged that immigrant women detained in an ICE detention center were being sterilized without their consent (see this link). The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) is among the many organizations condemning this latest example of forced sterilization. Forced sterilization was among the many issues dear to Justice Ginsburg’s heart.

The examples of both Justice Ginsburg and Congressman Lewis should call us all to action on the above issues, and many, many more. The struggle for real freedom for all of us continues. Make no mistake, your advocacy every day counts!