More MS news articles for November 2000

Candidates fail to address needs of disabled, activists say

Updated: Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2000 at 22:56 CST
By Mitch Mitchell
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

Ten years ago, Ester Jurecka was at the top of her game.

She drove a new Cadillac, lived in a new home she had built in Grapevine and made more than $100,000 a year from her Sprint Communications Co. sales job.

Then she learned she had multiple sclerosis.

Today, she has no job -- like 70 percent of severely disabled Americans -- and is concerned about how she can continue to live independently. She is concerned that neither Gov. George W. Bush nor Vice President Al Gore is going to help her achieve that goal.

"I used to dream the American dream, said Jurecka, 57. "But once you have this disability, there is no American dream."

Voting-age disabled Americans, who number more than 35 million, say they are being largely ignored by Bush and Gore. The candidates have campaign workers who reach out to the disabled community, and both agree that America needs more working disabled people. But instead of regularly talking about community- based care and access to technology to help disabled Americans, Bush and Gore have focused on mainstream issues such as education and Social Security.

"If that's the question -- What is George Bush or Al Gore going to do for her or people like her? -- the answer is, not much," said Michael Auberger, national organizer for ADAPT, or American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today, a Denver-based advocacy group for the disabled.

"There hasn't been a whole lot of talk about disabled issues at all," Auberger said. "Disability came up nowhere in the debates. The closest we get to it is talk about health care."

More than 54 million Americans told the U.S. Census Bureau in a 1994-95 survey that they have a disability, with about half of those listing the disability as severe. The 1994- 95 figures are the most recent available.

In 1990, the most recent year reported for Texas, nearly 10 percent of Texans said they have a disability.

Bush has pledged to spend more than $1 billion over five years to expand opportunities for the disabled.

Since the announcement of his program, which came early in his campaign, Bush has said little about disability issues, said Bob Kafka, an organizer for the Texas ADAPT chapter.

"The package is really pretty weak overall," he said.

As for Bush's record as governor, "There has been sort of a benign neglect from the Bush administration in Texas. He just doesn't seem to see it as a priority," Kafka said.

But Kafka speaks for a small part of the disabled community, said Ray Sullivan, Bush campaign spokesman. He said Bush has worked hard to improve community-based services for disabled Texans and is a strong supporter of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which his father signed into law as president 10 years ago.

Bush campaign workers say their candidate has appointed many disabled Texans to state boards and commissions. He also worked with the Texas Legislature to increase funding for community-based services by more than $1.7 billion, a 72 percent increase since taking office, Sullivan said.

Some of the money was used to implement the Olmstead decision, in which a 6-3 majority of the U.S. Supreme Court said disabled Americans have the right to live in the least restrictive environments available.

But Kafka said it is ironic that the elder Bush supported the Americans with Disabilities Act and his son has such a "wishy-washy record on disability legislation."

He said Gore has not talked much about disability issues in public forums.

But Dagoberto Vega, a Gore campaign spokesman, said the vice president takes every opportunity to speak about disability issues.

Gore proposes an additional $2.7 billion over 10 years to increase opportunities for the disabled.

Disability advocates say that the promises of both parties sound encouraging, but they doubt that either candidate has the political will to implement their proposals.

"I can't picture a change in Washington having immediate significance to people in Grapevine," said Tricia Wood, executive director of GRACE, a Grapevine nonprofit agency that provides food, clothing and essentials to those in need. ... "When I hear candidates making promises to help people in our community, I don't get really enthusiastic."

Neither does Jurecka, who said she will vote for Gore in this election and "die a Democrat."

After learning of her disease, Jurecka took progressively lower-paying jobs to alleviate stress, and sold her car and house.

Two years ago, doctors told her to stop working. So Jurecka spent her time fighting to maintain her insurance coverage and began the process of securing Social Security disability payments. She receives $1,200 a month in benefits.

That monthly check means Jurecka gets too much money for other forms of assistance such as food stamps or Medicaid.

Jurecka said she would like to help others in her situation, but she gets lost driving, especially at night, and becomes disoriented getting off elevators. Some days, it's hard for her to walk.

"Her options end up being real small," Auberger said. "She either ends up spending all the money she does have, then eventually, as soon as she impoverishes herself, she may be eligible for Medicaid. ... Because of the way we have structured long-term care in this country, she is really one of the people who will continue falling through this crack."

Mitch Mitchell, (817) 685-3807

What It Means To You

The major parties' presidential candidates have detailed positions on what they would do to help disabled Americans. According to some in the disabled community, those positions have not been well- articulated.

Gore's agenda includes:

Bush's agenda includes: