Wednesday, July 15, 2015

General Convention 2015: Support for the Rights of the Disabled

Prior to the recent General Convention I commented here that there weren’t many resolutions that addressed matters of health and healthcare. By the time it was all over, though, a number had been both submitted and passed.

One general related category for which we had a number of resolutions offered was the rights of the disabled. These resolutions were interesting in that they were specifically about the Church speaking to the world. That is, while not denying that access could still be a problem in churches, there is a continuing and perhaps greater problem of access for the disabled in the public: public buildings, transportation, etc. As one advocate put it to several of us, “The fact that the church doesn’t have a ramp isn’t really an issue if you can’t get to the church in the first place.”

Three resolutions were submitted before the deadline on resolutions, and all three were passed by both Houses of Convention. The first was D034 Affirmation and Support of the American with Disabilities Act of 1990. We discovered that the General Convention had not spoken to the ADA since 1991, when Convention affirmed its recent passage. In this resolution, in addition to committing to “reaffirm and renew the Church’s commitment… to the principles of inclusion and the protection of the civil rights of all persons with disabilities…” and to “continuing unwavering support, and advocate for total compliance with the spirit and intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act by all covered entities…”,  the resolution urges dioceses and congregations to “seek education from available community D/deaf/hard of hearing and disability organizations on supporting full inclusion of disabled persons in all aspects of public life.” This action step was new with this resolution.

The second resolution passed was D073 Supporting Home and Community Based Services. The resolution packed a lot of content into a relatively short text:

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 78th General Convention call on states to fully fund all Medicaid and state general revenue-funded home and community-based services and to support programs for persons with disabilities of all ages, to provide individualized services, and to reduce all waiting lists and end unnecessary delays for such services; and be it further
Resolved, That the 78th General Convention call on states to end the segregation of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities in large congregate institutions and other facilities, both publicly and privately operated, and commit to serving all persons in the community; and be it further
Resolved, That the 78th General Convention urge dioceses and local congregations to discern ways in which they can provide practical support to individuals and families affected by a lack of adequate home and community-based services and supports.

Central to the intent was to focus on services delivered at home and in the community. While such care has been shown often to be less expensive, current standards for Medicaid and other state-funded programs are often directed toward care provided by and in institutions. There can be a sense that such programs are offered as “all or nothing:” the person who needs support can’t request only specific needed services.

The third and most comprehensive of the resolutions was D032 Disability Advocacy in Criminal Justice Work of The Episcopal Church. In addition to recognizing both the Church’s commitment to those who are disabled and to those who are in the criminal justice system, it called on the church to “recognize and acknowledge that roughly half of adult criminal defendants in the United States have a physical, mental, learning, or other disability and two-thirds of juvenile defendants have a disability qualifying them for special education services and instruction;” and to “advocate for the civil rights and proper treatment of and accommodations for people with disabilities throughout the criminal justice system….” There is recognition of those who serve in ministries in corrections, and then calls on “all in the Church who are involved with these ministries to seek training and education on mental and physical disabilities and the legal rights of people with disabilities….” Moreover, for these purposes the call is not for the Church to create new programs, but “by partnering with disability organizations and networks in our communities that provide this training….” The resolution also called for funds for an ad hoc committee over the next triennium “to discuss these disparities in the criminal justice system and to develop a blueprint for best practices, resources for training, advocacy, and future networking to provide support our Church’s work in the area of criminal justice….”

In these three resolutions this General Convention made a significant commitment to support the needs and the rights of persons with disabilities in the public sphere, and especially in public institutions and programs. There would be few congregations in the Church without some opportunity to learn about local efforts and to seek the education these resolutions call for. In a Convention that seemed focused on a few very public (albeit very important) issues, we also made these commitments to support the health and wholeness of these neighbors among us.

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