Some disabled people have priorities for Obama

January 18, 2009 (CHICAGO) During his campaign, Obama identified a number of significant issues that he would address during his administration.

Where should he start? Some Americans with disabilities have a list priorities for Obama's first year.

Even though the economy and employment are high on everyone's list, people with disabilities have their own recommendations and suggestions about how those goals can be accomplished.

Gary Arnold, Beto Barrera and Rene David Luna are staff members of Chicago's Access Living, one the of largest centers for independent living in the country.

"One of the most important things will be to get broad disability representation in the government," said Arnold.

"For more than 10 years, we've been trying to pass national legislation for community service for people with disabilities," Barrera said.

"Immigration reform, I think, is very important for everyone, but for people with disabilities as well," Luna said.

All three staff members work with a wide range of people with disabilities on various issues.

"What I'd like to see is an appointment of several people to the transition team who will oversee the appointments in other areas like in the Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, and those appointments would make sure that disability is well represented in those areas," said Arnold.

"It's time to pass the Community Choice Act. It's time to redirect millions of dollars, currently $240,000,000, that are going into the program that segregates people with disabilities based on diagnosis, to create community choices," Barrera said.

"Many immigrants come here to work. They have a disability as a result of getting hurt on the job, and some of them don't have health insurance. They don't have access to public benefits. They don't have legal status, and that's creating a big problem for everyone in the community," said Luna.

Employment remains the number one concern and challenge among the disabled population, according to Jim Kesteloot, outgoing executive director of the Chicago Lighthouse for people who are blind and visually impaired.

"If you have a major recession going on. It's even more important because it's going make it that much harder for a person with a disability to get a job. They're usually the last being considered, and when people are being let go, they're often the first to go," Kesteloot said.

He recommends improving job skills and education programs for people with disabilities, especially those with visually impairments.

"I think one of the things that would be important is to make sure that there's good funding for university programs that are training people in special education and training certified vision teachers and certified rehabilitation counselors," said Kesteloot.

During the first 100 days of the new president's term, Arnold says the United Dtates needs to re-established its role as a leader in the global community.

"I'd like to see president-elect Obama pledge support for the United Nation Convention on the rights of people with disabilities, to sign and then work with the Congress to ratify [it]," Arnold said.

There is a lot of work ahead for Obama's administration.

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