The Arc and AFAM asked candidates for Governor and Attorney General questions on their positions if elected.
Below are the responses from Attorney General candidate Maura Healey.
1. Community First was a bold initiative initiated by Governor Patrick with the goal to: “Empower and support people with disabilities and elders to live with dignity and independence in the community by expanding, strengthening, and integrating systems of community-based long-term supports that are person-centered, high in quality and provide optimal choice.
Can you give some examples how this concept can be encouraged and supported by you in the areas of housing and employment for individuals with developmental disabilities?
As Attorney General, I will actively support the objectives of the Community First plan, including by doing the following:
- I will collaborate with disability organizations and EOHHS to ensure that transition interventions are successful and individuals in institutional settings who wish to move home or into community settings are able to do so and are properly supported in those transitions.
- I will promote access to affordable supportive housing for individuals with disabilities, including by aggressively combating housing discrimination when it occurs and working to expand available housing resources.
- I will work to prevent local communities from blocking group homes and other supportive housing arrangements.
- I will support employment opportunities and job training programs for those with disabilities.
- I will provide resources for employers about meeting the needs of employees with mental and behavioral health challenges.
- I will vigorously pursue enforcement actions against employers who fail to provide necessary accommodations or otherwise discriminate against individuals with disabilities.
- I will work with the Department of Labor to end the abuse of people with developmental disabilities in sheltered workshops.
2. There are health care disparities for individuals with developmental disabilities such as autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other conditions. Some examples of disparities could include individuals who do not have access to services through insurance carriers or the dropping of services once reaching age 22. Some may even be denied access to medically need treatments or adequate long term supports. The lack of knowledge about disabilities and how to communicate on the part of health care providers can be a barrier too.
What are some practical solutions you could offer in this situation so that families and individuals can feel that you will be their advocate to help reduce health care disparities? And what words of advice can you offer to suggest that you can improve the situation?
Every resident of our state deserves affordable, high-quality health care. That includes ensuring parity for mental health services, which must be just as available as services for physical injuries and sickness. As Attorney General, I will collaborate with state agencies to ensure that high-quality health care and in-home support services are provided in timely and effective ways to all residents of the Commonwealth. I will also focus attention on the issue of mental health parity, so that individuals with developmental disabilities receive appropriate benefits, insurance coverage and access to care.
The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office has been a leading advocate for increasing access to quality, affordable health care for all residents. As Attorney General, I will have the unique ability to convene stakeholders to advance public policy and implement legislative and regulatory reforms that directly benefit all consumers, including those with developmental disabilities.
3. Many individuals with developmental disabilities find themselves on a waiting list for services. The situation is even more challenging for families whose sons/daughters are turning 22.
As Attorney General, can you offer a few practical and legislative suggestions so that families feel that you will be their advocate and act in their best interest?
I am deeply committed to expanding access to opportunities for people with developmental disabilities, including by working to eliminate waiting lists. According to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, disability discrimination is the most frequently reported form of housing discrimination in Massachusetts. And people with disabilities are employed at less than half the rate of non-disabled workers in Massachusetts. As Attorney General, I will advocate for more community-based independent living situations, support programs for families, and employment and training opportunities.
In addition to advocacy and collaboration with disability rights organizations, I will make the Attorney General’s Office a model by prioritizing issues affecting the disability community, providing trainings about working with people with disabilities, ensuring that all necessary accommodations are provided, and recruiting workers with disabilities to fill roles throughout the Office. I will also advise and provide training to other state agencies, state and community colleges, and cities and towns to ensure that they understand and are complying with their legal obligations and meeting the needs of the disability community.
Finally, I plan to establish a Child & Youth Protection Division, which can work to assist young adults with disabilities who are “aging out” of services.
4. What kind of personal experience have you had with individuals and/or families whose member might have a developmental disability?
As Chief of the Civil Rights Division in the Attorney General’s Office, I fought hard to ensure that Massachusetts residents with disabilities were able to access education, employment, housing, transportation, public programs, and places of public accommodation. I achieved landmark agreements with Apple, Monster.com, and three national movie theater chains to make technology and entertainment accessible. I worked within state government to strengthen compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. And I took action against landlords, employers, and storeowners who failed to meet their responsibilities under the law. I also took part in extensive work to address school bullying, including helping to support passage of the landmark 2010 anti-bullying law, training police and law enforcement on cyber-bullying, and responding to hundreds of concerned parents whose children were affected by bullying.
5. How do you view the recent explosion in autism diagnosis? And also what do you think about the recent Omnibus legislation? – funding is needed to implement the bill. (for example, it allows wider MassHealth coverage for children up to 21 years, the permanent establishment of the Autism Commission, and authorizes DDS (Dept. of Developmental Services) eligibility for adults with developmental disabilities with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Prader-Willi syndrome and Smith-Magenis syndrome).
The CDC estimates that 1 in 88 children have an autism spectrum disorder. Whether the recent rise in autism diagnosis is due to an increase in the prevalence of autism or simply reflects better screening and diagnostic procedures, or some combination of the two, I believe the focus should be on improving supports for children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder in this state.
I strongly support the Omnibus legislation, particularly its provisions to reestablish the Autism Commission, to study the needs for housing and employment among the autism community, to improve access to health insurance coverage and services, to provide public school teachers with autism certifications, and to create tax-free savings plans for people with disabilities.