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Disability Rights

Tom has always fought alongside Maryland’s disability community to expand access to jobs, justice, and respect.

22% of Marylanders are living with disabilities, including nearly 1 million adults.

When Tom served at the Justice Department, he enforced the Olmstead Decision, which opened up opportunities for Americans with disabilities to live in community-based housing settings. Later on when he served as both Maryland and U.S. Labor Secretary, he worked with employers to make sure jobs were accessible.

Executive Leadership

The Perez Administration will embody the principle of “Nothing about us without us.” In order to help amplify the voices of our disability communities, Tom will leverage the Secretary of the Department of Disabilities to hold the governor’s office and the state agencies accountable to his disability rights agenda and goals. It is crucial that individuals with disabilities across Maryland are intimately included in the legislative decision making process. This Secretary will be deeply integrated into not only the governor’s office, but in the decision making processes of other agencies to ensure individuals with disabilities always have a voice in the room.

As Governor, Tom will work to make sure our disability community is an integral part of our definition of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. He will lead by example by recruiting and hiring individuals with disabilities to work directly alongside him in Annapolis. He will also direct every agency to develop strategies to increase people with disabilities in their workforce and ensure individuals with disabilities have equal opportunity for employment in state government.

Part of making state government accessible to all Marylanders means ensuring that our processes, websites, and paperwork are easily understood. As Governor, Tom will ensure that all of our state’s websites are available in plain language so that individuals with intellectual disabilities may fully engage with our government and our services.

The Maryland Commission on Civil Rights has done great work to investigate and prosecute civil rights violations and discrimination in our state. We must ensure that these same standards are held for individuals with disabilities and as Governor, Tom will ensure the Commission on Civil Rights investigates, prosecutes, and prevents any discrimination against Marylanders with disabilities. He will also work directly with the Maryland Department of Disabilities to broaden their reach both within state government and across the communities of our state to ensure the important work that they have already done continues to improve the lives of all Marylanders with disabilities.

Education

Every child in Maryland deserves a world class education. Children with disabilities and English Language Learners have the lowest rates of school readiness when entering kindergarten as well as the largest achievement gap compared to their peers. This world class education starts with an inclusive, accessible, high quality early childhood education. Tom supports the plan presented in the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future to expand public pre-K to children with disabilities regardless of income to ensure that these children are prepared to get the most out of the classroom. He also fully supports funding the Blueprint to expand funding, services, and support for students with disabilities from birth to 21. Part of this means ensuring every student has an educational experience that is full of meaningful days and results in a meaningful outcome. A Perez Administration will support the use of the new endorsements for the Maryland Certificate of Program Completion to ensure every student leaves our school system with a pathway to employment.

Tom will work to make sure that our classrooms are fully integrated and that all students receive a culturally-competent education. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and with the influx in federal dollars, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to update our classrooms with the assistive learning technology necessary to empower students with disabilities to fully engage with educational material that challenges them and helps them grow. As Governor, Tom will work to provide a new generation of children with not only exposure to, but opportunities to build deeper relationships with people living with disabilities. Part of this integration must include an end to inappropriate discipline and seclusion practices which are disproportionately used against students of color and students with disabilities. With a Perez Administration, we will finally see a Governor who holds the Maryland Department of Education to their promise to end the illegal and discriminatory use of restraint and seclusion in our schools.

Employment

In the United States, the poverty rate of working-age people with disabilities was 19.1%.That is simply unacceptable. Maryland has already led the way by becoming an employment-first state, ensuring our residents with disabilities have meaningful days by prioritizing employment over day programs. In order to further this effort, Tom will direct the workforce development agencies across the state to develop career pathways programs for individuals with all kinds of disabilities: developmental, physical, emotional, and intellectual. Part of these pathways will include increasing the use of the underutilized Maryland Disability Employment Tax Credit to incentivize employers to hire, train, and promote workers with disabilities.

Maryland has also paved the way for disability rights by being the second state in the nation to phase out Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which enabled employers to obtain certificates that allowed them to pay subminimum wage to people with disabilities. Although this phase out was completed in October 2020, more work must be done to ensure equal treatment, equal opportunity, and equal pay for all workers in Maryland. Maryland needs sustained executive leadership to continue to spearhead this transition and ensure that Marylanders with disabilities are able to participate in the post-COVID economy with fair wages and expanded opportunities.

Ensuring that Marylanders with disabilities have access to fair wages and stable employment is only the first step in true equality. Another important aspect is providing career paths with opportunities for advancement. All too often, individuals with disabilities are underestimated, underappreciated, and find themselves in jobs that don’t fully leverage their skills and talents. As Governor, Tom will work with the Maryland Department of Labor and Department of Disabilities to ensure that employment positions for individuals with disabilities have opportunities for advancements in pay, responsibilities, and rank. Another crucial element of ensuring every Marylander has the opportunity to have meaningful days and contribute to our community at their greatest capacity is ensuring that earning income does not result in loss of necessary benefits for individuals with disabilities. Implementing a coordinated benefits system is essential to ensure that individuals can maintain their health coverage and benefits while also pursuing employment.

Housing

Far too often, individuals with disabilities are forced to live apart from their friends, family, and community due to a lack of accessible housing in the area. As your Governor, Tom will work to  ensure that all Marylanders, regardless of disability, can live in accessible, affordable, safe housing in a range of neighborhoods across our state. Tom will expand on the efforts of organizations already spearheading this work, including the Maryland Inclusive Housing Corporation, by creating integrated communities in which individuals with disabilities can live, work, and receive permanent supportive housing right alongside Marylanders without disabilities.

Tom will also support stable, accessible, and affordable housing for individuals with disabilities by investing in our state’s home- and community-based services system. Currently, individuals in need of long-term care are experiencing long waitlists and severe caregiver shortages. By increasing care-giver wages, investing in workforce development of caregivers, and improving systems to connect caregivers with people who need long-term care, we can ensure that individuals with disabilities can stay in their homes with greater dignity, lower costs, and improved quality of life. As Governor, Tom will expand Medicaid waivers to ensure that everyone who needs home- and community-based services has access to the support they need to live independently.

Transportation

All too often, individuals with disabilities face barriers to reaching their full potential due to transportation challenges. Having access to affordable and reliable transportation is crucial for all Marylanders to be able to study, work,  receive medical care, and fully participate in their communities. Many Marylanders with disabilities rely on our state’s paratransit system for their transportation needs. In 2019, paratransit services provided more than 1 million rides to Marylanders with disabilities. Unfortunately, this service is plagued by long wait times, unreliable service, and punitive policies. As Governor, Tom will create accountability measures for our paratransit system to ensure that riders receive accurate estimates of when they can expect a ride to ensure that they can get where they need to go in a safe, efficient, and reliable manner and are no longer left out in the cold.

Many Marylanders with disabilities also rely on public transportation, including buses and trains. All Marylanders, both with and without disabilities, should be able to trust our public transportation system to run on time. As Governor, Tom will invest in transportation infrastructure to ensure that our public transportation systems across the state run on their published schedule. By recruiting more transit workers, increasing bus frequency, and building transparency into our transportation system, Tom will ensure that lack of transportation is no longer a barrier to any Marylander reaching their full potential.

Supporting Families

As a country and as a state we have a moral imperative to ensure that individuals with disabilities have the freedom to move safely, live independently, and earn fair wages. This can only be done by supporting individuals with disabilities in all aspects of life, from education and employment, to voting rights and transportation, and ensuring that their voices are integral in our state’s decision making process. As Governor, Tom will work to support both individuals with disabilities and the families that work to support them everyday. Part of supporting these family members must mean supporting legislation to provide workers with access to 12 weeks off with partial pay to care for a child or other family member with a disability. This time is crucial to allow family members to balance doctors appointments, daycare options, and medical emergencies with the demands of a job. Families in all shapes and sizes form the backbone of our economy and our state, and we have to make sure families who work to support individuals with disabilities are not left behind.

By empowering Marylanders with disabilities to mobilize, move, and live freely, we will unlock unprecedented potential not only for these individuals, but for families, communities, and the future of our state.