Bernie Sanders on People with Disabilities

There are 61 million Americans with disabilities and 28% of them are living in poverty. Bernie voted to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. He believes that people with disabilities deserve full civil rights including equal opportunity, economic power, access to quality education, independent living, and political participation. We must end discrimination and marginalization and assist in fully integrating people with disabilities into their communities so they can lead independent and full lives and be economically self-sufficient.

Independence requires an investment in adequate, affordable, accessible housing and transportation. Anyone who wants to work should be able to do so and receive a living wage. People with disabilities often have unique health needs that have to be addressed with universal comprehensive coverage such as Medicare for All.

Ensure Access to Healthcare: Individuals with disabilities have the right to high-quality affordable healthcare and mental health services that meets their specific needs.

Independent Living and Other Services: We need to protect and expand the Social Security Disability Insurance program, fund existing programs that support independence, and enact Medicare for All to cover programs and long term services and supports (LTSS) that help keep people in their homes and communities.

Education Opportunities: Bernie believes we must provide educational experiences and opportunities that assist individuals with disabilities to become independent, productive, and contributing members of their communities.

Employment Opportunities: People with disabilities can and do work in all areas of the American workforce. We need to do a better job connecting these individuals with opportunities to do meaningful work.

Adequate Funding and Appropriations from the Federal Budget: People with disabilities and their families deserve appropriate federal funding to address the significant and growing unmet needs of children and adults with disabilities. We should ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Disabled Veterans: Bernie knows that veterans face many difficulties and has repeatedly worked on legislation to directly address these issues.

People with Disabilities

Who are people with disabilities?

According to the CDC, 26% of American adults have a disability, including 1 in 4 women and 2 in 5 people over the age of 65. Of these 61 million people with disabilities, 28% of them are living in poverty.

Can disability be temporary?

Yes. Disability can be permanent but it can also be temporary. Many workers are injured on the job, people get sick and people have accidents that affect their ability to work for three months or longer.  For many, who live paycheck to paycheck, a break in employment for any length of time can be financially devastating. It can mean losing a job, housing and health insurance coverage.


What states have the highest rate of people with disabilities?

There are more people with a disability living in the South and in Appalachia. The Northern Great Plains and Rocky Mountain West have fewer residents with a disability.  Source

What are the main issues facing people with disabilities?

Poverty, education, healthcare, and lack of inclusion in employment and the community are the main issues. Poverty is the biggest issue. 28.1% of people with disabilities live in poverty. While all states have large numbers of people with disabilities living in poverty, some states are doing better than others. Some states in the South, and in Appalachia have more people who are living with disabilities, and many of them are living in poverty. In some places the poverty rate for people with disabilities is as high as 70 percent.Source

We know it’s possible to assist and meet the needs of people with disabilities because some states are doing a better job than others when it comes to inclusion and putting services, programs and resources in place.


What does Bernie have to say about discrimination against people with disabilities?

Bernie believes in the strongest terms that we must end discrimination against people with disabilities:


Data from the CDC shows the failure of existing healthcare coverage to meet the healthcare needs of people with disabilities:

  • 1 in 3 have unmet health needs because of cost
  • 1 in 3 do not have a healthcare provider
  • 1 in 4 don’t get routine checkups
  • 28.2 % smoke compared to only 15.3% of people without disabilities
  • 16.3 % have diabetes
  • 11.5 % have heart disease

Additionally, 41.1% of people with disabilities are obese.


How will Bernie’s Medicare For All plan help people with disabilities?

Medicare for All includes three bills that will help people with disabilities buy the prescription drugs they need at around half the price of what they currently pay. Americans should pay the same price the rest of the world pays, not inflated prices, as they do now.

Bernie’s proposed Medicare for All bill is comprehensive. The bill includes home-and community-based long-term services and supports (LTSS) that would cover care for Americans with a disability at home or in community settings. Coverage will include dental, hearing and vision care. Prescription drugs, rehabilitative services, primary and preventive services, mental health and substance abuse treatment are all included in the plan.

What’s being done to stop the cuts to the Medicaid program that disabled Americans rely on?

Bernie understands that millions of disabled Americans rely on a strong Medicaid program for their immediate and long term care. 1 in 5 Medicare beneficiaries, especially those in long-term care are covered by Medicaid.

Until comprehensive universal healthcare is passed, Bernie supports expanding Medicaid coverage to more Americans. Bernie has consistently supported the expansion of Medicaid coverage and fought efforts to cut Medicaid funding.

He was instrumental in increasing Medicaid coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

He’s championed the fight to protect and strengthen the Medicaid program.


In a letter opposing Medicaid cuts in the 2015 federal budget, Bernie and 15 other senators wrote:

“These are tough times for our country. With the middle class struggling and more people living in poverty than ever before, we urge you not to propose cuts in your budget … which would make life even more difficult for some of the most vulnerable people in America.  We look forward to working with you in support of the needs of the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor – and all working Americans.”

Learn more about Bernie’s record on Medicaid.

Independent Living

“As a nation, we have a moral responsibility to ensure that all Americans have the support they need to live with dignity. We must enact a Medicare-for-all program that includes home-based and community-based care.” – Bernie Sanders, 2019

What has Bernie done to support people so they can stay in their homes and in their communities?

Bernie is a cosponsor of the Disability Integration Act in 2015 and 2019.

The Disability Integration Act aims to ensure that people who need long-term services and supports (LTSS), such as personal care attendants, can receive these services while still living at home or in the community. Currently, a person must be in an institutionalized setting to receive LTSS.  This unfairly denies people with disabilities the services they need so they can stay in the community instead of being shuffled off unnecessarily away from family, friends, and the community that is better for having them remain at home.

Many people with disabilities require assistance with activities of daily living such as showering, toileting and dressing. Long-term care coverage permits them to get basic help with these daily tasks so they can live independently in their own communities. Studies have shown that it is more cost effective to help people pay for these services rather than move them to institutionalized settings such as nursing homes where they can not participate in and contribute to society by volunteering, working, and paying taxes.

How will Bernie’s Medicare for All plan help people with Disabilities stay in their communities?

Medicare covers 9.1 million people under 65. Medicare does not adequately support people with disabilities living in the community.

Long term services and supports such as LTSS, is very limited. Medicare only funds home health services for people who are homebound, and does not cover personal care assistants, who would assist people with disabilities living in the community with a range of activities inside and outside of the home, such as bathing, dressing, meal preparation and housekeeping.  Medicare currently pays for medical equipment such as wheelchairs and canes that are used at home. For those people with disabilities who are not homebound these medical devices are currently not covered. Bernie says Medicare for All will include these home care and community based long-term care services.  His plan will also remove the 24 month waiting period for Medicare coverage for individuals with disabilities. And it would ban discrimination based on disability or illness.

What else has Bernie done to support people with disabilities?

Bernie gave a thorough response to a 2016 campaign questionnaire. His reply is comprehensive and you can check it out here.


What has Bernie done to advance education for people with disabilities?

In 2008 while fighting for special education funding, Bernie stated:

“Over 30 years ago, the federal government made a promise to school districts around the country to fund 40 percent of the cost of special education. The federal government has not kept its commitment. Special Education is an expensive proposition and because of inadequate federal funding, property taxes in Vermont and around the country are increasing while kids with special ed needs are not getting the attention they deserve. My amendment this week is part of an ongoing effort to begin the process of strong federal funding for special education.”

Bernie sponsored the 2008 budget increase amendment which called for a $10 billion increase for special education. Currently, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) helps about 6.5 million children with disabilities. Had his amendment been passed, it would have directed more funding towards IDEA and other education programs.

Bernie is continuing to call for fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,  He also supports increased educational opportunities for persons with disabilities, including and expanding vocational education opportunities.

His comprehensive plan to address the youth employment crisis would include vocational job training for people with disabilities. You can read more about it on the Youth Employment issue page.

What’s Bernie’s stance on education for children with disabilities and “No Child Left Behind”?

Bernie is proposing a complete overhaul of the education system.  He has introduced the Thurgood Marshall Education Plan for public education and wants to reinvest in public schools and teachers.  He is calling for rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, which includes our crumbling and unsafe schools. Bernie is also calling for increased wrap-around support services like mental health services and family support.

Bernie strongly opposes the No Child Left Behind Act and called for its reform in 2013.  He is calling for a more holistic method of education that gives teachers more flexibility and students more support systems. Bernie supports a system that focuses on task-based assignments to determine students’ progress and their ability to use it creatively rather than evaluating students based on their understanding of the curriculum.

Bernie said, “We want kids to be creative. We want kids to be critical thinkers. We also want schools held accountable for factors other than test scores, including how they meet the challenges of students from low-income families.”

Bernie believes that teaching should be one of the best paying jobs, not one of the worst paying jobs in the U.S. The two largest teachers unions in the country, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers, strongly oppose vouchers. Bernie also opposes using publicly funded vouchers to pay for children to attend private and religious schools.

Bernie cosponsored an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to reduce class size to 18 for children in grades 1 to 3. Bernie supported the Fix America’s Schools Today Act (FAST) of 2011, which would allocate $25 billion to renovate or repair elementary schools. He believes schools should be able to afford small class sizes and programs like art, music, and physical education.

Bernie voted yes on the Every Child Achieves Act, which is a re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This act allows states to create their own accountability systems for student performance, to strengthen low-performing schools, and to require community-based assessments to focus on areas of student need. It also ensures that federal funds are used for early childhood programs.

For more information, visit our issue page that discusses Bernie’s record on education.

What has Bernie done to help children with disabilities?

A lot. Here are just a few efforts Bernie listed in his long record of fighting for kids, including those with disabilities. You can find much more at this link to the Respectability Report.

A few of his priorities as President on behalf of children with disabilities include:

  • Fully Fund the federal government’s share of IDEA.
  • Adequately fund the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education – currently at its lowest funding levels in over 20 years – so it can increase oversight and enforcement of federal civil rights statutes like IDEA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the ADA, and more.
  • Require Congress to pass a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act that builds on the gains of HEOA and expands federal efforts to ensure that students with disabilities get the support they need to succeed in college.
  • End the tax penalty that people face when they successfully discharge their loans due to total permanent disability.


“It is unacceptable that more than 80 percent of adults with disabilities are unemployed. We need to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and vocational education programs…I strongly believe we need to promote the talent of [disability] business leaders and foster the success of a new generation of entrepreneurs to expand the economy and create millions of new jobs.”

– Bernie Sanders, 2016

28 percent of people with disabilities are living in poverty, yet only 34.4 percent of people with a disability are working. One in two people who are deaf or hard of hearing are employed but less than 1 in 4 people with a cognitive disability or a mobility disability are. Those with a disability earned a median yearly income of $21,572 in 2015, less than 70% of the $31,872 median earnings for those without a disability.


Why are so few people with disabilities working?

People with disabilities are able to work and many want to work.  It can be difficult for anyone to find meaningful employment, and having a disability makes it even harder. Despite some progress, people with disabilities are faced with discrimination and there are stigmas that they are not able to be reliable and productive employees.

It’s important to note that public policy discourages people with disabilities from working. Federal policy currently cuts off important support services, Medicaid and disability Medicare coverage, and SSDI payments to people with disabilities if they have savings or earn more than poverty wages.  Changes to federal policy are necessary to ensure that people with disabilities who need access to services and supports can work, earn, and save without jeopardizing access to programs and services they need.

Didn’t we end discriminatory employment practices with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

Unfortunately, no. The original purpose of the ADA has eroded. In a press release, Bernie stated:

“The Americans with Disabilities Act was intended to provide broad protection for the estimated 18 percent of the U.S. population that lives with some level of disability. Recent court decisions limited the number of people who are allowed to seek the law’s protections, leading to widespread non-compliance and a great deal of misunderstanding about the responsibilities of businesses, governments, and individuals.”

What are disability service and support groups saying about the ADA?

Many groups agree with Bernie that the ADA has lost its ability to adequately protect disabled Americans. The Vermont Center for Independent Living (VCIL) has stated:

“Recent court decisions have denied ADA (particularly employment-related) protections to people who manage or deal with their disability with medication, prosthesis or other assistive devices, or other ‘mitigating measures.’ This is particularly true in employment, where individuals with visible and invisible disabilities have been denied a fair court review.“



What has Bernie said about increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities?

Discrimination must end and employers must be encouraged to overcome misperceptions and myths that stymie the hiring of talented, qualified individuals with disabilities.

Bernie believes that young people with disabilities need opportunities to engage in the labor force through mentoring, internships, and apprenticeships – just as all youths do.

Federal policy changes are needed to ensure people with disabilities can earn and save without being cut off from the services they need just because they have a job.

Bernie wants to guarantee jobs that pay living wages to all persons with disabilities who want to work through a federal job guarantee program. In addition to the job guarantee, Bernie will end the sub-minimum wage for individuals with disabilities.

What has Bernie said about ending the subminimum wage with people with disabilities?

Anyone who wants to work should be able to work at a job that pays at least a minimum wage not a sub minimum wage.

In a 2016 statement, Bernie said when we raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour “that includes ending the subminimum wage for tipped workers and persons with disabilities.”

Bernie also called for the end of subminimum wages for people with disabilities in the 2016 Respectability Report.

What has Bernie done to solve these issues?

Bernie cosponsored the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), which restored protection in the ADA that were undermined by several court rulings.

Following the passage of the ADAAA in 2008, Bernie said: “There is still a long way to go to ensuring that the basic civil rights of persons with disabilities are fully protected and respected, but this is an important step in that direction.”

He fought to reverse efforts to narrow the interpretation of disabilities under the ADA that would have removed protections for people with disabilities. He also fought to strengthen vocational training, independent living grants and IDEA school funding to help people with disabilities in Vermont during a budget shortfall.

In 2014, Bernie supported the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which funded vocational training programs and helped to ensure that individuals with disabilities can fully participate in the workforce and be self-sufficient.

Bernie cosponsored to the Disability Integration Act in 2015 and 2019. These bills provided long-term care to people with disabilities so that they can get the necessary services to remain in their communities instead of being institutionalized.

The Rebuild America Act to repair America’s crumbling infrastructure would also create jobs for people with disabilities.

Appropriations and the Federal Budget

Has Bernie advocated for increased funding to programs meant to support people with disabilities?

Yes, multiple times. Bernie cosponsored the Expand TRICARE Coverage of Autism amendment, which expanded the program’s coverage to include autism spectrum disorders and appropriated an additional $45 million for the insurance coverage of autism therapy. He also co-sponsored the Assistive Technology Act of 2004, which provided grants to programs that help meet the needs of people with disabilities.

What about the people who want to cut funding for people with disabilities?

In January 2015, Bernie released a statement that benefits for the disabled and their children could face a 20 percent cut next year if the Senate were to follow House Republicans’ 2015 budget proposal. “Instead of working to strengthen Social Security for all, the House Republicans’ new rule puts America’s most vulnerable at risk,” Sanders said.

Bernie was joined by Senate Democratic leaders in sending a letter to Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urging him not to adopt the same stance as his House colleagues:

“Holding hostage the Social Security benefits of any American, particularly those of the 9 million Americans with disabilities who are at risk in the coming years, is an untenable position. It only increases the chances of yet another unnecessary manufactured crisis, akin to shutting down the government or threatening the full faith and credit of the United States. We ask that you speak out and forcibly reject the House Republican rule in order to take this reckless concept off the table and ensure Americans with disabilities that they can count on their government to act responsibly.”

Recently, in 2019, Bernie sharply criticized Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for proposing cuts to the public funding of the Special Olympics, which would affect young people with disabilities.

Disabled Veterans

Bernie introduced legislation that would improve the Defense Department’s Transition Assistance Program by requiring the Department of Labor to provide returning service members with information regarding disability-related employment and education protections.

Bernie’s Senate website states that “[e]very service member and veteran deserves timely and comprehensive health care and benefits, not bureaucratic red tape that far too many encounter today.”

Bernie knows veterans face many unacceptable difficulties such as long waits after claiming benefits, improper care, substandard dental coverage, and poor employment opportunities, and the successful legislation he worked so hard on to pass directly targets these issues.

He was a lead negotiator — along with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — in getting the the $2 billion Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act passed in 2014.

He fiercely denounced objections to the needed reforms that were based on “fiscal responsibility”:

“[I]f we spend trillions of dollars on that war, that when our men and women come home from war, some wounded in body, some wounded in spirit, I don’t want to hear people telling me it’s too expensive to take care of those wounded veterans. I don’t accept that. If you think it’s too expensive to take care of veterans, don’t send them to war.”

The Choice Act immediately increased veterans access to health care by providing veterans with “Veterans Choice Cards.” These cards allowed veterans who had to travel over 40 miles or wait more than 30 days for care to visit private care facilities.  The Choice Act also increased VA health care staffing, expanded VA facilities to accommodate more veterans, and created new VA health care centers.

Learn more about Bernie’s record with regards to issues on the Military and Veterans issue page.