Disability Rights Milestone to be Celebrated by Human Relations Commission

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

Human Relations Commissioner Pat Cannon at the March 4, 2020, meeting. Cannon was present at the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act 30 years ago.

People with disabilities represent one of fourteen classes of people protected by East Lansing’s civil rights ordinance, and the City’s Human Relations Commission is working on recognition of that group.

The HRC reconvened on July 1 after a three-month hiatus and took action on this issue, planning to hold a virtual educational event and to advocate for Michiganders with Down Syndrome.

At the July 1 meeting, Commissioner Pat Cannon reminded those present that July 26 will be the 30th anniversary of President George H. W. Bush signing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The other commissioners were delighted to learn from Cannon that he was present on the White House lawn when the bill was signed into law. Cannon said that he remembered vividly President Bush saying, while he signed the law, “May the shameful walls of exclusion come tumbling down.”

Cannon said that Bush went on to say that at the heart of the ADA is full integration of people with disabilities into all aspects our society. Cannon commented that significant progress has been made, but “we aren’t there yet in accomplishing all that was intended by the ADA.”

The commission decided to host an online webinar on the ADA at the end of July to mark this anniversary. The City will publicize this event, at which Cannon and others will speak.

Human Relations commissioners also more generally expressed their interest in reengaging with the community despite the pandemic preventing in-person meetings. Recognizing civil rights awareness and advocacy months and days is one way they want to do this.

The commissioners also discussed how to best advocate for those with Down Syndrome who may find they are inadequately protected from discrimination under the law in Michigan.

HRC Chairperson Talyce Murray placed this issue on the agenda because someone had called her to see if the HRC could advocate for increasing legal protection for people with Down Syndrome, who she said often face discrimination in receiving organ transplants under the argument that someone without Down Syndrome has a higher quality of life and would be more likely to benefit from the organ.

There are also concerns that during the COVID-19 pandemic people with Down Syndrome could be denied ventilators or organ transplants that might be necessary for for survival in severe cases of COVID-19.

Most commissioners seemed unaware of this policy issue. But only 13 states (including Michigan neighbors Ohio and Indiana) have laws that bar discrimination in decisions about organ transplants for people with physical and intellectual disabilities, according to the National Down Syndrome Society.

The Commission agreed to have Murray draft letters to East Lansing’s state senator and representative to advocate for changing this policy, specifically highlighting the challenges people with Down Syndrome now face during the pandemic.

The letter will be considered at the HRC’s next meeting, on August 5.

ELi will be bringing additional reporting from the July 1 HRC meeting.

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