Disabled people in Texas are asking the state legislature for new laws and funds that they believe will improve their lives. Issues range from improving caregiver allowances to reducing the use of restraints for students with disabilities in the classroom. And like many others on the Capitol, the disability advocate has her eye on the state’s $33 billion budget surplus.
In this session, the group will work together to advance both old and new priorities.of the Texas Standard Sherry Brisbin The issue of attendant wages has been around for some time, but has become more urgent as wages for other workers have risen. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Texas Standard: Earlier we talked about attendant care in Texas. People with disabilities say the low wages that the state pays for auxiliary workers has created a serious labor shortage. Tell us a little more about who depends on caregivers and what supporters want Congress to do to address that shortage.
Sherry Brisbin: Attendants take care of personal care at home, such as bathing, changing clothes, and transferring from a wheelchair. Also, an attendant’s base salary is $8.11 an hour, which proponents say is less than half that of today’s fast food workers. With so many attendants quitting and those relying on this care are having a hard time finding someone to replace them, especially someone skilled and willing to work for such low wages. The alternative to care can often be a nursing home that no one wants. So disability groups are calling for an attendant’s hourly rate to rise above his $15 just to stay competitive.
Clearly, many people across the state would like to share the extra budget from this session. How much would it cost the state to raise attendant wages to the $15 an hour benchmark you were talking about?
300,000 Texans rely on chaperone care paid for through several state programs. Also, according to one estimate, it would have cost him $2.6 billion to raise his hourly rate to $15, and auto-adjusting wages over time could cost him even more.
We understand that even accessing programs that provide attendant care and other services can be difficult in and of itself, right?
yes. Texas has a years-long waiting list for a Medicaid Waiver Program that funds the kinds of services many people with disabilities rely on. And backers are asking for more funding to reduce that backlog.
Many parents are concerned about the use of restraints for students with disabilities in the classroom. In fact, it appears that several bills have already been introduced that would roll back teachers’ ability to restrain children in schools. what do you know about it?
When students with disabilities experience behavior problems in the classroom, they may be physically restrained by staff. Advocates and parents of children with disabilities, who say their children are being harmed by these restrictions, held a press conference at the Capitol yesterday to draw attention to the issue. They say children were tied up, locked in dark rooms, and kicked and beaten by school officials. It states that it is exempt from the results.
So not only are parents and guardians demanding increased access to the information already available, but they also want to notify parents when cameras are installed in classrooms so that incidents involving their children can occur. We’ve made it possible for you to check the video if it happens. Parents say they often don’t know what’s going on in their classrooms, even with cameras in place. Houston Republican Lacey Hull introduced a bill she called “No Cuffed Kids” that would ban the physical restraints of students under the age of 10. Hull receives support from disability rights organizations. There is also a related bill in the Senate.
And bipartisan support?
Yes very much. Hull is a Republican, but there were a few Democrats on stage. And the originator of the bill in the Senate is also a Democrat.
Tell us a little bit about the other issues that disabled people’s organizations are bringing to the table in this session.
Reform of the state guardianship system is another topic I have heard. According to advocates, it is often difficult for a person placed under guardianship to change their status in court.
Another topic on people’s minds is voting. Some of the last session’s changes to voting laws impacted how voters with disabilities receive assistance in voting. In that case, the court intervened. But supporters say they want to ensure that additional changes to the in-person or mail-in voting laws this time around do not adversely affect voters with disabilities.
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