Abbott should support Texans with disabilities

Mary Dolan

This is the time of year when many high school seniors in Texas have received their college acceptance letters, and most of them are probably excited to be going off to school next fall. Many students’ anxieties overlap. They worry about being away from home and getting into the classes they want. However, some students have very different concerns. They want to know that they will be able to get around campus easily and that their disabilities will be accommodated adequately. These students, and others in Texas, should be able to feel that they have the resources they need.

Some are troubled, however, by what they perceive to be a lack of state support for disabled Texans. According to the Statesman, Gov. Greg Abbott is the first U.S. governor in almost three decades to use a wheelchair. But many disability advocates are troubled by how Abbott has addressed disability issues in the past.

Many are frustrated by the fact that Abbott supports “sovereign immunity,” a legal doctrine that a few states still use in attempts to avoid lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In his support of the doctrine, Abbott has shared his wish to avoid placing court costs from these lawsuits on taxpayers. While Abbott has promised to have a large impact on disability issues, he has also shared a desire for lawmakers to prioritize tax cuts and border security, leading many to assume that disability issues will not soon be addressed. 

Potential issues that disability advocates want to resolve include the aforementioned “sovereign immunity” doctrine, as they wish for Texas to stop fighting ADA lawsuits. They also support efforts to shut down Texas centers for the intellectually-disabled. They want Abbott to throw his support behind them. According to the Statesman, Dennis Borel, executive director of the Coalition for Texans with Disabilities, said, “[Abbott] talks about the economic environment, job creation. He talks about universities getting to top tiers. But very little about health care. That tells me there is ground to be made.” 

Abbott himself has stated that he thinks the fact of having a disabled governor is beneficial to disabled Texans. According to the Statesman, Abbott says that “having the chief executive of the state be a person with a disability sends a message to employers across the state that they can hire people with disabilities.”

Hopefully, reforms will come soon. United Cerebral Palsy, a group that conducts state rankings of disability services, ranked Texas second-to-last after judging the Texas Medicaid programs that are designed to help those with disabilities. While this is discouraging, many support disability reforms in Texas and other states. Rhode Island congressman Jim Langevin—who is a quadriplegic—expressed a desire to help others with disabilities. Lex Frieden, a quadriplegic who helped create the Americans with Disabilities Act, was also quoted in the Statesman, saying, “I don’t think we should depend on Governor Abbott simply because he uses a wheelchair….this should not be an area that any leader ignores.” 

Frieden is certainly correct. Thousands of people in Texas live with many different types of disabilities that impact their daily lives. Many of them suffer from inadequate healthcare treatment and unemployment. Lawmakers should strive to help a segment of the population that has been underserviced in the past, and allow for reforms that help those with disabilities overcome obstacles.

Going back to the students with disabilities, it seems cheesy and outdated to suggest that the college experience should be a four-year party free from worry and responsibility. However, students at UT and across the state should feel that the resources and support they receive will allow them to have the same enjoyable college experience as others, and not have additional stress placed on them. College offers its students many opportunities, and everyone, regardless of ability, should have an equal chance to experience them.

Dolan is a journalism freshman from Abilene. Follow her on Twitter @mimimdolan.