Gubernatorial candidates attend forum on disabilities

Disability Policy Consortium Executive Director John Winske and Perkins CEO and President Dave Power greeting Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley.

Disability Policy Consortium Executive Director John Winske (center) and Perkins CEO & President Dave Power (right) greeted Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley at Thursday’s Gubernatorial Forum. Photo Credit: Dave Gordon

June 26, 2014

Seven candidates for Massachusetts governor spent time at Perkins on June 26 discussing a range of issues facing the disability community, from employment to health care. The event was hosted by Perkins and the Disability Policy Consortium and sponsored by a range of other disability organizations.

Perkins' new President and CEO Dave Power welcomed the seven candidates to campus, noting the many political events that have taken place at Perkins throughout its 185-year history. He was joined at the podium by John Winske, executive director of the Disability Policy Consortium.

"There is so much work that remains to be done," Winske said to over 100 audience members. "Today, savor in the victories that we have, listen closely and think about who you want to guide us into the future as our leader of the Commonwealth."

Well-known television journalist Gary Gillis moderated the forum, which allowed each candidate to deliver a 10-minute address before responding to questions submitted by the audience. Many questions focused on the high rate of unemployment among people with disabilities, said by some to be as high as 70 percent.

Independent candidate Jeff McCormick has made job creation the focus of his campaign and said he would work to expand job opportunities and training programs for the disability community. All citizens are capable of contributing to society in different ways, he said.

Charlie Baker, a Republican who ran for governor in 2010, suggested on-the-job training programs as a way to allow potential employees and companies to test their compatibility. These types of programs could help members of the disability community secure jobs by proving their capability "beyond any reasonable doubt," he said.

Several candidates told stories of personal connections to the disability community, as well as work they had done in the past to help expand opportunities and limit discrimination. Attorney General Martha Coakley, a Democrat, described a settlement reached with Apple in 2008 that ensured equal access to iTunes University for people with visual impairments.   

"The joy on the faces of the students, particularly when they had access to [iTunes University], was something to behold," said Coakley, who came to Perkins to publicize the settlement. "It's encouraging to us to see what we are able to do by promoting those policies and enforcement."

As state treasurer, Democrat Steve Grossman described a round-table discussion he hosted where members of the disability community shared thoughts on employment, small business growth and economic development. He encouraged audience members to come to him with issues and solutions both during his campaign and beyond.

"I look forward to your advice. I look forward to your counsel," he said. "When I'm governor-elect many of you will be sitting at the table with me thinking… how do we deal with the challenges that face us?"

On the issue of health care, Democratic candidate Don Berwick described his experience as President Barack Obama's appointed administrator of Medicare and Medicaid. Meeting with members of the advocacy group ADAPT helped shape his perception of the role state and federal services should play in the lives of the disabled, he said.

"During my tenure we worked hard on all sorts of transition opportunities for people from dependent to independent settings and building up resources at the community level that would allow people to live full and independent lives," he said. 

For Republican candidate Mark Fisher, health care priorities include making it easier for medical bills to be submitted for reimbursement by consumers. Currently, many legitimate bills go unpaid because of tiny technicalities, he said, something he would address as governor. The promise elicited applause from the audience. 

Candidate Evan Falchuk is running for governor as a member of the United Independent Party, which he founded after becoming frustrated with the current two-party system. 

"I want to see leaders who listen to people," he said. "I'm running based on some very simple ideas: that everybody is equal, that everybody's civil rights must be protected and that the government must spend our money wisely."

The deadline to register to vote in the Massachusetts gubernatorial election is Tuesday, August 20. The State primary election will be held on September 9, and the gubernatorial election will take place on November 4.

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