Posts Tagged ‘Obama Administration’

AAUW hosted a Twitter campaign last week to gather recommendations for what President Obama and Congress should do on their first days of the new term. We asked: What do you want to see on #DayOne? Dozens of Twitter users answered, and their priorities make for an ambitious to-do list. We’ll tweet the full list at Congress and Obama.

AAUW will also send the re-elected Obama administration a list of AAUW priorities for the first 100 days of the new term. These include issuing an executive order outlawing federal contractors from retaliating against employees who ask about compensation, requiring federal agencies to conduct Title IX compliance reviews at all institutions receiving federal funds, and reversing the decision to restrict the purchase of Plan B emergency contraception to women 18 and over. We outlined many of these priorities in our September 2012 report on the Obama administration.

Some of the topics included in Twitter users’ requests were pay equity, infrastructure spending, high-wage jobs, access to Plan B, Title IX compliance, filibuster reform, climate change, repealing the Hyde amendment, immigration reform, reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, unemployment benefits, solar panels on the White House, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. See a few examples of the tweets we received below. Even if you didn’t participate in our Twitter campaign, don’t let your voice be silent now that you’ve voted. Use your voice to hold elected officials accountable.

@HBsmalls: On #dayone, I want the difference of having three more #women in the #Senate to be palpable. bit.ly/YZL7fC

@patrickryne: on #dayone, i want my parents to feel confident about me & my future happiness #marriageequality #noh8 bit.ly/YZL7fC

@ashually: On #dayone I want to see Congress address the VAWA and stop putting women’s lives in danger!

@LisaMaatz: On #DayOne I want Pres. Obama to step up his nomination of women to cabinet and agency positions and to the bench. #AAUW

@NorthernTwit8: #DayOne: Appoint a bipartisan commission to fix our broken election system — no more standing for hours in line to vote in OH and FL.

@MDHillRaiser: @LisaMaatz Equal pay for #Women. Reverse #ClimateChange #DayOne

This post was written by AAUW Political Media Coordinator Elizabeth Owens.

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In a complex 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court last week upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, finding that its requirement that nearly all Americans purchase or carry insurance is permissible under Congress’ taxing authority. This decision allows the Affordable Care Act to stand.

AAUW believes that everyone is entitled to health care that is high-quality, affordable, and easily accessible. Although not perfect by any stretch, the Affordable Care Act includes many reforms that will improve the collective health of the American people. As the law is implemented, it will bring real benefits to American women.

A major benefit will be the coverage of necessary preventive care services. The two leading causes of death for women in America by far are heart disease and cancer — afflictions that can often be prevented if women have access to services such as screenings, immunizations, and educational materials. Beginning August 1, 2012, insurance companies must cover — without co-pays or cost-sharing — preventive health care services such as screenings for cancer, domestic abuse, and gestational diabetes as well as all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive services. After controversy over the inclusion of contraceptives, the Obama administration announced an accommodation for religiously affiliated universities and employers that allows insurers instead of employers and schools to pay for this coverage.

Another advance is the end of “gender-rating” practices. Gender rating is the process by which insurance companies charge men and women different premiums for individually purchased health care plans. A 2008 report found that at age 25, women were charged anywhere from 6 percent to 45 percent more than men for individual market plans; at age 45, women’s monthly premiums ranged from 4 percent to 48 percent higher than men’s monthly premiums. Under the Affordable Care Act, gender rating will be banned for plans offered in both the individual and small-group markets for organizations employing 100 people or fewer. Beginning in 2014, women in these plans will be charged the same rates as men.

Americans cannot continue to refuel our economy as productive members of the workforce if they are sick, saddled with health care costs, or — in the case of women — blatantly discriminated against by their insurance providers. The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act means that these gains won’t be rolled back, but it’s up to all of us to make our voices heard and keep pushing for a health care system that’s equitable to women.


AAUW is working to make sure that the voices of all women are heard regarding health care and much more. The AAUW Action Fund’s It’s My Vote: I Will Be Heard campaign is making an unprecedented investment in turning out women voters. AAUW is educating, engaging, and registering millennial (ages 18–30) women voters across the country. Together, we’ll ensure that women understand what’s at stake in 2012 and know how to use their voices and their votes to influence the election and protect women’s health care gains!

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Daniel Schwen [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Last summer, National Student Advisory Council member Odunola “Ola” Ojewumi was an intern at the White House, where she hosted a briefing on the importance of youth mentorship in low-income communities. Ojewumi, who is herself passionate about disability rights, recently spoke with White House Director of Priority Placement Rebecca Cokley about her work as an advocate for disabled youth.

As a woman living with a disability, what experiences sparked your interest in advancing the lives of disabled youth?

When I was in junior high school, a younger friend of mine at another school was thrown into a dumpster by some bullies at lunchtime and could not get out. No one in the school reported him missing from class, and it wasn’t until later that evening when he didn’t come home from Boy Scouts that his parents went to look for him. The next day, he carried an 18-inch baseball bat to school to defend himself and was expelled for harboring a weapon. When his parents reached out to a number of advocates — including my mom — to mediate with the school, the principal responded that “boys will be boys” and that my friend “should just get used” to the teasing.

The teachers and administrators at the junior high school I went to would never have tolerated that type of behavior, and it blew my mind that there were people in the world working with children who thought it was OK to treat young people with disabilities horribly.

I was lucky — until I got to high school and my guidance counselor told me, “Kids like you don’t go here.” I was enrolled in honors classes, was already taking steps toward becoming a nationally recognized [disability] advocate, and had been planning on ending up on the U.S. Supreme Court someday, and here was this man telling me that he didn’t think people like me should attend his school. Unlike most youth with disabilities, both of my parents had the same disability as me, and both were college-educated advocates in their own right. My mother quickly stepped in and appealed to the principal, who was embarrassed and apologetic for the behavior of his staff member. But I never got over the idea that an adult, a leader in the school, just by looking at me decided that I wasn’t eligible.

You are a mother, a wife, and a key member of the Obama administration. How do you juggle all of these roles?

When I had first joined the administration and wasn’t yet pregnant, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice was hosting a conference call, and someone asked her about balancing work and family. And she responded that if you want a family, you have to make it a priority — you can’t wait until the time is right, because there’s never a time that’s right. In a lot of ways, this really spoke to me and in some ways gave me permission to start a family. I also have a completely amazing husband who is truly my best friend and champion. He makes me a better person in every respect, and from the moment I found out I was pregnant, he has worked to make his life more flexible. It also helps that I have a boss who has children of her own.

What are your responsibilities and goals as White House director of priority placement?

The president has asked us to create an administration that reflects the diversity of America. It matters who sits at the table. My role is reaching beyond the Beltway to communities that often don’t get a seat at the table and bringing those voices into the administration. The best part of my job is reaching out to a candidate who has submitted their information on whitehouse.gov and telling them that I’m calling from the White House and would like to talk to them about a potential role in the administration. Most of the time people think that I’m prank calling. But to reach out to someone who truly believes in the work that we’re doing and wants to improve the lives of all Americans and say “hey, we want your voice in this discussion” — it’s amazing.

As a youth development specialist for the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth, you created new avenues for employment. What does equal employment opportunity mean for the thousands of young people who are living with disabilities?

Equal employment means — to me — going beyond a functional shift and resulting in a philosophical shift in the expectations of young people with disabilities so that in elementary school when students present what they want to be when they grow up, no one will say that a kid with a disability cannot be an astrophysicist, a lawyer, a chef, or whatever they may want to be. Equal employment opportunities mean that youth with disabilities do not have to limit themselves to working in the eight F’s of disability employment: food, filth, filing, flowers, fetching, folding, friendly, or festive. That’s not to diminish those important jobs, and it doesn’t mean that if that’s what you want to do that you shouldn’t pursue those paths. But you should not find your goals limited to just those things.

July 2010 was the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. How has the ADA impacted your life?

A few years before the ADA passed, my mom was on the tenure track at the college she worked at. She ended up being denied tenure, and one of the reasons she was denied was that she was only able to use the bottom six inches of the chalkboard. My mom had worked her whole life to improve the lives of students with disabilities, and here she was being directly discriminated against because of her own disability. Post-ADA, she received tenure.

How is the Obama administration working to increase the presence of people with disabilities in the American workforce?

The president believes that the government must serve as an example. In 2010, he signed Executive Order 13548, which was designed to make the federal government serve as a model employer for people with disabilities. Agencies are developing training programs for their [human resources] staff, and agencies are to develop model recruitment and hiring strategies. I think the president also understands how important it is for the public to see people with different types of disabilities in his administration.

What do you believe is the largest obstacle facing youth with disabilities?

False expectations — from our families, from society, and from ourselves.

What words of wisdom or advice can you give our readers, some of whom are among the thousands of disabled young women and girls the White House is advocating for?

My desire for you is that you be successful in whatever you want to do in your life. You don’t need to be officially working as an advocate at a disability organization or a center for independent living. We need people with disabilities succeeding everywhere in the public and private sectors. If you want to be a chef, then go for it, but I better see you being awarded Michelin stars. That’s how you lead — by serving as an example and being successful in something you love to do and not conforming to anyone’s expectations of what they think you should do. I’d also encourage you to look for mentors outside of your community. In joining the Obama administration, two of the best mentors I’ve had are leaders in the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] community. They’ve taught me so much about being an effective political appointee, working with diverse communities, and how to maneuver the challenges of leadership. I don’t doubt I am more effective in my job because of both of them.

As an Obama administration official, which of your accomplishments has been most meaningful?

I feel like we accomplish something extraordinary every time we appoint someone to a position in the administration who brings a new voice to the table or a new set of personal experiences that contribute to the carrying out of the president’s vision for America.

When did you decide to become involved in public policy?

I grew up with a passion for politics. I remember being a little kid and getting to stay up late on election night watching the returns come in. I came to Washington in 2004 in large part because I felt that I hadn’t done my part in the 2000 election and wanted to make a change.

When a family friend, Paul Miller, was appointed as the deputy director of the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs and White House liaison to the disability community in the Clinton administration, it really struck home that someone like me could be asked to serve the president. And when I’d hear Miller talk about it, he’d sound so matter of fact about it when speaking to crowds but among friends was so excited about the chance to serve, the chance to show his colleagues on a daily basis that people with disabilities could and should fully contribute alongside their non-disabled peers.

This post was written by National Student Advisory Council member Ola Ojewumi.

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I am an African American. I am a woman. I am disabled.

I stand as a triple minority, and each of these identities has afforded me a variety of unique life experiences. As I enter a room in my wheelchair, I am faced with the inevitable stares of pity and discernment. The world seems to view my wheelchair as a hindrance, but I see my disability as a blessing that has provided me a platform for social change.

When I was younger, I was a leader in transforming the legal treatment of people living with disabilities. I observed that disabled students were dropping out of high school at an alarming rate. The underlying reason behind this startling pattern was the pervasive notion that students with disabilities are incapable of being educated.

Though many of you may not notice us, young people with disabilities are on the cusp of a social revolution for equality. I am inspired by those who are working to effectively eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities. In order to ensure that the rights of disabled people are recognized, we must tackle the issue of ableism — the institutionalized oppression of persons with disabilities. Ableism creates a system of privilege for those without physical or mental limitations.

University of Maryland women’s studies doctoral candidate Angel Miles is leading a second disability rights movement to fight ableism and other injustices. Miles says, “My liberation is dependent on the eradication of injustice associated with all of these identities, not just one of them.”

The daily challenges that Miles and I face range from being unable to utilize basic methods of public transportation, reaching a public event to find steps we cannot climb, or working to receive accommodations in employment and educational environments.

In spite of these challenges, we continue to press on in our fight to ensure that inequality is eradicated. When I interned at the White House, I grew to admire Director of Priority Placement Rebecca Cokley. During the 2008 presidential campaign, she worked on President Barack Obama’s committee on disability policy.

The Obama administration has given Cokley the opportunity to advance equal employment for disabled Americans. According to Cokley, “Equal employment means to me going beyond a functional shift and resulting in a philosophical shift in the expectations of young people with disabilities so that in elementary school, when students present what they want to be when they grow up, no one will say that a kid with a disability cannot be an astrophysicist, a lawyer, a chef, or whatever they may want to be.”

Cokley is as a personal inspiration because she demonstrates that despite the subordinate place society has given me, I can rise above these stereotypical expectations. When the world expects people with disabilities to fail, we triumph instead. I will embody this triumphant spirit by igniting change within my community so that the next generation has the strength to overcome all barriers.

I am disabled. I am an advocate. I am the new revolution.

This post was written by National Student Advisory Council member Ola Ojewumi.

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Yesterday, my colleague Tracy Sherman and I attended a major stakeholders’ meeting at the Department of Education. The topic was the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). More than 200 people packed the auditorium to get an early glimpse at the Obama administration’s thoughts on what the goals of reauthorization should be.

You may know ESEA by its more familiar recent title — the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which was signed into law in 2002 by President George W. Bush. At that time, AAUW joined in the bipartisan enthusiasm for the new law, which aimed to provide a remedy for ailing schools and low student performance. Over the past seven years, NCLB has undeniably had some successes, including increased teacher and school accountability, higher standards of achievement for student progress, supplemental service funds for low-income students, and public school choice for students who attend underperforming schools. Unfortunately, its potential has not been realized. A major reason for that has been funding; NCLB has been underfunded to the tune of more than $70 billion since its inception, which places an enormously heavy burden on states and local school districts to comply with all its mandates. AAUW’s position paper on NCLB provides more information, as well as our suggestions for improving the bill.

At the stakeholders’ meeting, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan outlined the administration’s goals on reauthorization. In Duncan’s words, “the biggest problem with NCLB is that it doesn’t encourage high learning standards.” In his view, too many kids are still being shuffled through the system, even when they’re not ready for the next level. This, in turn, increases the dropout rate and negatively affects future earning potential in the job market. He cited a few alarming statistics: More than 1 in 4 Americans drop out of high school, and only 40 percent of young people earn either a two- or four-year college degree.

Duncan’s main point is that education is the civil rights issue of the 21st century, and ESEA is a major determinant of whether we succeed in this endeavor. AAUW agrees wholeheartedly. Since last November, we have been in touch with the transition team — and, since January, with the administration — on ways the law can be improved. For instance, AAUW believes that science should be as tested as vigorously as we currently test in reading and math, especially considering the shortage of women and girls in the STEM fields. We ought to require high schools to collect data on athletics participation — in the same way we require this information of our colleges and universities — to ensure that women receive equal athletic opportunities under Title IX. And the new law should allow greater flexibility in meeting educational goals, to reduce our heavy reliance on high-stakes testing.

Throughout the fall, the Department of Education will be holding a series of stakeholder meetings on more specific topics that will drive ESEA reauthorization. AAUW will be at each one of them, ready to offer our thoughts and ideas on how to succeed at crafting a truly transformative education law that benefits all students.

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