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Disabled Children and the Election: Reasons to Believe Obama

Debbie says:

It’s no surprise to readers of any media other than Fox that the Republican candidates are completely unabashed and confident liars; nonetheless, one topic on which they sound like I would agree with them is support for families with disabled children, as prominently featured in the vice-presidential acceptance speech.

Kristina Chew at Autism Vox sees it a little differently. Chew is mostly quoting from other sources, including this one:

When a young governor line-item vetoes six appropriations for community disability services or for accessibility modifications to public accommodations, that governor gives us reason to be skeptical about promises and prospective performance. When the appropriations totaled $749,000 in a state that has a huge budget surplus, … that governor gives us special reason to doubt her commitment to people with special needs.

Yes, state funding for “intensive special needs children” in Alaska increased for Fiscal Year 2010. But it is not yet clear exactly who those children are, how many of them are the intended beneficiaries of the appropriation, and precisely what role the governor had in proposing the appropriation or influencing the legislature to appropriate the funds.

As Chew makes clear, the numbers of increased Alaska funds look gigantic, but they get smaller every time you look more closely at them.

Meanwhile, disability activist Becky Blitch, writing for Salon, has similar concerns:

People with disabilities, their families, and all equality-minded Americans are being mislead about which ticket is truly progressive on disability rights issues.

[Sen. McCain's] campaign likes to tout that he was one of the cosponsors of the original Americans with Disabilities Act… but so were 62 other senators (each and every one, apparently, a maverick). In truth, Mr. McCain is pretty much silent on the issue of disability. A search of his campaign site turns up a boilerplate “we feel your pain” statement on autism lacking any specific plans. Otherwise, the word “disability” only pops up in relation to veterans.

According to a NY Times article yesterday*, [the governor]‘s self-proclaimed advocacy has been a bigger surprise to no one than the Alaskan disability community. But let me be very clear: every voice in this fight is needed, and I applaud [her] for using her office to help families who need it.

With that said, [she] is not nominated for President. Regardless of her passion, any policy proposals she has would rightly come in second to John McCain’s…. We vote for the person at the top of the ticket for a reason: unless something terrible happens, they are the one actually in power. So despite [her] positioning as some kind of champion for civil rights, we must never forget that she’s stumping for a guy who apparently (given the evidence) couldn’t care less.

In contrast, Senator Obama has some real credentials in this area, well researched back in April by Michael Berube. For these purposes, you can skip past the long opening section on Hillary Clinton’s disability policies, which Berube was impressed by … until he read Obama’s. Here are just a few of Obama’s highly specific policies and agendas:

It promises $10 billion in early intervention programs for children with special needs, via Early Head Start, Early Learning Challenge Grants, and IDEA Part C.

It proposes “a comprehensive study of students with disabilities and transition to work and higher education” – something that (a) has never been done and (b) is of great interest to teenagers with disabilities and their loved ones. In recent years I’ve had many fine students at Penn State – twenty-year-olds with dyslexia, or Asperger’s Syndrome, or arthritis, or mild cerebral palsy – request “reasonable accommodation” from me on final exams. And I’ve been amazed and appalled at how few many of my colleagues (here or elsewhere) seem to believe that they’re under no obligation to provide reasonable accommodation for everyone. (Guess what? If you teach in the United States, you have that obligation! It’s a real federal law!) So I’m thinking that “a comprehensive study of students with disabilities and transition to work and higher education” might not be a time-wasting exercise for disabliity-policy wonks. I’m thinking that it might actually make a world of difference for students with disabilities – in high school, in transition, and in college.

It has a subsection devoted to flexible work plans, ranging from an expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act to protection against “caregiver discrimination.” “Workers with family obligations often are discriminated against in the workplace,” it notes. “This is a growing problem, as evidenced by the skyrocketing number of discrimination suits being filed: there has been a 400 percent increase in the number of family responsibility discrimination lawsuits in the last decade.” Again, though, this is of no interest to you unless you know someone with a disability, or know someone who might someday have a disability.

Once again, it comes down to whether you want to believe the emotional appeal with comparatively little backup or the thought-out proposals with deep emotional underpinnings. Right now, the nation seems to be going for surface emotional appeal–which is the main reason you won’t see the Republican VP’s name in this post. She’s getting way too much press and “social media” attention as it is. In the spirit of Body Impolitic’s belief that her personal life is her business, all references to her family have also been deleted.

It comes back to Michael Berube: who to vote for on this topic is of no interest to you unless you have a disability, know someone with a disability, or know someone who might someday have a disability. If that someone doesn’t happy to be from a prominent wealthy white affluent family, it’s even more true.

* The Times article is log-in protected. The link is in Blitch’s article.

Thanks to Janet for the pointers to Blitch and Berube.

3 Responses to “Disabled Children and the Election: Reasons to Believe Obama”

  1. autismvox Says:

    Thank you for the further analysis and the link. I’ve also written about the article by Michael Bérubé, which really gets to the heart of the matter about “accessibility” and thinking about issues from a disability perspective.

    Kristina Chew
    autismvox.com

  2. autismvox Says:

    Sorry, i forgot to leave a link:

    http://www.autismvox.com/obama-and-clinton-autism-and-disability/

  3. Laurie Says:

    I first heard Kristina at the kids and disability panel at BlogHer. Autismvox is a superb blog for knowledge about autism.

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