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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

More on Obama

I have never been driven to become active in politics. This week I have been reminded why I have consistently avoided getting politically involved. To be blunt, the more I have learned about Barack Obama the less impressed I have become. If he, the acknowledged best candidate for people with disabilities, is the fiercest advocate for disabled people we are in deep trouble. Change, if it is to take place, had better happen quickly or it will not happen at all. This came to me after a reading an article by Jim Dickson, Vice President for Government Affairs of the American Association of People with Disabilities. According to Dickson, primary elections are more important than the general election. In part, this is because the candidates who remain have identified their supporters and decided which issues to base their platforms on. This makes sense to me and based on my email exchange with Seth Harris at the Obama campaign they have decided they are doing the best they can to lure disabled voters. Their best may or may not include access at campaign events and interpreters for the deaf. Their best may include access information on their website but I would not hold my breathe waiting for that to happen. Change, if it is going to take place, will not be coming any time soon.

This is all profoundly disappointing and not only is part of me angry but I feel misled. Earlier this month I read an open letter written by former Clinton officials who endorsed Obama. Seth Harris, Paul Steven Miller, Sue Swenson, and Robert Williams, all major political figures, wrote that Obama was the "disability communities best choice for change" and urged people to "join us in voting and caucusing for Barack Obama". They maintained that there is a need for dramatic change and that Obama represented the best chance for us to change the world, one where it was possible "to build a society in which every person can feel that they belong". This may or may not be true. But one thing I am sure of--it is hard to caucus for a candidate if there is no way to find out if events designed to support a candidate are accessible. It is hard to caucus for a candidate if no interpreters are present.

Based on what I have read on line, I sense a growing dissatisfaction among disabled people with Obama. For instance, I read an interesting post by Ben Vess. Apparently Ness, a deaf man, went to an Obama rally in Virginia Beach and left decidedly unimpressed. He asked people staffing the event if an interpreter would be present and no one knew the answer and was told to simply wait and see if someone showed up. While an interpreter was present, he expected him/her to be on stage and off to one side, clearly visible to the deaf audience. Instead the interpreter was behind the stage, out of sight of many and could not hear Obama because she was behind the speakers. This led Vess to wonder why an interpreter was present (here is the link:

Obama has not as yet lost my vote but I am certainly moving in that direction. Running a campaign is complex, costly, and time consuming. I have no doubt including information about a host of access issues is a daunting task. But the more I read the more I get the impression the Obama campaign is trying but ready to concede defeat. The desire may be there to include information about access but that does not help Vess see an interpreter placed behind a stage nor does it help me when I need to know if an event is wheelchair accessible.

Seth Harris wrote to me that he thinks "we're well ahead of the rest of society but nowhere near finished". Part of the problem for Obama is that they are dealing with people who have limited experience with accessibility issues. This observation is sadly not a surprise and an indictment of American society that passed the ADA almost two decades ago--a law that has been gutted by the Supreme Court and ignored and violated whenever possible. I wonder if with Obama we are going to get change or just politics as usual.


Terri said...

I have linked to the your story about the campaign's approach to accessibility. I think that your point about politicians figuring out who their constituents are in the primary process--and acting from that position from then on is very interesting. I had never thought about it, but it makes sense.

william Peace said...

I agree the point about the primary and the importance of identifying issues and constituants is interesting and important. However, I should have made it clear this point was made by Jim Dickson and he should get credit for the idea.