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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

ADAPT, Advocacy and Politics of Disability

ADAPT has taken it latest action to Washington DC and the offices of John McCain and HUD. ADAPT has established "DUH City"--a city of activists and tents intent on non violent civil disobedience. The disability rights movement is abuzz with stories of arrests, photos, and I am sure videos to come on YouTube. ADAPT is posting a continuous stream of information on its Twitter site: To date, ADAPT is reporting that 11 protesters were arrested at the McCain campaign headquarters in Virginia.

There has been much talk about disability since Palin was selected by McCain. Very little of what I have read goes beyond empty rhetoric. Lost in the talk about disability and Palin's decision to give birth to her son Trig are key issues that ADAPT has championed for 25 years. I have written about the Community Choice Act before, a piece of legislation McCain, and I presume, Palin are against. Palin may think of herself as an advocate of disabled children in general and those with Down Syndrome in particular, but I for one fear what will happen if McCain and Palin win the election. What McCain and Palin have not acknowledged is that disabled children grow up and become disabled adults. The grim reality is that there is a crisis among disabled adults--there is not enough affordable, accessible and integrated homes in this country. The majority of disabled adults in this country earn far less than the national median income and rely on inadequate fixed benefits. For instance the federal SSI benefit was $603 a month and the average cost of renting a studio apartment in the nation was $633.

Palin no doubt loves her son Trig but what I keep thinking about is this: What sort of life would Trig lead if his mother was not in the national spot light? What obstacles does the average parent face when raising a child with a disability? And, what will happen to Trig and other disabled people when they are adults? Those without significant financial resources will struggle to put food on the table, a roof over their heads, and pay needed medical expenses. Financial hardship in this country and disability go hand in hand. Palin considers herself a friend and advocate of children with special needs but I have yet to hear her utter one word about the Community Choice Act, health reform, employment, or the civil rights of disabled people. This is not entirely her fault--her appearances are carefully scripted events and the news media is obsessed with her personal life.

What can people do beyond complain about the social situation of disabled people in this country? For some, that would mean involvement and support of groups such as ADAPT that take direct action. For others, and here is where I think disabled people
and their allies can make a major impact, vote according to candidate's positions on disability issues. In short, cater to every politicians overwhelming desire to get re-elected. The learning curve for politicians seeking to get re-elected is steep. If they think disability is a hot button issue it will receive a great deal of attention and support.

The above leads me to an outstanding member of the disability rights community that I admire--Paul K. Longmore. At Patricia Baur's website (www, she has posted a guest commentary by Longmore. This essay, "What Kind of Advocacy Do Americans with Disabilities Really Need? An Open Letter to the Disability Rights Constituency" Longmore details the views of McCain/Palin and Obama/Biden. This is a must read for all those interested in disability related issues. Longmore is not advocating either ticket though I think most readers will conclude the Democrats track record in terms of disability is much stronger than the Republicans. Most importantly, Longmore can be trusted--he is a serious scholar and the facts he writes about are surely correct. I encourage all readers to look at Longmore's Open Letter. Below is the link:

One final point: there are about 36 million potential voters with disabilities. This number will only increase as the Baby Boomers rapidly age. Disabled people are a potentially powerful voting block and political constituency. I think it would be wise to pay attention to disability related topics if I were a politician. Progress has been made since the ADA was passed in spite of a deeply conservative Supreme Court that seems intent on gutting this legislation. If I were a politician I would begin courting disability groups today. This is something Obama is more attuned to and why I will vote for him. In doing so I feel the power of my disabled peers who are thinking along the same lines.


lilacsigil said...

What McCain and Palin have not acknowledged is that disabled children grow up and become disabled adults.

And actual support for actual disabled adults is the one thing that would make me have any respect for the 3-ring media circus surrounding Palin's "choice".

william Peace said...

I could not agree more. Support for "special children" is a great sound bite. Support for disabled adults is not a popular notion or position.