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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sarah Palin Continues to Draw the Ire of Disability Rights Advocates

I have been critical of Sarah Palin as have many others familiar with disability rights. My concerns about Palin extend well beyond the issue of disability rights. For instance, I worry about the judgement of any person who suggests that creationism should be taught in the public school system as an alternative scientific theory to evolutionism. Even though I have serious reservations about her ability to separate Church and State, I am willing to accept her claim that she is a "friend" to those that have a disability. However, I do not accept Palin's statement that she is an advocate for disabled people or as she put it children with special needs. Since her selection as McCain's running mate I have read many editorials and comments about Palin. Much of what is written is mean spirited and reflects how nasty the Presidential campaign has become. Frankly, I am appalled by the recent decisions made by the Obama and McCain campaigns.

Not everyone in the disability rights community is willing to accept a wait and see attitude with regard to Palin's supposed advocacy. In fact, based on my reading the vast majority of disability rights advocates do not like Palin. Frankly I cannot blame them. Palin's track record with regard to disability is limited and her speech at the Republican convention focused on "special needs children", a condescending choice of words to all those familiar with disability rights. To me, Palin's use of the term "special needs" harkened back to the day when disabled people were sent to institutions, barred from public schools, and subjected to intense discrimination. I wonder to what degree Palin is aware of this history. Based on the Palin interviews I have seen I sincerely doubt she has a nuanced understanding of disability. This is why I think the notion she is or ever will be an advocate of disabled people is a pipe dream. I came to this conclusion after reading an editorial in the Columbus Dispatch today--here I refer to Deborah Kendrick's editorial "Being a Disability-Rights Advocate is far from Having an Afflicted Baby" published September 22. Kendrick, an advocate for people with disabilities, wrote:

Disability is my beat, and the blatant exploitation of a cute baby to support a promise that has captured the hearts and hopes of too many parents of kids with disabilities was an outrageous slap in the face of every genuine advocate.
We have had real advocates as leaders in our government and we'll have more, but simply giving birth to a baby given a diagnosis does not an advocate make. Baby Trig has a label: Down syndrome. Period. No one knows yet what his disabilities, physical or cognitive, will be. The chirpy governor hasn't a clue what it is to fight for a disabled child's education, weigh the pros and cons of surgeries, find speech therapists or navigate the cruel land mines of prejudice that are encountered on playgrounds and hockey rinks.

I do not know what parents of children with Down Syndrome experience at a visceral level. But I sure do know a good deal about social inequality and needless barriers based on my experience using a wheelchair. As Palin's son Trig matures she is going to get a real education but this does not mean she will become an advocate for disabled people. If and when Palin becomes an advocate for disabled people I expect to hear a much different speech, one that avoids terms such as "special needs" and instead focuses on the real issue--civil rights.


D Phoenix said...

Will Palin learn as Trig gets older? She will no doubt, but her conservative values will stay strong and her monied privilege will keep her from knowing a lot of what the average family goes through. Our mayor here in Vancouver BC is a quad and he is not really a great ally to people with disabilities. He is against affordable housing, is big on big business, doesn't realize how inaccessible our city still is (b/c he has a chauffeur etc.)... the list goes on. Stay alert, America!

william Peace said...

I too worry about Pailin and wonder if her views and political positions will change. The fact McCain has a gay daughter has not changed his political views or positions one bit. I would speculate that Palin will use her influence and political position to insulate herself and son Trig from every day social abuses. If Palin does this she can indeed be compared to the conservative Vancouver mayor or Reeve who utterly ignored disability rights in his obnoxious quest for a cure to SCI. But this is speculation and assumes a Republican victory. I for one shudder at the thought.

Mark Miller said...

Great post.

william Peace said...

Mark, Wow, what a great blog you have created. I am familiar with many but not all of the articles and blogs you refer to. Your posts are extremely helpful for those who want to make an informed decision about McCain and Obama respective positions. At a general level, I think the McCain/Palin campaign produce sound bites and visual images that have great appeal. Palin swayed many with her speech but if voters are willing to go beyond the rhetoric they will not be impressed. Your blog along with the writings of scholars such as Longmore and Berube detail why everyone should be wary of Palin.