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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

People with a Disability are Real

I glance at the Wall Street Journal on a daily basis and have a love hate relationship with the newspaper. I am drawn to the sober financial analysis and appalled by the conservative editorials. Given this, I tend to avoid reading the editorials and stick to the financial reporting. Today I was reminded why I dislike the editorial content of the WSJ. I read "Palin Shows How to Transcend the Culture Wars" by William McGurn. I decided to read this editorial because of its subtitle, "A society should be judged by how it treats its weakest members". This was a big mistake as I do not think much of Mr. McGurn's opinions.

I take exception to much of what Mr. McGurn wrote in his editorial. For instance, he maintains that the national press corp has been accommodating to Obama and hostile to Mrs. Palin. McGurn also thinks that Obama has not worked very hard to move past entrenched culture war debates. In Mr. McGurn's opinion this failure on the part of Obama is unfortunate because Palin has given Obama a perfect opportunity. What is this glorious opportunity? Trig Palin apparently "has made the issue of special needs very real for the Palin family. Trig's presence on the campaign trail has also made him real to most Americans". This sort of logic is deeply disturbing to me because it ignores 40 years of legislative initiative and social progress. Between 1968 and 1990 fifty acts of congress were passed designed to protect or enhance the rights of people with a disability. These efforts culminated with the passage of the ADA and yet according to Mr. McGurn it was not until Trig Palin was born that people with "special needs" became real to the Palin family and most Americans. I can assure Mr. McGurn children with special needs are real as are adults with disabilities. We have rights and some people such as myself are not afraid to assert them. The real issue extends well beyond the mere fact disabled people exist. Simply put, the core issue is that disability rights and civil rights are one in the same. This is not a connection your average American makes.

Unfortunately, Mr. McGurn is correct in some ways that disabled people are not real. We remain an invisible minority, isolated economically, politically, and socially. The facts in this regard are grim. The unemployment rate among people with a disability has hovered at 70% for decades. Mass transportation remains difficult or impossible to navigate and the lack of accessible and affordable housing is a significant problem for all disabled people. Mr. McGurn and others should know all this but choose to ignore the real issues. For instance, Mr. McGurn wrote about a family that has a child with Down Syndrome. The birth of this child meant he and the entire family would have a "hard road" in life. What I want to know is why almost 20 years after the ADA was signed into law will this family encounter so many obstacles? Why are the civil rights of disabled people somehow different than all those that can walk?

What truly bothers me about Mr. McGurn's editorial is that he utterly ignored what disability rights advocates have written. He also fails to acknowledge that Obama has been far ahead of the McCain/Palin campaign in terms of disability rights. All this information is readily available and a few quick google searches away. I thus find Mr. McGurn's comments about special needs misleading and, like Palin's speech last week, designed to prompt an emotional response devoid of reality. When one looks at the cold hard facts a different reality emerges, one where the oppression of disabled people is not just common but rampant. This is exactly what the American people do not want to confront: complex issues that demand serious attention. Instead, Mr. McGurn and Palin trot out well-worn and antiquated lines about special needs children that pull on the hearts but not the minds of the American people.

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