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Monday, November 3, 2008

New York Times and Palin as Potential White House Friend

I look forward to having a fire in my wood burning stove tonight. The first section of the New York Times I will burn to get my fire going will contain an article by Julie Bosman entitled "In Palin, Families of Disabled Children See a Potential White House Friend" (11/3/08). For those unfamiliar with disability issues Bosman's article is misleading. If I did not know better, it would be easy to conclude that every disabled person in America, especially parents of disabled children, support Palin. Bosman wrote that Palin "continues to attract enthusiastic crowds wherever she travels, and invariably among her supporters are those drawn by her advocacy for children with special needs". Bosman also notes that since Palin was named by McCain to be his running mate she has "made Trig, and children like him, the emotional center of her campaign".

I agree Palin has indeed made her son Trig and the issue of "special needs children" the emotional focal point of her campaign. Palin has said many things that strike a chord with disabled people and parents of children with "special needs". As many disabled people know, the biggest obstacles they encounter are social. Thus it is heartening to hear Palin acknowledge the stigma and social isolation that is placed on top of existing physical and cognitive deficits. Sadly, this is as far as Palin has been willing to go, acknowledge bigotry against special needs children exists. Her supposed "policy speech" about disability broke no new ground. Her hastily constructed position on disability pales in comparison to what Obama outlined long ago. Palin's advocacy for special needs children is a myth--it simply is devoid of any basis reality. Palin has not been nor is an advocate for disabled people. What Palin has is plenty of emotion. Sarah Palin hugs children with special needs and her son Trig is often seen being held by his older siblings. We also know that Trig went trick-or-treating with the Palin entourage and was dressed as a baby elephant. All these images are supposed to let us know Palin understands the struggles special needs children encounter.

When I see the imagery the Palin campaign generates two things happen: first, I get angry that people unfamiliar with disability fall for such obvious emotional ploys. Second, I wonder why journalists, professionals who are paid to report the news, rarely if ever refer to the disability rights movement. Disabled people I know all openly mock Palin. There are plenty of blogs, editorials, and protests such as those organized by ADAPT that are ignored by major news outlets--it is as though disabled adults simply do not exist. We disabled adults are not nearly as cute as the little kids Palin is shown hugging. Visuals of adults that use wheelchairs asserting their civil rights are not what others want to see. This is the reality that Palin has conspicuously ignored--those cute disabled kids she likes to be photographed hugging eventually become disabled adults. The reality for disabled adults, especially those with a cognitive deficit, is that support services are grossly inadequate. The fact is support services from day care to job training for people with cognitive deficits is woefully under funded. The lack of funding today has reached draconian levels. The people that suffer the most in my estimation are the very children Palin is seen hugging. Palin is opposed to the Community Choice Act. Palin recently spoke out against Amendment 51 in Colorado where 12,000 disabled people are on waiting lists for supportive services.

I do not get Palin's appeal. The parents of special needs children Palin loves to hug know more than I do about the exclusion of those with Down Syndrome and a host of other cognitive deficits. Why do such parents embrace Palin then? I suspect they come from the traditional base of the Republican Party and will vote for Palin because she is opposed to abortion and a devout Christian. Having a child with Down Syndrome is simply icing on the cake as it is assumed Palin has an inherent understanding of what they experience. This emotional response ignores the social reality of what it is like to be disabled in American society. It also shows exactly how desperate parents of special needs children are and places organizations such as the National Down Syndrome Congress in an awkward position. Politicians that publicly embrace the needs of special needs children are few and far between making it very difficult for them to critique Palin. What worries me the most is what will happen if McCain and Pain win the election. Palin will be portrayed as the caring person in the White House, the disability expert who has a personal connection with special needs children. This highly emotional and visible position will deflect attention from the hard reality of budget cuts for a host of services that could and should empower disabled people. Sadly, this strategy has worked in the campaign and I see no reason to doubt it will work for a McCain administration I hope I will never see.


susan said...

Thank you for your post. I am going to "vote for Trig" by voting for Obama.

william Peace said...

Bornatreese, I love the twist in phrasing. I wish I had thought of it.

Terri said...

Sarah Palin makes me want to scream.

I think many parents of kids with disabilities want a 'friend' to assure them that everything will be fine--they want the stigma to go away and more than anything they don't want to have to fight--ever. They are looking for a superhero to rescue them and their babies. No matter if the superhero can't name a periodical she reads, does not understand the political stances and doctrines of her own party and reduces the minority that their child belongs to with fluff and hugs when what they need are individual recognition, civil rights and substantive help.... As long as she is wearing the expensive superhero wardrobe, they are in.

Breaks my heart.

william Peace said...

Terri, sadly super heroes do not exist. Parents of children who have a disability that are unwilling or unable to fight for their kids are sending a very bad message--segregation and inferior social and educational choice are acceptable. While many laws empower disabled children and adults, they are too often ignored or broken. The way I see it a parents job is to guide and teach kids how to be as independent as humanly possible. When a child is disabled the push to independence is even more important as society has a penchant for killing disabled people with kindness. Independence based on my experience is only achieved when one hones their ability to fight for their rights at a young age.

Dr Mark said...

William, don't get too far on the "If you don't have a disability you can't say anything" bandwagon because you will lose many people who advocate for people with disabilities that don't, in whatever way, qualify as disabled. We need a critical mass of people willing to advocate - they need to be with/without disabilities, and of every other stripe.

Dr Mark said...

Well, isn't Palin a parent fighting for her kid w/ a disability?

william Peace said...

Mark, I will gladly accept any and all support for those who believe in disability rights. Being disabled is not in any way a requirement. The point I was trying to stress was that having a disability or relationship with one who has a disability is a significant variable that leads many to support disability rights.
Yes, Palin will fight for her son's rights and this makes her a good parent. However this does not necessarily translate into political support for disabled people in general.

ChocolateKat said...

I agree. Thankfully, she is gone for now. I fear we haven't heard the last from Gov Palin.