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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.

Monday, February 18, 2008

An Obama Update Updated

I received a polite, informative, and promising email from Seth Harris, co-chair of the Obama campaign's Disability Policy Committee. Apparently an accessibility check list has been in the works and will be released and, more importantly, used soon. According to Harris, who is also a professor at New York Law School, the Obama campaign website is managed out of Chicago but events are not. This obviously makes inclusion of access information more problematic but not impossible to resolve. While Harris' email was promising and supportive in general there were phrases of concern. For instance he noted access was a "desirable goal" while I would characterize it as a must. I replied to Harris email this morning and remain committed to insuring access information be posted at the Obama campaign website. In my email to Harris I wrote that it was not just the right thing to do but would demonstrate Obama is really a man of change. It would also distinguish Obama from every other person running for president. This I would think is very desirable for a politician. I have no idea if I will be successful in my efforts and part of me feels like the classic character in the children's book The Little Engine That Could who repeats "I think I can I think can". Obama is a man of power while I am a man with, well, a blog and determination.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Wheelchair Dumping and Counter Punch

I began to write a post about Brian Sterner and the infamous wheelchair dumping story that is still developing in Tampa Florida last week while I was getting four new tires put on my car. The entry became too long and I decided to send it to Counter Punch where is was published yesterday. Here is the link:

The responses to the story have largely been positive. And this is why I love to write for Counter Punch. As a writer, nothing is more frustrating than pouring work into a story and getting no feedback from readers. Counter Punch readers write to authors and most make some astute observations. This is why writing for Counter Punch is such a rewarding experience--it helps that the editor, Alex Cockburn, is not only dedicated but very smart and politically savvy. Please read the article and let me know what you think.