[My friend, Rob Park]
With less than six weeks to the presidential election, it’s almost too late to make a decision on the race; around this time, most people are firming up their opinions. One always forgets about people with disabilities, some may consider them “special interests”, but the issues that face people with disabilities can, do and will affect all of us.
Health care. A shaky economy. Unemployment.
Those are the hot-button issues being debated during this presidential race, and as usual, the candidates take such broad stands that even the most complicated issue becomes a one-size-fits-all sound bite.
But citizens with disabilities (there are 54 million of them) would like some specifics before they cast their votes. It's not just that the devil is in the details, but that their futures may very well depend on those details.
Since our job as journalists is to ask the questions, it's also our job to get the specifics on the record. Unfortunately, it's rare that a reporter asks a disability-related question, but it's time to start.
It has been long past time. For years, journalists had the same time-worn tropes for people with disabilities. We were “heroic”, “poor”, “crippled”, “elderly” or “veterans”. Put on a pedestal to be pitied. It has taken people a long time to realize that people with disabilities are a very diverse group. Most of us are not single-issue voters, yet the decisions that made can even affect our ability to function and even live in our society.
The Ohio Legal Rights Service has prepared a comparison of McCain’s and Obama’s positions on various disability issues.
Disability awareness in our politicians doesn’t end, nor even start, with the Presidency. We may contact our congressman for action for laws like the ADA, but the action is all with the state reps, state senator, mayor and councilors. Disability politics, like other politics, is local, to borrow Tip O’Neill.
And, of course, with my Commission. In 2009, we have a city council and mayoral election, as Kim Driscoll runs for re-election.
It’s hard to figure out where candidates stand on disability issues. Nobody will say they’re against people with disabilities, of course. I and the Commission have been criticized before, but that’s not common.
I and my colleagues have several months to figure out what Salemmites with disabilities should be looking for in our elected and appointed officials.
In the meantime, Patricia Bauer has an excellent blog on disability news (no RSS feed, though).