Election 2016: The Politics of Disability

Election 2016: The Politics of Disability

Rachel CohenTuesday,12 April 2016

When it comes to elections, there are plenty of special interest groups always represented. We’ve heard from religious organization, anti-abortion groups, and plenty of niche areas of focus.

But where are the discussions about the 48.9 million people in America living with disabilities?

As someone who has worked with community programs for many disabled populations in New York City – from individuals with developmental disabilities to individuals living with HIV/AIDS – it is a bit disconcerting that nowhere in the debates or discussions does it come to discussing the welfare of these individuals.

Speaking of that word, it’s time for the people of America to take step back when it comes to “welfare,” the now-derogatory term for helping someone lesser off with government-subsidized assistance. We’ve heard them called lazy, unimportant, and a host of different names, but we never discuss the part where most of these people would not survive – in a very literal sense – without that support.

In 2014, over 19 million people with disabilities were on supplemental security income (SSI) assistance. That’s not even half of the total amount of people with disabilities, and when you factor in that 21 million people in this country have severe disabilities that prevent them from working or living on their own, you still don’t see everyone being served.

Given that this topic doesn’t seem to be discussed – on either side – in favor of more, well, controversial topics,  I though it would be interesting to see what, if any, positions candidates held when it comes to disabilities. Sad to say, I’m not surprised at what I found.

Ted Cruz:

– If you really want to help needy, use private charities. (Jun 2015)

Donald Trump:

– Well, who could forget this.

But also:

– I’m for vaccines, but in smaller quantities to avoid autism. (Sep 2015)

– Sought to exclude welfare recipients from his residences. (Sep 2015)

– Don’t cut Medicare; grow the economy to keep benefits. (Jun 2015)

– Save Medicare & Medicaid without cutting them to the bone. (Jan 2015)

– Social Security isn’t an “entitlement”; it’s honoring a deal. (Dec 2011)

– Disability Racket: $25B in fraudulent disability filings. (Dec 2011)

Hillary Clinton:

– Expand Social Security for most vulnerable first. (Feb 2016)

– Need a health care system that manages chronic diseases. (Jan 2008)

– Fully fund special education & 21st century classrooms. (Dec 2007)

– Pledges to support $50B for AIDS relief in US and world. (Dec 2007)

– Outcry if AIDS were leading disease of young whites. (Jun 2007)

– Increase America’s commitment against Global AIDS. (Nov 2006)

Bernie Sanders:

– Medicare for All: insure 29M people beyond ObamaCare. (Jan 2016)

– Strengthen the social safety net, instead of weakening it. (Mar 2015)

– Advocate for social benefits of public assistance programs. (Sep 2015)

– 3.5 million Americans homeless is unacceptable. (Sep 2015)

– Increase funding for occupational & physical therapy. (Apr 2011)

– Provide for treatment of autism under TRICARE. (Jun 2009)

– Voted YES on overriding veto on expansion of Medicare. (Jul 2008)

– Improve services for people with autism & their families. (Apr 2007)

Unsurprisingly, only one side even seems to bring up the issue, and even then, discussion about it during the election when it should be a considered position, is rarely – if ever – thoughtfully pursued.

It’s time to stop talking about government assistance as an entitlement, and start seeing it for what it really is – allowing millions of people to live a fulfilled life. If we have to care about what the Christian right thinks, why can’t we care about those among us who have just as much of a right to have their voices heard.

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Image Credit: Alex Hanson on Flickr

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