by Colin Meloy
Obama has supported and cultivated the rights of Americans with disabilities.
I was born a big-government liberal. My parents were both big-government liberals and we lived in a happy, big-government liberal house, surrounded by fellow big-government liberal friends and family and a few big-government liberal pets. I’ve grown to be a big-government liberal adult. I take extra big-government in my coffee. I pour big-government all over my pancakes in the morning; I bathe in the lustrous, invigorating stuff, apply it to my hair for shape and control.
And while I was raised this way, to believe that a strong central government had a necessary role in ensuring the well-being of all of its citizens, regardless of class, sex or race distinctions, and that were we to rely on the compassion of the private sector for the basic needs of a commonwealth we’d be in sorry shape indeed, it didn’t quite hit home to me until my son was diagnosed with autism.
Making sure our son gets the therapies he needs, particularly the all-important early intervention therapies, has been like a second job for my wife and me. We’ve had to fight tooth-and-nail for insurance coverage of the sorts of no-brainer early-intervention therapies that our doctors—and every autism expert out there—prescribed; despite our best efforts to place our son in private and charter schools, we’ve time and again been shot down because they do not have the services and flexibility required to educate a kid on the autism spectrum. So, like many parents of kids on the spectrum, we opted for public school; we spent our son’s kindergarten year watching funding for the school district be systematically chipped away, making an already tenuous situation for teachers and students in the Special Ed system more and more strained. We’re lucky; we’re fairly independent, making a decent living. For every struggle we’ve experienced, we’ve reflected on how more challenging it would be for low-income families. But regardless of your tax bracket, if you’re parenting a kid with special needs, you need help. It’s all well and good to shout the praises of the social safety net and the condition-free charity of basic human compassion, it’s really another thing to witness firsthand how absolutely necessary it is.
One thing is certain: this upcoming presidential election, there are two very stark ideological differences between the two candidates when it comes to this very fundamental idea. One embraces the government’s role in the well-being of all its citizens and the other would like that involvement drastically reduced. That difference in thinking might show up in a host of issues, but for this reason, let’s look at it through the lens of disability rights, shall we?
President Obama, in his first four years, has taken some pretty remarkable strides toward the protection and cultivation of the rights of Americans with disabilities. For one thing, he made clear his dedication to the neurodiversity movement—the idea that autistic adults and children should not tried to be “cured,” but accepted in our society—by appointing Ari Ne’eman to the National Council of Disability. Ari is the first openly autistic person to serve on this council. The Autism Self-Advocacy Network, for which Ari is the president and co-founder, has a pretty great slogan: “Nothing about us without us.” In the autism community, it’s a bit of a radical idea; too often, people with autism are omitted from leadership positions in the very organizations that purport to decide autistic Americans’ well-being. (Autism Speaks, the nation’s largest autism awareness outfit, has refused to include autistic people in leadership roles.) Kudos to President Obama for taking that idea to heart.
The President’s signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act, has a shit-ton of stuff in it that benefits the disabled community, children and adults, parents of and individuals with disabilities themselves—it is on track to end pre-existing condition discrimination by insurance companies in 2014, which, to date, is a huge liability for the disabled seeking health coverage. Also, letting kids stay on their parents’ insurance policies ’til 26 is a boon to disabled young adults, allowing them more time to get on their feet without the burden of insurance premiums barring them from needed therapies and medical treatment. The Romney/Ryan campaign has made their position perfectly clear: the ACA, Obamacare, will be one of the first things they do away with, should they be elected.
Under President Obama, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has been more active enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act than under any previous administration. On the 20th anniversary of the ADA, The American with Disabilities Act, Obama signed an executive order instructing federal agencies to increase the number of qualified people with disabilities in the federal workforce.
Want more? Check out this video of the President sitting down with members of the disabled youth community to get a sense of his support and dedication for Americans of all stripe and ability click here.
With a second term, with a renewed mandate for change, I’d say it’s pretty heartening to consider what could be done. For one thing, we still need to fully fund IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (which the President promised to do, but has not yet done). We need to appoint an “Autism Czar,” a position the President said he would create during the 2008 campaign, but is as-yet unfilled. These are things that the President has promised; they are on the table, and with a little pressure, can come to be. One thing is for sure: they won’t be happening in a Romney/Ryan administration.
The alternative is clear as day: a Romney/Ryan administration, bent on the stripping down and defunding of governmental and social services, will—make no mistake—play havoc on the already desiccated protections and services for Americans with disabilities. They will undo all the important good that’s been done by the ACA and stop it from reaching its full potential, with many of its critical functions not coming into play for the next few years. They will dramatically defund Medicaid and make it more difficult for folks with disabilities to receive needed care, particularly low-income families and individuals. In fact, they’ve publicly committed to block granting for Medicaid, cutting hundreds of billions of dollars in funding for health care and disability services over the coming decade. They’ve been very vocal about their desire to slash much-needed entitlement programs; instead, they would preserve the Bush-era top-down tax cuts that have, over ten years, seemingly not produced any net benefit.
So you might be a big-government liberal like me; and you might be a little testy about what the President has accomplished in his first term; maybe you thought he was more of a big-government liberal than he turned out to be. Don’t for a second think that by bowing out, withholding your vote, you’re doing anyone a favor. There are some very serious issues on the line in this election—rights and services for Americans with disabilities being one of many—and we cannot afford the sort of damage that would inevitably be wrought to these basic protections by a Romney/Ryan administration. It really is as simple as that.
Colin Meloy is the singer and songwriter for the Portland, OR band The Decemberists. He is also the author of two novels for children, Wildwood and Under Wildwood. He lives in Portland with his wife and son.
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