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How Our Fight for Disability Rights May Change in the Next Four Years

For many Americans with disabilities like myself, this presidential election cycle was the first in which issues surrounding disabilities became topics of national concern.

For many of us, this was the first time we had ever heard our rights even mentioned in an election speech or referenced in presidential candidate debates.

For many of us, the shock and horror we felt as we watched Donald Trump’s mockery of a reporter with disabilities was overwhelming -– it was sickening. For those of us still reeling from the disabling effects of PTSD and other lingering effects of sexual assault, listening to news story after news story break regarding Trump’s history of sexual assault allegations and boasts felt nearly surreal.

As both an American with a disability and a teacher candidate in Special Education, this morning I’m asking the same desperate questions as many Americans. How will the results of this election affect the rights of people of disabilities? What about children with disabilities? What will happen to the single most important provision in my life – health care?

Statistically, it’s inevitable that some Americans with disabilities felt Trump was the best option for president. However, now that he is the president-elect, we – the largest minority group in America – must step back from party lines to honestly examine how to navigate the next four years.

Now is not the time to sit back and see what happens. We cannot afford to lose any ground in any area of disability rights, services, or societal perceptions. Our children cannot afford to lose that ground. How will we move forward into four years that for many reasons will be extraordinarily difficult for us? Our battlegrounds fall into the following three areas:

1. The rights, needs, and personhood of children with disabilities may not be directly attacked (although we have no way of predicting this), but from a societal perspective, the fight we have endured for decades just became far much more intense. Can we all agree on the following statements?

It is not OK to bully anyone for any reason.

It is not OK to make fun of anyone with any type of disability.

It is not OK to deny services or entrance to anyone with any type of disability.

It is not OK to joke about another’s physical or mental characteristics.

Whatever your political ideology, it’s difficult to justify the personhood of a child with disabilities when their president openly and repeatedly mocks people like them. It’s difficult to justify why a child with disabilities should go to school when they aren’t even welcome at an everyday event.
It feels terrifying to say, but now more than ever our children are relying on us to fight for and affirm their place in the world as humans and as citizens. Our jobs as self-advocates, special education teachers, and parents of children with disabilities may be even more challenging in the days ahead. I don’t know about you, but affirming the personhood of my students and friends is worth any price I have to pay.

2. Health care reform is, without a doubt, going to be a hot-topic domestic issue in the next few years. While we can all agree that something needs to be done about the sorry state of affairs that is the American health care system, it’s difficult to measure how the implementation of the Affordable Care Act has affected the price and quality of our health care. For better or worse, the ACA is an actual plan. So far, we have no real plans in place, and we need to fight to ensure that health care as a whole doesn’t spiral out of control in the absence of any solution. For those of us whose lives depend on quality care and significant insurance coverage, this is going to be an important fight.

3. Care and services for non-citizens is a very real area of concern, especially when you consider that our school system could deny services to students with disabilities because their parents and families don’t have documentation, or worse, they don’t appear to be Americans. We also have to consider how funding and services for Native Americans through the Indian Bureau of Education and other government organizations will be affected.

As the election fully winds down, there are undoubtedly a lot of us who feel significant pain and anxiety about the three topics above and many other issues. It’s difficult to feel anything other than numbness and fear. We may have a difficult four years ahead of us, and the fear of failing — of losing important ground -– can feel overwhelming. However, communities like The Mighty remind us of how connected we are, of how loved we are, of how valuable our existence remains regardless of the political climate. Reach out today to whatever that community is for you. We are not alone. We have friends and leaders who will fight alongside us. As we rally today to defend the rights of all Americans, let’s remember our existence depends on our voices.

We’ve been relatively lucky in the past few years to have federal and state governments that actively work for the good of persons with disabilities. Sadly, we can’t rest on those victories. If there is any lesson we must carry into the future, it’s that silence is no longer an option. The stakes are simply far too high.

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