Empty wheelchair in a park.

The 'Superpower' I Never Wanted as a Person With a Disability

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Becoming disabled means accepting a superpower or two. You know, like X-ray vision,  telepathy and spoon bending. I, however, haven’t gained any of these famous comic book inspired superpowers. Mine is much less exciting — invisibility.

I never fancied the superpower of invisibility, or even owning an invisibility cloak, but it’s a fact of life now that I’m severely sight-impaired and using a wheelchair. I’m invisible. I can’t tell you whether it’s the blindness or the wheelchair that makes me invisible but my daughter Rachel (wise beyond her years) thinks it’s probably just being disabled that does it.

I know what you might be thinking. I must be on about the fact that I can’t get out of the house much anymore, so I’m literally invisible in society. Yes, there’s that great annoyance, but I’m being more abstract in my thinking. You see I’ve come to realize that I have become invisible because it seems no one thinks about what it’s like to be disabled.

I feel I’m invisible to businesses. I’m invisible to charities. I’m invisible in the media. I’m invisible in social groups. I’m invisible in sports clubs. I’m invisible in music venues. I’m invisible in churches. I’m invisible in government.

I’m invisible in society.

I’m not sure what’s at the root of this invisibility; it might be lack of awareness or understanding or financial concerns or ignorance or laziness. Whatever it is has to be brought out into the open and seen for what it is. It is not funny. It is discrimination.

It makes no business sense to make such a large proportion of society invisible. Why not make your premises accessible and positive for disabled people?

It should be something to be ashamed about when you fail to follow disability discrimination laws by not thinking about disabled people and what they need to be made welcome.

Come on, society, stop giving me a superpower I don’t need. I’m not invisible!

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How We Can Continue to Protect Special Education

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I am concerned about the state of education in the United States if the current Cabinet pick is an indication of the values the federal government holds, especially with regards to special education. The current nominee is trying to champion giving states rights in regards to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, which is a federal mandate that legally guarantees protection for a free and appropriate education for students with disabilities.

Here in New Jersey, we are extremely fortunate to have some of the best public schools in the country. We have consistently ranked among the top states for education when ranked nationally. What about those other states that already have failing programs for students with disabilities? People relocate all the time to try to find the best school district for their child, but no family with a child with a disability should have to relocate to a different state in order to get the services their child requires, which are now protected by federal law.

Espousing school choice or voucher programs as a fix to parents who feel that their child is not receiving a fair education takes away resources from public schools that are already operating under strained budgets. I believe we should be working to improve our public schools rather than putting a superficial Band-Aid on them in the form of vouchers and school choice options. Also, if it is assumed that parents would be able to send their children to a private school specializing in special education using vouchers or school choice, there is a price tag upwards of $50,000 that most home districts cannot afford for every case.

I believe continuing to put the most resources possible into improving public schools for children with disabilities will do the most to aid parents in obtaining a quality education for their child.

Editor’s note: This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

This letter previously appeared in the Courier Post.

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This Week in Health and Disability Politics: Pat Toomey, Betsy Devos, Tom Price and Gun Sales

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If you find keeping up with politics overwhelming, you are not alone. Changes in administration always come with new policies and appointments, and Donald Trump’s administration is no exception.

To help make the news a bit more digestible, we’re breaking down some of the top health and disability stories you may have missed this week.

Two Republican Senators Say They’ll Vote Against Betsy DeVos’ Nomination for Education Secretary 

Republican Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) announced they would not vote for Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Education, signaling a tougher road to confirmation than originally anticipated.

To be confirmed, DeVos needs 51 Senators to vote in her favor. Current projections have the vote tied with 50 voting for and 50 against. If no other Senators change their vote, Vice President Mike Pence will be required to break the tie.

On Wednesday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the White House has “zero” concern and “100 percent confidence” DeVos will be confirmed. The final vote to confirm DeVos will continue after the requisite 30 hours of debate from Friday morning’s vote have passed, most likely Tuesday morning.

A Teacher Has Started a GoFundMe Campaign to Buy Sen. Pat Toomey’s (R-PA) Vote 

Katherine Fritz, a teacher from Pennsylvania, has started a GoFundMe campaign to buy her senator Sen. Pat Toomey’s vote, after The Huffington Post called him the “best option” for blocking DeVos’ confirmation. In her campaign, Fritz writes that DeVos has donated $55,800 to Toomey, and if DeVos can “buy” Toomey’s vote, the people “should be allowed to do the same.”

According to The Hill, on Thursday evening Toomey said he supports DeVos and will vote in her favor.

House Votes to Overturn a Regulation Prohibiting People With Mental Illness From Buying Guns

The House of Representatives has voted to overturn a regulation blocking people receiving disability benefits for mental illnesses from buying guns. The rule, passed during the Obama administration to be implemented in December, requires the Social Security Administration (SSA) to report those with severe mental disorders to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

The House’s vote does not mean the rule is overturned. Next, the regulation goes to the Senate and if it makes it out of the Senate, to the President for his signature.

Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), Trump’s Pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services, Passes Committee, Moves on to Senate Confirmation Vote 

Democratic Senators looked to delay the vote that would move Rep. Tom Price’s Health and Human Services Secretary nomination from committee to Senate, and failed, after Republican Senators changed committee rules.

In previous years, at least one senator from each party had to be present at the committee meeting to vote. To delay the vote, Democratic Senators avoided committee meetings for two days, until Republican Senators changed the rules and moved ahead without them.

Pressure to delay the vote comes after news that Price bought stock in a medical company and then authored a bill that would benefit that company.

Following Wednesday’s committee meeting, Price’s confirmation now moves to the Senate for a full vote.

Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders to Debate Health Care and the Affordable Care Act on CNN 

Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) will debate the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in a 90-minute town hall event on CNN, February 7, 9 p.m. EST. Republicans have made repealing the ACA, also known as Obamacare, a top priority, but a replacement plan has yet to be solidified. The Town Hall may help Americans understand the future of health care under the Trump administration, or it may just be Sanders and Cruz arguing for an hour and a half.

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Senate Advances Betsy DeVos' Nomination for Education Secretary

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Early Friday morning, the Senate began voting procedures to confirm Betsy DeVos as Secretary of the Department of  Education. The simple majority vote advances DeVos’ confirmation, moving it to a final vote next week.

To be confirmed, DeVos will need 51 Senators to vote in her favor. Currently, the Senate is made up of 52 Republicans and 48 Democrats. Earlier this week, two Republican Senators, Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), announced they would not vote for DeVos. If the remaining 50 Republicans vote for DeVos, and the vote is tied 50-50, Vice President Mike Pence will be required to break the tie.

On Wednesday, at the White House’s daily briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the White House has “zero” concern and “100 percent confidence” DeVos will be confirmed. Noting, “I think that the games being played with Betsy DeVos are sad. She is someone who has been a tireless advocate over the last couple of decades.”

Parents and educators concerned by DeVos’ lack of teaching qualifications and views on public education, including her limited knowledge of federal protections for special needs students, have petitioned lawmakers not to vote for DeVos.

Despite calls for Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), identified by Huffington Post as a potential swing vote, to vote against DeVos, Toomey gave his support to the candidate late Thursday, The Hill reports.

“I am pleased to vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education,” Toomey said in a statement. “Too many American kids are being left behind every day. That is not acceptable to Betsy DeVos, and it is not acceptable to me.”

The final vote to confirm DeVos will continue after the requisite 30 hours of debate have passed, most likely Tuesday morning.

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Sean Spicer Says White House Has '100 Percent Confidence' Betsy DeVos Will Be Education Secretary

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Wednesday morning, Sean Spicer, the White House’s press secretary, said the White House has “zero” concern and “100 percent confidence” that Betsy DeVos will be named Secretary of the Department of Education, adding, “She is an unbelievably qualified educator and advocate for students, teachers, parents.”

Spicer’s comment comes after two Republican Senators, Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), announced they would not vote for DeVos.

DeVos’s nomination has been widely contested by parents, educators and lawmakers due to her lack of teaching qualifications and knowledge regarding federal protections for students with disabilities.

“I think that the games being played with Betsy DeVos are sad,” Spicer stated at the White House’s daily briefing. “She is someone who has been a tireless advocate over the last couple of decades.”

On Tuesday the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee voted 12 to 11 to confirm Betsy DeVos, moving the vote from committee to Senate, where it will receive a full and final vote in the Senate.

To be confirmed, DeVos will need a simple majority (51 votes) of Senators to vote in her favor. Currently, the Senate is made up of 52 Republicans and 48 Democrats. If the remaining 50 Republicans vote for DeVos, and the vote is tied 50-50, Vice President Mike Pence will be required to break the tie.

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Senate HELP Committee Votes to Confirm Betsy DeVos

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On Tuesday morning the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee met to vote on Betsy DeVos’ Secretary of the Department of Education nomination.

DeVos, Donald Trump’s pick for Education Secretary,  has been criticized by parents, educators and democratic lawmakers for her lack of knowledge regarding IDEA – a federal law ensuring special education services to children with disabilities — as well as her promotion of voucher programs and charter schools and her absence of teaching credentials and qualifications.

The vote, which passed 12 to 11, was split down party lines with all Democrats voting against DeVos and all Republicans voting for. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who was physically absent from the vote, voted by proxy, making committee Democrats question whether or not the quorum needed for a vote to count was truly present. Without Hatch’s vote, the vote was 11 to 11.

After much debate, Hatch rejoined the committee for a vote and DeVos was confirmed with 12 votes for and 11 against.

The vote does not mean DeVos is confirmed as Education Secretary, rather the vote to confirm DeVos moves to the Senate, where it needs a simple majority to pass.

We will update this article as more information is available. 

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