4 Reasons Why Disabled People Should Run for Office
I am a public servant and I am also a disabled person. For many people, the connections aren’t clear, but for me, both are integral parts of who I am. My life’s journey through disability has been a shaping factor in my work in public policy and I believe strongly that is has influenced my career for the better. Here are four reasons why I encourage disabled persons to pursue their dreams of public service.
As people with disabilities, we are used to navigating a world that was not designed for us. Chances are you are already used to finding workarounds. You immediately approach a potential problem with a solution-focused mindset, because you are used to having to make things work for you, even when you’re not feeling so well, or when the physical or structural environment was clearly designed for people with a different experience than yours.
By the time you have gone through the onset of disability, testing and procedures, wondering and worrying, and finally diagnosis, you are likely a pro at dealing with adversity. In fact, chances are you have already faced some of the toughest challenges of your life. In contrast, this should be easy!
Resourcefulness is often forged through adversity; as the adage goes necessity is the mother of invention. When presented with challenges, it is our natural inclination to rise to them. You can relate to those bad “flare up” days and “low spoons” weeks. Life doesn’t stop just because you aren’t feeling well, but that’s OK because you’ve got this. By now you are adept at identifying potential efficiencies and streamlining your schedule as much as possible. So why not bring that skill to work to help other organizations become more efficient as well? The world needs your talents and unique experiences.
If there is one trait that is essential to being an excellent leader, it is the ability to understand problems by putting ourselves in others’ shoes. Studies show that diverse elected bodies are more collaborative in solving problems and that traditionally underrepresented or marginalized groups often bring a critical balancing perspective. When all constituencies have a seat at the table, more cooperative results emerge. Take, for instance, the interesting case of how women senators helped end the 2013 government shutdown. It has been widely speculated by political scientists that the shared experience of “otherness” burdened by many women in government, who represent only a small fraction of legislative positions relative to their proportion of the at-large population, was a key catalyst in reaching a bipartisan solution. The ability to be empathetic and considerate of many opinions and needs is a key character attribute that cannot be taught.
Having been through the trials of negotiating life as a disabled person on a daily basis, you have insight into what it is like to sometimes need a little compassion — a simple reassuring text from a friend or help at the grocery store on a really hard day. As a result, you may have a well-developed sense of compassion and are willing to consider many sides of an issue without prejudgment.
This point breaks down in two different ways. First of all, everyone needs champions they can identify with; we resonate with people who look like us, share our values, or advance our viewpoints. Every young person (and even adults!) need quality role models. You have amazing gifts waiting to be shared with the world that serve the dual purpose of reinforcing a positive example for other disabled people while at the same time building up the notoriety of disabled persons. Examples such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and sitting U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth are inspirational to many people, both disabled and otherwise.
Second, you are in a unique position of understanding your own particular advocacy needs. You understand that one lobby day per year is not enough, that effective and accessible healthcare is essential, and that we need more highly-trained doctors and research dollars for rare and incurable diseases. You can be a champion for yourself, your community, and future generations by having a seat at the table and making sure our voices are heard.
The world needs your gifts!
Getty image by z_wei.