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To Donald Trump: Please Don't Value Money More Than People With Disabilities

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Dear President Trump,

Congratulations on your recent presidential election. You are now the leader of the United States and you have the made the promise to unite the country. I am writing to you today to help you do this. I believe our policies will deeply affect individuals with disabilities in an unfortunate way — specifically, the AHCA and the policies being promoted by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

Before I begin, please let me introduce myself. I am an individual with cerebral palsy. If you are not aware, cerebral palsy is a physical and developmental disability that affects your muscle and motor movements. I was diagnosed at the age of 5 months and the doctors gave my parents the prognosis that I would never be able to walk, talk, or live independently. Today, not only can I walk and talk, but I also live in my own apartment, graduated with a bachelor’s degree, and now attend law school. Although I am very fortunate with the opportunities and progress I have achieved, they have not come without struggle.

President Trump, I am not sure if you are aware, but disabilities are equal opportunity. Disability does not look at social or economic status, and it can affect anyone at any time. Disabilities are often expensive and costly, requiring a variety of treatments and adaptations. Growing up, my parents were by no means in the one percent. My parents were married at the age of 19. By the time, they were 23, they not only had a 3-year-old, but also an infant who was diagnosed with a developmental disability. At the time, my mother was a health care aide and my father worked at the local lumberyard. Their lives altered drastically once I started making regular visits to the hospitals.

Over five years, I underwent nine major surgeries where the doctors rotated my bones and muscles to help me walk on my own. Additionally, for the first 12 years of my life, I went to physical, speech, and occupational therapy for three days a week, each. Needless to say, the hospital became my second home. My parents also had to purchase adaptive equipment for me, such as a wheelchair and walker. On my parents’ salaries, they would not have been able to afford all of my medical needs if it weren’t for Medicaid. These government funds allowed me to get the treatment I needed to reach my full potential.

At the age of 26, I am once again on Medicaid as I cannot afford a private healthcare plan that will cover all the treatments I may need. President Trump, by putting a cap on a state’s Medicaid funding, you are putting limits on access to health care for individuals with disabilities. Medicaid may be the only way people with disabilities can afford the healthcare they need. Your intention may be to cut the country’s deficit, however, to what extent is a dollar sign more important than a person’s healthcare?

Your policies not only limit access to healthcare for people with disabilities, but you are also limiting their access to education. Your nomination of Betsy DeVos is deeply troubling to me as someone who has spent most of their educational career in special education. I worry about Ms. DeVos’s advocacy for school choice and voucher programs, but I’m more concerned about her lack of knowledge of the federal law Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). When I was not in the hospital, I attended a public elementary school until fourth grade. During that time, I was on an individualized education plan (IEP) that gave me extra support to learn. In fourth grade, my parents decided to take me out of the public-school system after my teacher told my mom that I was “too stupid to understand, and a waste of her time.”

I was then enrolled in a private Catholic school. While this school allowed me to establish more genuine friendships, I did not receive special education services. IDEA, does not extend to private schools, and therefore, they are not obligated to offer special education. This caused my teacher to take time away from my classmates so he could properly address my educational needs.

After a few years in private education, my parents moved me back to the public education system. I was again put on an IEP, and gained services such as one-on-one support and extra study time. Special education allowed me to be fully included in the classroom and to reach my true academic potential. I graduated from high school with a 3.6 GPA, went on to graduate from college with a dual degree in theology and peace studies, and was accepted into law school. This summer, I have accepted an offer to work at one of the world’s most prestigious law firms as a summer associate. None of this would have been achievable if I had not been able to gain the study skills and learning tools I needed through special education. Special education services are vital to the education of those with disabilities.

President Trump, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos does not understand the federal rights that are given to students with disabilities. Furthermore, pushing for the privatization of education (which I believe to be the underlying aim of school choice) will create an educational and social divide at the expense of students with disabilities. This will push society back to the time when individuals with disabilities were not fully included in society and were looked down upon.

Not every student has the luxury of being able to choose a school that is the best of the best. Students with disabilities may lose their right to a free appropriate education. Students with disabilities are students, and they too deserve the right to prosper and reach their full educational potential. Your intention may be to privatize education, but when does a buck become more important than an individual’s civil rights?

President Trump, you are in a great position. A position many young boys and girls aspire to hold one day. You represent every male and female, every immigrant, every homeless and rich person, and every person with a disability. You represent every U.S. citizen in this great country. We, the citizens of the U.S., look to you to uphold our individual and civil rights. I encourage you to look at every struggle imaginable that any U.S. citizen could face. To what extent is a dollar more valuable than the health, happiness, and prosperity of a person? I hope your answer is that the latter is so much greater than any amount of money.


Danielle Liebl

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.

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Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: March 24, 2017
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