OBAMA AND THE DISABILITY COMMUNITY
Before my son Roman received a spinal cord injury, I never gave much thought as to what it meant to be disabled. I was polite, of course. If I met a person in a wheelchair, I just went around. But what was it like to be denied the use of one’s limbs? Or to be unable to hear? Aside from an occasional movie, like the “The Miracle Worker”, Helen Keller’s true story of being both blind and deaf, the subject never seemed to come up.
Disability was just a word.
Then, in an instant, everything changed. Roman became paralyzed, and he (and indirectly his family) became part of the disability community.
I had no idea how many citizens with disabilities there were.
According to the most recent U.S. Census, roughly one in five Americans has a disability: meaning she or he has difficulty with everyday activities: like breathing, or seeing, or getting dressed in the morning.
The disability community is America’s largest minority—even without their families! If organized, we can win any election.
This vast potential power has not gone unnoticed.
During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Sarah Palin and John McCain tried to rally the disability community against the Democratic party. Their campaign stated that Obama’s tax plan would hurt disabled people, by taxing families who had set up trust funds for their special needs family members.
That was a surprise to me. Trust fund? Most folks in the disability community are poor: financially struggling to make ends meet. Even in the best of times, unemployment for disabled workers is like the Great Depression. When you are worried about scraping together enough money to put food on the table, there is no extra cash for stocks or bonds or any kind of trust fund.
I was glad to hear Obama spokespeople respond strongly. One advisor, Jason Furman, called the attack a “blatant lie”, saying that Obama would work with the Treasury department to “make sure tax rates do not…increase on any family making less than $250,000 a year.” Another (Bill Burton) said that Mr. Obama “has a comprehensive plan to support families that have children with special needs and empower individuals with disabilities.” –Wall Street Journal, Chozick and Timiraos, October 24, 2008.
Were they telling the truth?
Like millions of Americans, I was a volunteer worker for Obama, seeing his leadership as crucial for the nation as a whole, and the disability community in particular.
One of the people I worked with on the campaign was Kareem Dale. He was in charge of outreach to the disability community. We never met, just talked on phone conferences, where he was invariably calm and affable, very focused and on top of the situation. I did not realize till much later that he was blind.
So, after the campaign, did Mr. Dale go back to what he had been doing before? Did the Obama campaign tell him, thank you very much, we appreciate your support, see you next election?
A new position was created in the White House.
And a few days ago, I received the following information from Kareem Dale, now Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy..
Kareem Dale may be visually challenged, but he sees deeply into the problems of the disability community, and he is right there beside the President, making sure our families will never be forgotten.
Remember the disability community saying, “Nothing about us, without us”? Disability folks do not want occasional handouts, crumbs tossed from the table—we want to be seated at the table of power, contributing and participating when decisions are made.
The rest of this column is from Kareem Dale, listing some of the steps the Obama Presidency has already taken in support of Americans with disabilities.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN DISABILITY COMMUNITY IN FIRST 60 DAYS
(President Obama) signed SCHIP, which will provide insurance to millions of children, including children with disabilities.
Signed stem cell Executive Order, which will open the door to potential cures for many disabilities.
Signed Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act, which will, for the first time in history, bring together the best minds across the country to collaborate on research, rehabilitation and improvement of quality of life for people living with paralysis.
People with disabilities were included as never before in the recovery plan.
Provided a one-time additional payment of $250 to people who receive Social Supplemental Income.
Provided $500 million to the Social Security Administration to help reduce backlogs.
Provided $87 billion in Medicaid funding for states.
Provided $140 million in funding for independent living centers.
Provided over $500 million in funding for vocational rehabilitation services to help with job training, education and placement.
Provided $12 billion in funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Appointed a Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy with responsibilities in the Domestic Policy Council and Office of Public Liaison for the first time in history.
Appointed a Special Assistant to the President in the White House Office of Personnel to focus on disability appointments for the first time in history.
Appointed a Senior Advisor on Disability Policy in the Domestic Policy Council for the first time in history.
Nominated a person with a disability, Kathy Martinez, to be Director of ODEP.
Nominated Seth Harris, a long time disability advocate, to be Deputy Secretary of Labor.
Nominated Tom Perez, a long-time supporter of the disability community, to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.
President hosted a greet with 10 disability leaders following the signing of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act.
Vice-President led a delegation to the Special Olympics.
Included people with disabilities at all public White House events.
Invited Carmen Jones, an African American woman with a disability, to participate in the small group meeting with seven other small business owners to discuss issues with the President facing small business owners.
Invited six leaders from the disability community to the signing of SCHIP.
Invited disability leaders to participate in the White House and regional healthcare summits, including members of CCD, ADAPT, National MS Society, mental health groups, autism groups and many other disability groups across the country.
Invited CCD to participate in the fiscal summit.
Hosted outreach meetings with disability leaders and organizations.
Hosting briefing and meeting for presidents of national disability organizations.