Nearly my entire adult life has been defined by my work in the disability field ~~ as a parent, advocate, volunteer, and professional in a variety of capacities related to children and adults with disabilities. My second child was born with Down Syndrome; I was an early advocate developing residential programs and liberating adults from the warehousing and inhumanity of state institutions, a program and agency director, and national-level consultant and trainer, and associate researcher at a university: nearly 40 years working at the local, county, regional, state and national level on issues related to quality of life for children and adults with congenital, familial and acquired disabilities; currently, I work in a school for children with special needs where all have multiple disabilities; some are medically fragile and require 24-hour nursing care; about 1/3 are diagnosed with autism.
Am I an expert? Would you be drawn to say, "she has more experience than nearly every other American on disability issues" after reading my resume?
Well, I heard John McCain use that qualifier when he introduced Sarah Palin to the American public. I listened in disbelief because I know that 3, 4, 6 months into one's exposure to the world of disabilities does not make one an expert. For me, that time was one of groping and grappling with the reality and enormity of the diagnosis .... of wonder and worry about what the future might hold for my child and my family. And let me add that we were not typical in terms of prior knowledge of families with children who have special needs: my husband was a special education teacher with a master's degree; since my high school days, I had volunteered in various community settings and in state institutions for the people with disabilities.
So, on what "my friends", do you imagine John McCain based his description of Sarah Palin as "more experienced than nearly every other American". For answers, we could look to her record as governor of Alaska. If we did, we'd find that programs for special needs children were level-funded or decreased during her two years in office. We'd see that she used a line-item veto on funding that would make improvements to municipal accessibility for people in wheelchairs, those who are blind or with low vision. We'd learn that Alaska lags far behind nearly every other state in educational opportunities for children with disabilities and in implementation of IDEA. We'd see that in her tenure, she again used the line-item veto against funding to provide community-based services for 1200 adults on waiting lists for such services.
Dial forward to the 2008 election season and see that even her own sister, who has a 13 year old child with autism, has written of Sarah that, "...... she has a lot to learn ......". We read the heartfelt words of an Alaskan resident who is the parent of child with disability and advocate who said she cried when she learned that Sarah was the VP pick. We observe that over and over - again and again across the country parents, professionals, academics and advocates at all levels have rallied against Sarah first as McCain's VP pick, then when McCain designated her 'more experienced', and at his announcement that he would appoint her national advocate on disability.
Follow Sarah around the country. In Colorado, she spoke against support of community-based services for 12,000 adults with disabilities. On the stump elsewhere, she said that more funding disability services is not needed. She talks about educational opportunities for children with disabilities as an "access" issue. And I say, come on, Sarah: we fought that battle and won in the nineteen-seventies. The issue isn't access anymore; the issue is getting appropriate services once in the door.
Does she know or care that IDEA has never been fully funded -- that funding to support individual state efforts is only at 17% of what was originally promised in the mid-nineteen seventies. Does she fully understand that the republican health care plan would eliminate coverage or drop children with disabilities because of the pre-existing condition exclusion in their plan.
John McCain has come up empty-handed on these critical issues. And, he has not put forth any real plans or position statements.
Are the 50 million people with disabilities even on his radar? Or only when their issues offer him a sound-bite or a photo-op or when he can showcase and pander to real people with real life problems as he has done with Sarah.