#CripTheVote: You Have Hillary Clinton to Blame for This Blog Post

For the first time in my 50 years on July 28, 2016, I heard my disabled childhood described through the civil rights lens by a presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. She centered my childhood where I would have: on education and public schools.

It’s difficult to explain the magnitude of hearing my disability identity described in the language of equal rights and not special needs. As meaningful as it was to see a woman accepting the nomination, the tectonic shift I felt was in Clinton accepting me as I am: as a person who deserves respect and can serve the greater good. Not as a diagnosis who has nothing to give or a vote to cast. Certainly not as a target to mock whose vote is irrelevant. Because I have gained my right to an education, I gladly accept the responsibility that comes with answering these two questions:
What do I want to contribute to that is bigger than myself? What is it that I have to contribute?
In using the education that Hillary Clinton and other disability rights advocates fought for, I have a shot at becoming a role model who works together with others rather than being labeled an “inspiration” who is kept at a distance.
The story of childhood is the story of education. The access to and quality of education determines whether that story is one you want to retell over and over, or one that threatens to scare you into silence. The school-to-prison pipeline and the violence that students of color with disabilities experience in the name of “discipline” are the education issues that need urgent action today. I appreciate Clinton’s past work because I see potential in it for protecting the rights of more children and youth with disabilities.
B/w photo of a little boy and younger girl sitting. Both smile and the boy is giving the girl a mischievous sideways glance.

The author and her older brother. Hillary Clinton said, “Every kid with a disability has the right to go to school.” That was an idea – not the law – in 1967 when this photo was taken. Three years later, this little girl could not start first grade at the neighborhood school where her older brother went. The school had a pet rabbit named Pugsly. Inclusion: DENIED. An education: DENIED. A bunny to pet: DENIED.

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2016 Ramp-up to the White House: 5 Questions for the Democratic Candidates for Crip-in-Chief

“If Lincoln and FDR were hanging out with a bunch of crips and you wanted to join them, what would you bring to the disability table?”

While voting access will continue to be a disability rights issue,  here are key questions that address your readiness to be Crip-in-Chief. Please note that any answer in the form of inspiration porn will immediately disqualify you.

Question #1:  It’s 3AM in the White House (as it is everywhere in that time zone). The phone rings.  It’s Sylvia Burwell, the head of DHHS that oversees the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). CMS is STILL sending printed forms to blind consumers and crips are not just pissed but suing. Explain how you get that this is emblematic of being a person with a disability: Most people think disability = sick = great healthcare access when it does not. Then explain your civil rights approach to such structural disability discrimination, how you will engage cross-disability advocates, and how your Obamacare/single-payer system will prevent such debacles.

Question #2:  Human worth in our country has long been measured by participation in the paid workforce. How will you promote a culture of respect backed by legal protections  for people who are unlikely to join or rejoin the paid workforce — a vast coalition that includes some adults who identify as “disabled;” adults with chronic health conditions, survivors of trauma, violence, and conflict zones;  many older people and veterans, parents (particularly mothers); and all (we hope) children.

Question #3:  Young people with disabilities today are being told that they should expect to find be a paying job. This is great — sort of.  Their success is presented as being fundamentally a matter of overcoming their own attitudes and disabilities. But many — particularly youth of color — are systematically denied an education and shoved into the school-to-prison pipeline. How are you going to dismantle the infrastructural  and intersectional barriers to employment that persist: lack of access to education,  housing, transportation, in-home supports? How will you shift the country from a “special needs” lens to an “equal rights” lens?

Question #4:  Explain how, as a pro-choice candidate, you would ensure women with disabilities and all queer people with disabilities (quips!) truly have choices with regard to their own sexual agency, pregnancy, parenting, and custody disputes. And how would you address the implicit ableism that frequently presents the decision to bear and parent a child with a disability as a cost-benefit analysis — and a rigged one, at that?

Question #5:  In a time of economic inequality, lost faith in a for-profit healthcare industry, and increasing elder abuse, assisted suicide legislation is gaining ground as a personal liberty rather than a public health issue.  Again, this is a question about policy  and medical standards of care affecting millions of diverse people, not an individual belief system. Do you support laws that indemnify physicians who prescribe lethal drugs but don’t require any medical provider or trained personnel to monitor, attend, follow-up if/when the consumer uses them?

Bonus Question: Two transformative presidents, Lincoln and FDR, lived with disabilities. Like many Americans today, neither identified as “disabled,” but their respective Administrations nevertheless reflected a deep understanding of another term for “disabled”: “vulnerable.” If Lincoln and FDR were hanging out with a bunch of crips and you wanted to join them, what would you bring to the disability table?

Remember: Our civil rights matter and so do our votes!