Whether a person is disabled, raising a child with a disability, providing care to an elderly relative or just getting older, most Americans are or will someday be affected by disability. Because the presidential campaigns have significant differences in their disability policies, the Disability Rights & Concerns Committee of United University Professions believes voters need to be informed.
The Obama-Biden "Plan to Empower People with Disabilities" addresses many critical issues. Among those of particular importance to families of children with disabilities are: full funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; an investment of $10 billion in early intervention; the expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act to include more workers who need time to care for their children; protection of workers from discrimination because of their family obligations; support for the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act; mental health parity; and investment in assistive technologies.
The McCain-Palin platform does not have disability listed among its issues, nor has its campaign responded to a questionnaire from the American Association of People with Disabilities. The McCain-Palin educational platform does not mention children with special needs; it emphasizes parental choice of schools and a plan to allow educational service providers to market directly to parents of children who do not meet state standards.
Among the most important pieces of potential legislation is the Community Choice Act. It would end the institutional bias of our current system and provide people with disabilities and their families the opportunity to choose how and where services would be provided; it would offer assistance to states to provide services, including attendant care, in the most integrated setting. Barack Obama and Joseph Biden are co-sponsors of the bill. John McCain opposes it.
The speech by vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, in which she told parents of children with special needs that she is their "friend and advocate" was received with enthusiasm and hope by some parents, and confusion by many. Some feel that by virtue of her having an infant with Down syndrome, a Palin vice presidency would improve public attitudes about children with disabilities. Palin's record indicates no prior advocacy of disability rights.
The nonpartisan group Disabled American Veterans monitors legislators' voting records on issues relating to disabled veterans. Obama supported 80 percent of the legislative priorities of DAV, while McCain supported 20 percent. Biden and Obama each earned a "B" rating from the nonpartisan group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America; McCain received a D.
We encourage voters to recognize the importance of disability-related issues when they vote on Election Day.
Jacqualine Berger of Snyder is a faculty member at Empire State College and a member of the Disability Rights & Concerns Committee of United University Professions.