Laura Hershey: Writer, Poet, Activist, Consultant Rotating Header Image

Fair Home Health Act

Why I Support Obama

Election Day is now just a couple of weeks away and, in fact, some people are already voting, either by mail or at early voting locations. I’ve been thinking that I should write a post directly addressing the disability community, i.e. people with disabilities and our family members, friends, and allies. (Or maybe I should define “disability community” more broadly, to mean anyone who has — or will someday have — a physical or mental impairment, or a loved one who does. By that measure, we could be a truly decisive voting bloc!)

Polls show that somewhere around six percent of voters are still undecided, and I know that at least some of those will ultimately make their choices based at least partly on issues related to disability. It appears that the candidates, this time around, are somewhat aware of this constituency.

Early in his campaign, Obama began recruiting knowledgeable disability policy advisers, developing a coherent disability policy agenda, and reaching out to voters with disabilities. The clarity and thoroughness of his “Disability Plan” attest to the close attention Obama and his team have been paying to disability issues. For more information about Obama’s position on disability issues, go to http://www.barackobama.com/pdf/DisabilityPlanFactSheet.pdf .

For his part, John McCain appointed a running mate who claims to have a special affinity with families of “special needs” children, by virtue of having a child with Down syndrome. (Though as a friend of mine recently pointed out, Trig Palin really isn’t a “special needs” child yet — he’s a little baby, with pretty much the same needs as every baby. Sarah Palin has yet to face the kinds of educational, employment, and support concerns that confront the families of children and adults with developmental disabilities.)

For the record, I’m strongly supporting Barack Obama. I have several reasons, some connected to disability advocacy, and some to other concerns. In no particular order, here are the stances and qualities I most admire in this candidate:

  • He seems to get disability. By that I mean that he appears to understand disability, not simply as a private family matter, but as a broader concern involving funding for educational and social programs, and recognition and protection of our civil and human rights. While Palin talks about being “a friend” to special needs families, Obama talks about fully funding IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, so that public schools will have the resources they need to educate students with disabilities appropriately, alongside their nondisabled peers whenever possible. While Palin and McCain highlight her new son as evidence of her “family values,” Obama vows to invest in early intervention and developmental assistance to equip disabled kids for future success.
  • He sees beyond US borders, recognizing global connections. In the disability context, this means he will urge the United States Senate to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I have been rooting for ratification since 2004, when I had the opportunity to witness and report on the early process of drafting the treaty at the UN. We are, in fact, a worldwide community, and Obama knows this.
  • He believes in providing needed support services to people with disabilities in their homes and communities, rather than forcing them into institutions. Obama’s commitment to this issue is not just hypothetical; he is a Senate co-sponsor of the Community Choice Act, which would expand community-based care throughout the nation. He also supports the Fair Home Health Care Act, in order to improve home care jobs, making it easier to recruit and retain high-quality workers.
  • He understands the original intent of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Obama objects to the way conservative courts have narrowed definitions of disability, and favored employers against plaintiffs in discrimination cases. One of his most lasting legacies may be the appointments he will make at all levels of the judiciary, including the US Supreme Court. He says he “will appoint judges and justices who respect Congress’ role as a co-equal, democratically elected branch of government and who exhibit empathy with what it means to be an American with a disability.”
  • He’s a good writer. I recommend Obama’s book, Dreams of My Father, as an enlightening and literary memoir. What, that’s not a good reason to vote for someone for president? Well maybe it’s not sufficient in and of itself. But the ability to construct a graceful sentence, to tell genuine and compelling stories, to narrate a world in which personal events and insights connect to historical precedents — these are valuable, transferable skills, skills which we have not seen in the White House for a while.

You may agree with my reasons for supporting Obama, and/or you may have reasons of your own. Or you may even disagree, and have found some reasons to vote for McCain-Palin or for one of the third-party candidates. Either way, now is the time to exercise — to demand — your right as a citizen to participate in our democracy. So, no excuses — VOTE!