Autistic Future
November 10th, 2016

What We Lost

And What We Need To Do About It

Amid the drama and rehashes of the outcome of the presidential election, the media has almost overlooked the fact that the disability community was one of the major losers of this cycle. We have already suffered a variety of losses and are likely to suffer more before Mr. Trump leaves office. It’s essential that we get ready to mitigate these losses and stay engaged with public life and political processes.

A lot of what the dis­abil­i­ty com­mu­ni­ty lost is what might have been. A hand­ful of major politi­cians on the nation­al lev­el have shown inter­est in dis­abil­i­ty issues, most notably Pres­i­dents Kennedy and Carter, but it’s rare for a major, Amer­i­can polit­i­cal fig­ure to care about us. Hillary Clin­ton would have been a strong ally. There was every indi­ca­tion that she would have lis­tened to dis­abled lead­ers, hired and appoint­ed the right peo­ple, and set the tone for good pol­i­cy. Her autism and men­tal health plans weren’t per­fect, but they were bet­ter than any­thing else that has been on offer late­ly. There is no rea­son to think those kinds of pol­i­cy pro­pos­als will come out of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. There is lit­tle rea­son to sup­pose that a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date from either par­ty will be so inter­est­ed in dis­abil­i­ty issues in the fore­see­able future.

We lost out on what might have been a very ben­e­fi­cial pres­i­den­cy for us, but our prob­lems don’t end there. Beyond the dashed hopes of affir­ma­tive progress, we have to con­front the pos­si­bil­i­ty of things going very bad­ly for us dur­ing a Trump pres­i­den­cy. Mr. Trump has shown no regard for dis­abil­i­ty rights law in the past. It isn’t clear that his Jus­tice Depart­ment will pri­or­i­tize enforc­ing the legal rights of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties as much as it did under the dis­abled-friend­ly Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion. Mr. Trump is not known for being a lis­ten­er. If he were to take an inter­est in dis­abil­i­ty pol­i­cy, he might fail to seek the dis­abil­i­ty com­mu­ni­ty’s input and do more harm than good. Worse, Mr. Trump is an advo­cate for Med­ic­aid cuts and block grants. With a friend­ly House and Sen­ate, he might be able to carve away at the ben­e­fits that keep peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties alive, healthy, and inde­pen­dent. If he keeps his promise to repeal the Afford­able Care Act, peo­ple with many dis­abil­i­ties may lose cov­er­age. Mr. Trump might pre­serve the ban on insur­ers refus­ing to cov­er peo­ple with pre­ex­ist­ing con­di­tions or charg­ing them rates beyond the reach of most dis­abled peo­ple. Insur­ance com­pa­nies, though, are con­cerned about the fea­si­bil­i­ty of cov­er­ing dis­abled and sick peo­ple with­out the indi­vid­ual man­date. What­ev­er side of the issue Mr. Trump ulti­mate­ly takes, Con­gress might decide not to save that provision.

This is a bleak pic­ture. The doubt that has been cast on sup­ports that are mat­ters of life and death, com­mu­ni­ties and insti­tu­tions, for dis­abled Amer­i­cans is ter­ri­fy­ing. The worst case sce­nario is night­mar­ish, so we can’t let it hap­pen. We also can’t afford to wait anoth­er gen­er­a­tion or two for anoth­er major, nondis­abled politi­cian to spon­ta­neous­ly care about us. Dis­abled peo­ple, togeth­er, as an iden­ti­ty group, engaged in the polit­i­cal process in a new, pow­er­ful way in the 2016 elec­tion. We have to stay engaged. We don’t know what this new real­i­ty will be yet, but it does­n’t look good, and self-advo­ca­cy won’t be near­ly enough to counter it. We have to advo­cate for each oth­er. We have to demon­strate that our iden­ti­ty extends into polit­i­cal life, show our strength as a vot­ing bloc, and make it known that we are deter­mined to pro­tect things that are essen­tial to the sur­vival and inde­pen­dence of the most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. Don’t drift away from pol­i­tics. Redou­ble your efforts. Dig in for a long, hard strug­gle. If you don’t know who you need to call, email, vis­it, or write when good or bad poli­cies are on the table, now is the time to find out. Dis­abled lives may depend on it.