November 10th, 2016
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.