As I watch the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates debate domestic and international issues, I am awe struck by the absence of people with disabilities and, certainly, by the disappearance of issues related to people with disabilities:
- Watching the debates on television, I have not seen any sign-language interpreters on stage. If this situation is true, then the deaf community is absent from knowing the candidatesâ€™ positions in real time;
- Watching the debates, I would never learn that the majority of working age adults with disabilities are jobless, because no one has asked candidates in either party what they will do to improve the hiring of people with disabilities;
- Watching the debates, I have not heard any question on where the candidates stand on improving educational opportunities for children with disabilities;
- Watching the debates, the audience would never realize that having access to housing is a problem for people with disabilities. No politician is addressing the issues underlying housing shortages for people with disabilities. Why? Because the politicians are not being asked. As long as they are not asked, they will not think about the condition.
- Of course, exorbitant health care costs, that prevent people from receiving medical care, appear to be the major concern for only union members and not for people with disabilities.
- The debates leave me with the impression that civil rights enforcement is not a major concern for people with disabilities.
People with disabilities are silent, silent, silent.
In telephone calls to all of the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, only the offices ofÂ Democratic Senators Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and former Senator John Edwards, as well as Governor Bill RichardsonÂ responded to inquiries regarding disability issues. (A future post will cover the Democratsâ€™ responses.)
Not a single Republican responded to my inquiries regarding disability issues. I thought that since former Governor Mitt Romney had been involved in the 2002 Paralympic Games in Salt Lake City, his office would respond. It did not.
During the 2000 presidential primaries in New Hampshire, Senator John McCain told me that he supported the Americans with Disabilities Act and civil rights, but there is not anything on McCainâ€™s presidential campaign website dealing with disabilities.
Not one of Giulianiâ€™s 12 commitments deals with disability issues. None of Fred Thompsonâ€™s issues cover disabilities. Neither do Duncan Hunterâ€™s, Ron Paulâ€™s, Mike Huckabeeâ€™s or Tom Tancredoâ€™s.
When I asked people in the offices of Giuliani, Hunter, Paul, Thompson and Huckabee if they had telecommunications devices for the deaf in their offices, their spokespersons did not know what I was talking about.
All of the people in the Republican presidential candidate offices that I contacted said their campaigns were not publishing campaign materials in Braille, large print or on cassette tape.
None of the videos that I saw on the Republicansâ€™ websites were captioned.
Looking at the Republican websites, I am of the impression that I am looking at mirror images of their policies. Their policies are lower taxes, more defense spending, and more money for homeland security. Smaller government? Achieving energy independence? Expanded health insurance for all, but not necessarily lowering costs? Cracking down on illegal immigration. Improving and expanding education. Salvaging Social Security. And continuing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan!
Noticeably absent is improving the countryâ€™s infrastructure!
People with disabilities share the same concerns as people without disabilities. Tens of millions of people with disabilities also vote, work, pay taxes and give strength to the country. However, watching the Republican presidential debates, you would never know they existed. Fifty six million people with disabilities are absent from the minds of the Republican candidates, and they will continue to be absent as long as people with disabilities are voiceless.
Should people with disabilities acquire a voice, they might ask the Republicans:
- What will you do to protect my rights as a citizen with disabilities?
- What will you do to improve the infrastructure in the country? How will you pay for it?
- What taxes will you lower and what programs will you cut to offset the tax reduction?
- How can you lower taxes, increase defense spending, increase money for homeland security, continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, salvage Social Security, protect our borders and do other things while reducing the size of government?
- Where is the money coming from for this expansion of federal power?
- Will you ask every American to sacrifice? What will this sacrifice be?
People with disabilities should be thinking: What am I willing to sacrifice to keep my freedoms and my quality of life?