Politicians with Disabled Family Members
Politicians-disability-community-family. You’d think that those words would go together, right? Do you remember it? It seems like a lifetime ago. But how the gossip was spreading in the disability community. “She has a son with Down Syndrome.” Wow, it was someone like us!
Believe it or not, I was a fan of Sarah Palin. Wait, scratch that…I wasn’t a fan. But I was genuinely enthused about her nomination to run for VP looked forward to learning about her.
Remember when she said this at the 2008 convention?
“To the families of special-needs children all across this country, I have a message: For years, you sought to make America a more welcoming place for your sons and daughters. I pledge to you that if we are elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House.”Sarah Palin
Since we were pretty new to this world, I was over the moon when she said this. Then I learned that she was anything but a friend and advocate to families like mine, and my hopes were quickly crushed. Her voting record said otherwise. Her campaign promises were hollow. None of them had any substance. After the election, despite resigning from her position as Governor, she hasn’t used her fame and influence as a disability advocate.
In honor of a very important election year coming up, I thought I’d review some politicians who have a close connection to the disability world. You’d think that they’d become advocates but that is not always the case. Like everything else, I don’t speculate the motives of others. I assume, though, that most are insulated by their wealth. They have enough money that fighting with insurance companies for equipment or fighting with the school district for a private placement is not an issue. They just pay for it. If you don’t have the struggles that we do, they don’t think that it’s as big a problem as it is. Maybe I’m wrong.
A note to anyone who reads this: No one is perfect. Not me, not any of these politicians. I know that there are many good people who I left off this list. Maybe I’ll do a part 2 or even 3. I also know that what people do for disabilities is not always who they are as a whole. They have faults, we all do. My point: You don’t need to email me and tell me all the moral failings of the Kennedys and others. I know. But they still are undeniably huge advocates for disability.
Cyrus Habib, Lt. Governor of Washington- FRIEND. What can you say? Lt. Governor Habib is not only blind and Lt. Governor, but he has achieved much for not even being 40 years old yet. Breaking down barriers and expectations as far as what blind people can do!
Steve Sweeney, current State Senator for New Jersey-FRIEND. In NJ, he was the leader of the movement to remove the R word. He also has fought for more funding for programs that help the disabled. One reason for pause: He is a supporter of sheltered workshops, as seen in his latest TV commercial.
Michael Bennet, Senator from Colorado-FRIEND. In second grade, he was diagnosed with dyslexia. He has a good record in voting for disability related causes.
Tammy Duckworth, Senator from Illinois-FRIEND. I actually saw her once when she was a Congresswoman. We were both using the handicap entrance to the Congressional building and I was all fan-girl over her. Definite friend to both vets and disabilities.
Sarah Selvaggi Hernandez, school board member in CT. Sure, it may just be a local school board. However, as far as we know, she is the first openly autistic person elected to a public office. And that’s HUGE.
Politicians with Disabled Family Members
Maggie Hassan, current Senator from New Hampshire-FRIEND! Senator Hassan has a son with Cerebral Palsy which likely ignited her passion for advocacy. Senator Hassan has long been a friend to the disabilities cause during her career as a politician. She was a real warrior during the Senate hearings earlier this year for Secretary DeVos.
Bill Cassidy, Senator from Louisiana-wolf in sheep’s clothing. Yes, you read that correctly. He is neither friend nor foe, but someone who pretends to be a friend, but is no friend at all. Having a child with dyslexia, and seeing on the surface what he has done for the dyslexia community, you’d be inclined to think that he’s a friend. Well, he is, sort of. He’s a friend to families like his, but not like mine. He and his ‘friends’ have been known to say things like “Dyslexics are not like kids with other disabilities, they’re smart.” It’s a vibe you can often hear and witness in some disability communities, behind closed doors. Which is what makes him so dangerous.
These folks have a close connection to disabilities. But are they friend or foe to the disability community?
David Axelrod, Senior Advisor to Barack Obama-FRIEND. David Axelrod’s daughter Lauren starting having seizures as an infant. The Axelrod’s have not only help Lauren with her lifelong battle with epilepsy, the devoted parents are both devoted to the cause of epilepsy awareness and research. David Axelrod has said, “I cried when Obamacare passed.” Me too, David, me too.
Kennedy Family, various positions-FRIEND. Any list like this would be remiss without mentioning the Kennedys. The family was inspired by Rosemary Kennedy. Rosemary was a sibling to John F and Robert Kennedy. Due to the time frame when she was born, an exact cause of her intellectual disability. Records indicate it was likely a lack of oxygen during her birth. Rosemary received an unsuccessful lobotomy, requested by her parents. That might seem outrageous today but wasn’t in the early 1900s. Those struggles inspired many of the family members to become involved in disability advocacy, even to this day. Eunice Kennedy Shriver was the founder of Special Olympics. Ted Kennedy was a champion of disabilities while he was in the Senate.
Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska, Vice Presidential candidate in 2008-FOE. Described above.
Rick Santorum, former Senator of PA-FOE. There are few people on this planet that I like less than this guy. He has a daughter with Trisomy 18. Again, insulated by his wealth, he thinks that mentally ill people should buy their meds instead of ipads. And he was saying it before it was even trendy! Not only that, but he uses his daughter's condition to promote his anti-abortion agenda. Yet, the pious Santorum is not only pious, but he's a lawyer. He'd like you to think that he and his wife knew of the trisomy 18 and chose not to abort...but it's not true. They did not find out until after she was born, thus not the noble decision that he'd like you to believe it is. #PantsOnFire