In her victory speech after the Nevada primaries, Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton said itís time to invest in marginalized communities by “ensuring that people with disabilities have the same opportunities to work and fully participate in our society.”
That may seem like the standard campaign rhetoric of a serious presidential candidate, but what many people donít realize is that disability rights have rarely been mentioned by name in national campaigns.
Fortunately, Clinton is not alone. Sen. Bernie Sanders, another Democratic candidate, has also urged the full inclusion of people with disabilities in
society. Among the Republican hopefuls, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio has named workers with disabilities as a target for programs to increase employment. Jeb Bush, before ending his run for the nomination recently, had featured a child with a disability in a campaign video. The video followed a campaign speech in which Donald Trump made jerky movements that mocked Serge Kovaleski, a reporter with a disability that restricts the mobility of his arms, prompting a widespread public outcry.
While pundits donít agree on how much such rhetoric lines up with voting records and possible presidential initiatives, at the end of the day, the rhetoric of inclusion is in and of itself important. It is important for our society to hear political candidates say, as Sen. Marco Rubio did in January, that “most countries in the world, if you are disabled or you are born with a disability, you never go to school. They basically write you off and walk away. We have never done that and we will never do that.” And it is important for people to hear that Sen. Ted Cruz finds the fact that 70 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed appalling and wants to change that number, as he said last November.
During this yearís contentious race for the White House, it is rare to find an issue that cuts across our bitter party lines, but disability inclusion is precisely such an issue.
We will not always agree on the concrete ways to achieve change, but this inclusion climate is certainly a long way from when Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for president while hiding the fact that he had a disability.
As thought leaders and — on a good day — as role models, presidents, candidates and members of Congress can impact our thinking and our actions. Even the best-intentioned candidate may find it daunting to implement new policies once in office. As American Jews, we can draw inspiration from the increased visibility for our community and for the disability cause. Then we must turn around and push our leaders — and American society — to do even better.