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Disability and the Presidential Debates

by Michelle K. Wolf

October 5, 2012 | 5:48 pm

You may have missed it in all the post-debate chatter, but the issue of disabilities as part of the national domestic agenda came up not once but twice during Wednesday’s night debate, both times by President Obama. This is a pretty big deal, as every possible issue/cause wants to get in a mention during a presidential debate with 60 million viewers. With so many worthy topics out there competing for attention, I was happy to hear that the D-word had made the cut even if there were criticisms of how Obama framed the issue

The first mention was in regard to how best to trim the federal deficit, with Obama trying to make the point that both revenue and spending needed to be addressed:


“Let — let me just finish this point because you're looking for contrast. You know, when Governor Romney stood on a stage with other Republican candidates for the nomination, and he was asked, would you take $10 of spending cuts for just $1 of revenue, and he said no. Now, if you take such an unbalanced approach, then that means you are going to be gutting our investments in schools and education. It means that — Governor Romney talked about Medicaid and how we could send it back to the states, but effectively this means a 30 percent cut in the primary program we help for seniors who are in nursing homes, for kids who are with disabilities.”

My Twitter feed, with many disability advocates, went crazy, although some were peeved that only kids were mentioned. For example, “Great Obama. So #disabled adults don’t exist?"

The second mention was in regard to Medicaid, known in California as Medi-Cal. Again, President Obama:


“As I indicated before, when you talk about shifting Medicaid to states, we're talking about potentially a — a 30 — a 30 percent cut in Medicaid over time. Now, you know, that may not seem like a big deal when it just is — you know, numbers on a sheet of paper, but if we're talking about a family who's got an autistic kid and is depending on that Medicaid, that's a big problem.”

On this one, my friends in the Autism community were happy to be singled out, but didn’t care for his wording since we didn’t use what we call “people first” language, because a person is more than their disability or condition. As Casey Lee ‏@cleesouth tweeted, “In the debate Obama says "the autistic kid" um no, "kid with autism" is correct. They're a person before they are a disability.”

Although I can’t find Romney using the D-word himself in the transcript, he did talk about giving states maximum flexibility to help poor people in their own state, and then said a vague statement about the feds helping out states if needed. Never mind that some states have engaged in a "race to the bottom" as they do everything they can to drop poor and disabled Medicaid enrollees in order to save money, which can lead to terrible outcomes such as children with severe disabilities forced to live in nursing homes in Florida because they can't get a community-living Medicaid waiver.

As far as I’m concerned, getting our cause out there is better than not getting mentioned at all. To make it more participatory, maybe we can turn mentioning the  “D-word” into a drinking game for the upcoming Veep debate?

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