Jewish Journal


January 23, 2013

A Presidential Shout Out to Parents of Children with Disabilities



Sitting in our hotel room in Sedona, AZ, we turned on the TV about three-quarters way through President Obama’s inaugural address. Washington DC looked all dressed up but cold and windy while we were soaking up an exceptionally nice day. So while we heard President Obama mention “Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall” we missed any mention of disability issues. Our college-aged daughter mused which of her friends might be in DC when she received a text from one of them, while our teenage son with developmental disabilities was more excited to hear Kelly Clarkson’s singing than hearing President Obama.

Later on, I scrolled quickly through my Twitter and Facebook accounts, seeing one group after another expressing their happiness at being included in President Obama’s address: Women’s rights, LBGT, African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims and Jews. It felt like Los Angeles on steroids. But what about the disabled?

After we got home, I finally got the chance to read over the full text of his remarks, and there it was, a shout out not just to persons with disabilities, but to their parents as well:

We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.  We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit.  But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.  For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn.  We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.

Wow. In those few sentences, I felt the words addressed squarely at us, the millions of parents raising children with autism, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities and epilepsy. No more lurking in the shadows of stigma and that over-whelming feeling that we had fallen down the rabbit’s hole into Special Needs Land.  This was big time validation. Other bloggers talked about a similar feeling of elation such as as Maggie World.

My more-politically connected friends thought that shout out might have come from David Axelrod, Senior Strategist for Obama's 2012 re-election, since Axelrod has publicly talked about his own daughter with developmental disabilities and his wife, Susan, has created a national epilepsy foundation.  No matter what the source, we feel that those at the highest positions of power are finally acknowledging our story. And it sure feels good.

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