When I was a junior in high school, my English teacher was pretty creative. If we wanted to earn some extra credit, she encouraged us to go to plays put on by the drama department. Sometimes writing stories would get us additional points on an assignment. But my favorite way to earn more points was to memorize a selection of literature that she had picked out. At times it was a passage from Shakespeare, once it was parts of the Declaration of Independence. There was something about the memorizing that resonated with me. It made what I was reading more real because it enabled me to think about what I was reading in a different way. And if I was able to repeat back to her what I had memorized, the meaning usually sank deeper within me, at least for a while.
Like most people in America, I have been thinking about politics often lately, because I just don’t know what a new administration is going to mean for my future. As I have said before, I depend on many government programs in order to live my life to the best of my ability. Programs funded by Medicaid enable me to live in the community with the support of caregivers instead of living in a nursing home. Another state Medicaid program that I helped design allows me to work and pay taxes into the system without losing access to funding for caregivers. The rules used to be much different. We changed that.
Because I’ve had some anxiety about what the future may hold, one of the things I did a few days ago was to go back to the basics. I needed some reassurance and reminding of what this country is about. So I read the Declaration of Independence again. And then I moved on to the Constitution. The first three words of the preamble made me stop.
We the people.
It doesn’t say “We the men.”
It doesn’t say “We the Caucasians.”
It doesn’t say “We the Christians.”
It doesn’t say “We the heterosexuals.”
It doesn’t say “We without disabilities”
Let me focus on the last one of that list for a minute, because as a woman affected by a significant disability, my concerns start there. In the past few years, Donald Trump has had numerous lawsuits filed against him for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act with several of the properties he owns. He settles most of them, a few are still pending. I am unsure, at the time that he settles, if he authorizes that those properties or the services that are provided to the public as part of them be brought up to federal accessibility codes.
He mocked a reporter with a disability (yes, I believe that he did that) and then suggested a few days later that the reporter needed to apologize to him.
And then there is the issue of his pick for the next Secretary of Education. My jaw dropped as I watched some of the confirmation hearings. Betsy Devos did not realize that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, (IDEA) which ensures children with a disability a free appropriate public education and was passed in 1975 was federal law. When Senator Maggie Hassan from New Hampshire talked about her son who has severe cerebral palsy, and who graduated from a public high school because IDEA was in place, Ms. DeVos said she “would be sensitive to those needs.” What? Someone being sensitive to needs is not the same thing as them pledging to follow federal law. In my opinion “we the people” is an important part of that law. Kids with disabilities deserve nothing less than to be educated alongside their nondisabled peers. Inclusion is a good thing for everyone. And kids, both those with disabilities and those without, happen to be the future of this country.
Both The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 are also laws that ensure the “We the people” concept. The playing field is level because we are all equal.
As of Friday afternoon, according to a story that I read in the Washington Post, the White House website had taken down all the web pages related to disability. Not a good sign. Especially because it was during the first few hours in office. It might be for some legitimate reason, I do understand that. The timing still makes me cringe. Read more about that here. Somebody needs to get serious. And soon.
There have been times in the last several months that my anxiety about all this political stuff has been intense. And on several occasions, close friends have encouraged me to take one day at a time, since nobody seems certain of what will happen next. And I can see that logic.
Okay, Mr. Trump, I will give you a chance before I jump to any conclusions. But know something about me and many other advocates and private citizens.
We will be watching.
We. The people.