39 Million Reasons to Know Us
In 2017, I marched for miles, on two artificial legs, along with my husband and 750,000 others in the first Women’s March Los Angeles.
The march reminded us of attending President Barack Obama’s inauguration, when my husband, daughter and two brothers-in-law stood for 12 hours in 20-degree weather.
Months after the inauguration, we witnessed the second and binding marriage of these two brothers-in-law at the San Francisco City Hall, after their first marriage had been revoked because some Californians were against the initial action toward marriage equality.
We are a family invested in the civil rights of all people. With each civil rights breakthrough, however, this bittersweet truth emerges: The rights of people like me are not celebrated.
Even though there are 56 million Americans with disabilities, 39 million of whom are voters, neither the resistance nor the Democratic Party greet us as allies. We don’t have speakers at marches who tell our stories, or leaders who wax on about our accomplishments and who inspire crowds to witness our achievements along with the achievements of other minority groups.
When I read in The RespectAbility Report that only 49 percent of Americans with disabilities voted for Hillary Clinton, even after Donald Trump insulted a New York Times reporter with a disability, I suspected that my community was upset that this investigative journalist was repeatedly referred to as a “disabled reporter” in campaign ads. His name is Serge Kovaleski, and he contributed to a Pulitzer Prize-winning article.
Our 56 million people achieve great things, and we know that our bodies are in many places: boardrooms, higher education, the arts, everywhere. But our leaders do not educate themselves, nor do they educate their audiences about us. In turn, they push us away as allies.
For me, marching is about showing up for others and showing off to others that people like me are tough, smart and beautiful. Walking on two artificial legs after so many miles feels like I’m balancing two eight-pound logs as stilts. I begin to wobble and inside of these logs I’m getting bruised and splintered. People in wheelchairs or those who are deaf or blind face even greater challenges. We work extraordinarily hard to attend. We deserve to be welcomed to marches and political rallies with speakers who fight for our civil rights, too. We deserve to be counted among the heroes.
Democrats and the resistance should both be looking to include women from my community to help win over the votes of the other half of the disability community. It is a myth that all people with disabilities vote Democrat. The disability community includes swing voters from every state, every racial group and every gender variation. Although the entire disability community has 39 million votes at stake, disability is not a characteristic studied in many election polls. Maybe that is a practice that should be reconsidered.
I follow disability rights closely, and even I was shocked to read in The RespectAbility Report that 46 percent of my community voted for Donald Trump.
The Penn State Law Review referred to us as “game changers.” They wrote:
People with disabilities make up the largest minority group in the country—one in five Americans has a disability. It is also one of the only minority groups anyone can join at any time. Research has shown that the majority of voters either have a disability themselves or have a loved one with a disability, yet candidates seem to either (1) ignore issues affecting persons with disabilities completely or (2) use them as props for campaign videos and other promotional materials.
Leading up to the Women’s March on Washington, news headlines announced that more women in wheelchairs were expected to descend on the National Mall than ever before. While women in wheelchairs formed their own crowd in Washington, D.C., they wanted to see and hear faces and bodies like ours at the speakers’ podium. I spoke with Mia Ives-Rublee, the founder of the Disability Caucus of the Women’s March on Washington. She was pleased about the numbers of women with disabilities who showed up in 2017, but many women with disabilities wanted a leader from our community at the podium who would speak to us in the way that women of color and LGBTQ leaders address their struggles.
I spoke to one such candidate a while back, Marilee Adamski-Smith, a spokesperson for ADAPT, the organization that protests regularly at the offices or homes of Republican leaders. She had to put a freelance job on hold to fight to keep the health care that is keeping her alive. She is missing all four limbs. Adamski-Smith has a degree from the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, in graphic design, and she owns her own business. Without Medicaid, she would have no one to help her perform functions that keep her alive while her husband is at work. Hundreds of ADAPT activists like Adamski-Smith drop everything to fly or drive to another city to protest. This year we might have benefited from hearing from ADAPT, women and men who prove that disability activism is organized.
The GOP is working to outlaw the abortions of fetuses with Down syndrome in several states. We are uniquely qualified to address the GOP record on the human rights of people with disabilities. Why are we not being called upon to participate more?
This year, in an attempt to raise awareness about women from the disability community in Los Angeles, I called and sent emails to the local marches’ leadership. Then I called the Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco Bay Area marches. No one included disability in their programs and instead of addressing the talking points I sent them, they referred me to the Disability Caucus, but Ives-Rublee had already addressed these issues with the leaders after the first march. All of this reminds me of the frustration that African-American women have gone through for decades.
Our community is hard at work connecting with anyone who physically cannot attend future events through the Disability March online, started by writers Sarah Einstein, Sonya Huber and Andrea Scarpino. In the San Francisco Bay Area, Alice Wong is actively organizing online connectivity for all people with disabilities, but we deserve a place at the podium in future rallies, a voice from our community.
With 39 million votes, we should not have to fight to join this army.