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Hillary Clinton Should Push Hard for Disability Civil Rights

By Eileen Cronin
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Eileen Cronin
Contributor
Eileen Cronin is a writer and Truthdig contributor. Her memoir, "Mermaid," published by WW Norton in 2014 and translated into three foreign languages, was one of O Magazine’s Best Memoirs of the Year.…
Eileen Cronin

Hillary Clinton at a campaign rally. (Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons)

This year, the Democratic National Convention mentioned the civil rights of Americans with disabilities. That this happened now, decades into a movement, speaks volumes about the priorities of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Hillary Clinton deserves credit for being the first United States presidential candidate from a major party to address the civil rights of these 56 million Americans.

Does Clinton assume that all those votes are going her way? Even after Clinton launched an ad focused on Donald Trump’s bullying of a reporter with a disability, the DNC balked at mentioning the Disability Integration Act in Philadelphia.

The DIA was introduced to the Senate by Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., on Dec. 18, 2015, and into the House of Representatives by Christopher Gibson, R-N.Y., on July 8. According to DIA advocate Bruce Darling, “Democrats need to not take disabled voters for granted and support DIA like they support the [LGBTQ] Equality Act. It isn’t enough to say Trump made fun of a disabled journalist.”

What is enough? For many individuals with disabilities, there is not equal access to employment, education or even marriage. Dr. Alette Coble-Temple—a professor of psychology at John F. Kennedy University in California, a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) Committee on Women in Psychology and the reigning Ms. Wheelchair America—meets regularly with politicians, educators and business leaders to discuss the problems confronting people with disabilities. She researches issues affecting people with disabilities, and she regularly lectures on these topics at APA conferences. Coble-Temple points to the marriage equality issue for those with severe disabilities who lose their benefits for personal care attendants when they marry. She explains that in 37 states children can be removed from a home on the basis of a parent’s disability. Furthermore, most states, including California, will not allow parents with disabilities to adopt children with disabilities.

According to the APA’s Office on Women, women with disabilities are 40 percent more likely to experience domestic abuse than other women. Women with disabilities have survived far worse than Trump’s mockery. Clinton herself has survived worse than Trump’s mockery. The difference is that Americans ignore the women they (falsely) perceive as having no contribution, while maintaining a hypercritical focus on the women they perceive as having too much authority. In this way, Hillary Clinton and women with disabilities have much in common: They are not seen for who they are and what they are actually contributing.

Over 25 years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act began to address issues of access, but the employment and social issues created by negative perceptions of disability are still active. The rising unemployment rate of people with disabilities reflects the problem. As of June, the number of workers and dependents receiving benefits was 10,727,541, according to the Social Security Administration.

And the numbers have been skyrocketing. The NPR program “Planet Money” reports that “every month 14 million people now get a disability check from the government.”

Obviously, there is a disparity in the numbers, but both are staggeringly high.

What this means is that those individuals with disabilities engaged in the workforce need a leader willing to support their productivity, by building a path to professional careers, by confronting discrimination in the workplace, by ensuring health benefits, and by creating equal access to education.

Clinton has indicated that the ADA ensures that no one will be turned down for a job because of a disability, but this claim is inaccurate. Employers can choose not to go forward with an applicant in the early stages of the vetting process. They might do this based on physical appearance, and it is difficult to prove that discrimination was the basis of the decision. Aside from that, some U.S. government agencies are granted the right to eliminate applicants for medical reasons, even if the job doesn’t require physically demanding work.

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