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Why People With Disabilities Can't Present Their Version of the Truth

Alexander Edward / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Eileen Cronin
Contributor
Eileen Cronin’s memoir, “Mermaid,” is on Oprah Winfrey’s list of Best Memoirs of 2014 and has been translated into three other languages. The memoir is about growing up in the 1960s without legs below…
Eileen Cronin
 

Alexander Edward / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Here we are again in the ugly war on anyone with any illness, and I’m going to have to repeat myself: Where are the disabled reporters? Why wasn’t there someone publicly identified with disability to question Alabama Republican Rep. Mo Brooks when he labeled physical illness a moral failing?

While the American government now in place is hostile toward any culture that is not white, at least our press includes members of minority cultures. But who can name one disabled reporter with a national reputation?

Last week at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner when reporter Carl Bernstein mentioned in his speech “the best obtainable version of the truth,” I wondered whose version he was describing. It seems clear that no version exists for people with disabilities who don’t have a voice to accurately represent them.

Brooks’ comments on “people who live good lives” versus those with pre-existing conditions (the presumably reckless) are a throwback not to the ’50s but to the Middle Ages. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s reference to the “death spiral” of “Obamacare” would best be played in a SNL skit by a second-grade boy talking about cooties. But guess what? If you have a disability in America, you encounter the Mo Brookses and Paul Ryans of this world in employers, schoolteachers, physicians, lawyers, politicians (obviously) and even reporters.

For those of us with disabilities, life in America is not just a dystopian teledrama—we don’t live here part-time—it’s a dystopian reality. So, when Bernstein talks about the best “obtainable version,” is he referring to those questions he might ask of politicians—or the questions that a reporter with a disability would ask?

I have been heartened to see the landscape expanding for reporters and television pundits of most backgrounds. But it is not okay when a pundit, especially one from a minority culture, makes comments along the lines of “the handicapped, or, what is the right term these days for that group?” The disabled are left out of discussions on education, health care, police brutality (half of those cases involve disability), and violence against women (disabled women have a 40 percent higher chance than other women of becoming victims).

Does it matter that the only disabled reporter known to America is a man whose name is left out of the countless discussions of our president’s mockery of him? Hillary Clinton’s campaign capitalized on a clip of that scene while not even listing a disability outreach person on her staff directory. Bernie Sanders had no disability outreach staffer listed, either.

Because we lack adequate outreach and reportage, politicians, pundits and the press need to address us directly. Clinton as the Democratic candidate might have garnered more votes in all states if she had directly addressed those most at risk of losing important protections that had been gained under Obamacare. Imagine if she had won the trust of the folks now at town halls begging for health care.

People with disabilities cross all racial, religious, political and gender boundaries. We have one very important thing in common: Our lives depend on adequate health care. So, while reporters with able bodies talk about “the forgotten man” in Ohio or West Virginia, they are ignoring the crowds at town halls in every state, people who are finally figuring out that the Obamacare repeal is going to remove their protection for pre-existing conditions. The health care of this nearly 20 percent of America is important in itself and also affects the economy of the entire nation, and any politician who cares about this group should be actively engaging support from this population.

So, when Bernstein mentions “the best obtainable version of the truth,” I sincerely hope he is considering all the questions asked by members of all communities. That we do not have more reporters and politicians connected with disability is a reflection not only on the 42 percent who support Donald Trump. It is a direct reflection on America.

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