There is a post going around facebook that says people whose children are upset about the election have failed as parents. I can’t even tell you how angry that makes me.
I have a disabled son. Over the last 17 years I have worked daily to teach him how to function in society and to get society to accept my son. I started an education and support group that reached thousands of students, parents and educators. My co-workers and I taught kids skills to help them function in life, and taught parents and teachers how to help those kids. We spoke at teacher trainings, churches, conferences, seminars, anywhere we could find a soap box. We wrote books. We started social programs. We spent countless hours talking to crying parents and worried teachers. Piece by piece, call by call, we worked to change society’s view of people with disabilities, and to help disabled people to believe in themselves.
Disability rights don’t just happen. It’s only been 45 years since the state of California even allowed children with disabilities to be in public school. It has only been within the last ten years that schools have adopted policies enabling children with disabilities to be taught in the regular classroom. When my son was in kindergarten, he attended a special education class on a regular school campus. The special ed students weren’t allowed on the playground at the same time as the typical students and they were denied entry into the school’s library because staff thought “those kids will tear up the books.” I’ve talked to teachers who “really didn’t want those kids in their classroom,” and principals who thought “those kids should just be homeschooled.” None of these people were evil or heartless; they just didn’t know how to work with children with disabilities and they were afraid. It took us years to get schools to look at our children as “children with difficulties” instead of “not our type of student.”
Our work hasn’t ended. There a few hundred young adults within our local area who worked their butts off to make it through public education, and if things don’t change for them, they are destined for a life of poverty and dependence. SSI told them they can work, so they don’t qualify for assistance. They can’t get into the state’s work training programs, because they “aren’t work ready”. The state’s safety net programs for people with disabilities doesn’t want them either, because “their difficulties aren’t severe enough.” There are a handful of private companies in California that will teach these people vocational and independent living skills, but they cost $40,000 a year. There was one program within 35 miles of us that would help people like my son learn how to join the competitive workforce. The local community college ran it. It was five miles away from the campus, in a leaky building, and it barely found enough funds to survive each year. But it was there. The students who participated improved their abilities – not only to work at a regular job, but to get along independently in society. Many of them found jobs, others used it as a stepping stone to get into regular college classes or trade school. A few weeks ago, the college announced they had closed the program, effectively taking away what was the only chance these people had of achieving economic independence.
Opportunities for people with disabilities don’t just happen. Disability rights don’t just happen. Society caring about what happens to people with disabilities doesn’t just happen. Jobs for people with disabilities don’t just happen. And having them today doesn’t guarantee we will still have them tomorrow.
Let’s get back to that video that calls people whiners for being upset that Trump was elected. During his election campaign, Trump stood up and mocked a man with disabilities, and implied that because he was disabled, he couldn’t do his job. That’s not my opinion; that’s a fact. You can look it up on the internet and watch it. www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2015/11/26/donald-trump-mocks-reporter-with-disability-berman-sot-ac.cnn
Let me be clear – I know our real world is complex. No president can truly represent all the people. This election, we all had to make some very hard decisions about which person we thought would best protect and support our loved ones and our nation. The answer is different for different people, and I respect that. I know many kind, wonderful people who voted for Trump. And I’ve lived through elections before that didn’t go the way I wanted. I sighed and got on with my life. But to think that this year, we as a country elected someone who would mock people like my child – that hurts.
More than that, it scares me.
If Trump is comfortable standing up in front of the entire world and mocking people like my son, it’s pretty reasonable for me to anticipate that he’s not going to defend my kid. Is this a president who is going to support legislation that will help keep my child safe and give him a chance for an independent life? It’s not likely. My child isn’t even a real person to Trump. He’s a prop – he’s someone for Trump to make fun of for his own gain.
Consider what it would be like to have a disability and to watch that video of Trump waving his arms around and acting like an idiot in order to discredit a disabled reporter. You might be pretty upset. People with disabilities need a whole lot of courage just to go out into the world each day and try their best. They already feel “less than”. Imagine having the president reinforcing that, implying that because of their disability, they are worthless. Then imagine watching a crowd of people cheer him when he did it and elect him to be our president.
When Trump was elected president, my kids didn’t cry. I told them it would be okay, and they believed me. I was the one who cried. I cried for my children, I cried for our friends and I cried for anyone else affected by Trump’s lack of respect for people different than he is.
Like I said, elections are complex. I don’t hold anyone’s vote against them. I can still love someone who voted for Trump. But don’t call me a whiner, and don’t tell me that I failed as a parent because I cried. And don’t even think about implying in any way that my child is a failure because he is worried or protesting. Being thought of as less than other people is not new to him. He’s heard it before from kids at school and people at the grocery store and every other place we’ve ever gone where people looked at him and asked why he was weird. Now he’s heard it from our new president and the people who cheered that speech.
Don’t you tell my son that he is a whiner if he doesn’t like being made fun of. Don’t imply that it’s okay for people to make fun of him because people with disabilities don’t really count. Just. Don’t. Go. There. If you do, you and I are going to have a problem. Believe it.
You may not understand why I or my children feel this way. That’s okay. Our world is not your world. But have the decency to accept that we might have a reason for being upset. Don’t assume that we are stupid, self-centered, weak, or throwing a tantrum because we didn’t get our way.
Now you know what being called a whiner means to us. I expect you already knew what it means to a lot of people who are non-straight, non-white, non-Christian or sexual assault survivors. They see negative posts their friends and family share or like on Facebook. They tell me, “I thought they were my friends,” or “They are my family. I thought they loved me.” All of a sudden they are looking at the people around them in a whole new light.
I wrote this article so that you would know how many of us feel. If you still want to post that video anyway, go ahead. Then we will all know how you feel, too.