The 2020 presidential election is upon us and God help us all. With a multitude of candidates already announcing their intention to run for the presidency, I’m getting flashbacks to 2016 and the dread that comes with it. Will this be a repeat of 2016, or will it be even worse?
With Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pulling democrats up by their promise of inclusion, and holding them accountable to their diversity promises outside of photo-ops, disability is bound to be a topic on the tongues of candidates. And, let me be clear, every candidate will take photos with disabled people and drone on about how they want what’s best for the community. It’s an easy win; every time a candidate takes a picture with one of us it’s great PR they can use for multiple news cycles. But, only one thing will set apart the candidate that is truly right for the disability community: it’ll be whoever actually listens to us.
This will be hard to see. Nearly every “ally” makes the exact same gestures and repeats the same key phrases, but it requires not merely parroting back at disabled people the things we want to hear. It calls for making changes in which their campaign approaches disabled people and in the ways they hold their peers responsible for how they interact with our community.
AOC has made captions more widespread among candidates and their use has made others like Cory Booker use them in his first announcement of his candidacy and not as something to be fixed once disabled people complained.
When it comes to disabled people, politicians and business leaders are still trying to convince us that trickle-down-equality exists, but disabled people comprise a quarter of the population. And, as the recent death of Malaysia Goodson, a mother who fell down NYC Subway Stairs, teaches us, accessibility isn’t merely for disabled people (but how could you know we had the same needs when you kept calling ours “special?”).
It would be easy to “All Lives Matter” the disability community and say that if we’re taking care of one, were taking care of all, but that’s not the case. We may all be “healthcare voters,” now, because it was able bodied people who felt threatened as well, but disabled people have been sounding the alarm for decades as social programs were jockeyed back and forth and uncertainty loomed.
Disabled people will be the first to feel the effects of any changes to social programs or income thresholds for taxation, but it would mistake to view us as canaries in the coal mine. We don’t exist to act as sacrificial lambs to warn people of something worse coming, we are an active coalition of voters with real concerns and a voice that grows louder each day.
So while the business world and Hollywood continue to ponder whether or not disability inclusion is the right “business decision,” it might be the perfect political one.
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