A video has gone viral across disability Twitter. At a campaign event, Biden can be seen petting the face of a disabled wheelchair user named Samuel and saying, “you’re so smart” like it’s a surprise.
While other campaigns are making a concerted effort to include disabled voices in their work, Biden’s disability platform is boilerplate, lackluster, and uncreative. In a time when disabled people have found their political grounding and recognized their own importance in the political process, Biden’s views seem to be as undeveloped and unprogressive as his expressed sentiments on race and gender. His campaign website focuses on four points for the disability community: funding education for disabled students (not including higher education or student loan forgiveness), protecting Medicaid and expanding long-term care, expanding the Affordable Care Act, and criminal justice reform. Rather than the advanced progressive platforms, we need for the community, Biden’s points feel like a moral baseline and what should have been done in the first place.
So, what does any of his platform have to do with a video of him petting, Samuel, a disabled person?
Unlike his fingers, Biden’s policy proposals for the disability community are out of touch with disabled people. He may have done the bare minimum to show he cares, but we are no longer accepting it. Setting aside the glaring issue of consent (glaring), disabled people are not unused to people patronizing us and negating our power. His petting and condescension show he doesn’t believe disabled people are integral to the political process and doesn’t seem to take Samuel or his vote seriously. There is an extraordinary level of paternalism that has always been a barrier to our community. We are cute but rarely serious; inspiring, but rarely powerful. He doesn’t need to lobby for our vote because we’re never seen as citizens with a duty to participate in the political process, but children needing to be taken care of.
Despite the barriers to the ballot, disabled people are voters regardless of physical, intellectual, invisible, developmental, or sensory disability status. In 2018, voting for the disability community jumped by 8.5%, and if disabled people voted at the same rate as nondisabled people, 2.3 million more ballots would be cast. Nonpartisan online campaigns like #CripTheVote have empowered disabled people to demand both access to and responses from political candidates and have seen a marked response.
Political candidates should be vying for our vote. I don’t just want cutesy photo ops and saccharine sentiments. I want to be wooed.
After disability platforms from the likes of Julian Castro and Elizabeth Warren, I guess I’ve gotten a bit spoiled. I expect candidates campaigning for my attention to do better than just looking in my direction and saying whatever pops into their head first.
Until Biden shows he can interact with my community, the disability community, in a constructive and dignified way, my body will be like my vote: can’t touch this.
*The featured photo for this post is by Gage Skidmore via Flikr.