Saturday, October 25, 2008

Disability studies professor asks: If McCain-Palin care about disability issues, where is their disability policy platform?

From Professor Paul Longmore at San Francisco State University Oct. 23:

In his last debate with Sen. Obama, Sen. McCain touted Gov. Sarah Palin as an advocate for "special needs" kids. "She understands that better than almost any American that I know." He and she make that claim in every campaign speech. And, according to NBC news, some desperate parents of children with disabilities are "flocking" to McCain-Palin campaign rallies.

The trouble is that Palin and McCain have offered only this vague promise. It has been difficult to assess just what sort of advocacy Palin would provide because the McCain-Palin campaign has not provided specifics regarding the policies they would institute in support of the rights, needs, and interests of children and adults with disabilities and their families.

As I explained in a report a few weeks ago, I tried to get information on their disability policy positions. But I found very little on the campaign Web site. Now I know why. Despite their constantly repeated promises about advocacy, the McCain-Palin campaign has no disability policy positions.

Donna M. Jones, National Coordinator of the Americans with Disabilities for McCain Coalition, admitted that failure. She declined to represent McCain-Palin at a candidates' forum in Athens, Ohio, on October 12. In an e-mail to Margaret Demko, one of the organizers of the event, Jones explained:

“As we discussed on the phone, the McCain Campaign does not have a vetted disability policy to release at this time. I also do not have any further information on when we might be releasing a platform discussing the Senator's stance on issues that relate to people with disabilities…. It is my hope that we will be able to release a vetted policy from Senator McCain in the near future. That being said, I will not be able to send a surrogate to discuss a policy Senator McCain has not approved. I hope that your forum does go on as planned, but I also hope that you will not set an empty
place at the forum representing our absence.”

Jones sent this e-mail on September 30, almost a month ago. The McCain-Palin campaign has still not issued a disability policy platform.

So, given the unspecific McCain-Palin promises of "advocacy," what sort of policies might we expect?

Palin offered a hint Oct. 14 while campaigning in Colorado. She came out in opposition to a ballot initiative, Amendment 51, that would raise the state sales tax by a tiny percentage: just one cent on every $10 spent in each of the next two years. The revenue would go to reduce Colorado's list of people with developmental disabilities eligible for services but not yet receiving them. More than 12,000 Coloradans with disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy, and, like Palin's infant son, Down syndrome need and are legally eligible for services like in-home personal assistance and job training but are not getting them because of a lack of funding.

Waiting lists like this one are a problem in many states. In Alaska, Gov. Palin has done nothing to reduce her state's waiting list of people with developmental disabilities who need vital services.

Palin's answer to the situation in Colorado and elsewhere? "There’s got to be an alternative to raising taxes. It’s a matter of prioritizing the dollars that are already there in government."

"Prioritize? Palin's argument is the height of hypocrisy and naivete," indignantly declared Bob Williams, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Disability, Aging and Long Term Care Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Williams, who himself has a developmental disability, is a long-term disability rights advocate.

"What is a state supposed to 'prioritize' or cut to fund community services for people with developmental disabilities? Pre K for all kids? Education? Services for people with other disabilities?"

Williams called Palin's position "politically and morally irresponsible."

In that last debate in which Sen. McCain praised Palin's expertise on disability issues, Sen. Obama subtly shifted the focus of the discussion to the necessity of adequate funding for policies and programs such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

In line with Sen. Obama's statement in the debate, the Obama-Biden campaign has put forth a "Plan to Empower Americans with Disabilities." Specific, detailed, and comprehensive, it is available at:
It sharply contrasts with the McCain-Palin campaign's vague promise of advocacy, complete lack of policies, and virtually certain cuts in funding.