Thursday, September 04, 2008

Memo to Governor Palin

Some notes about this passage in your speech last night:
"And children with special needs inspire a very, very special love. To the families of special-needs children all across this country, I have a message: For years, you sought to make America a more welcoming place for your sons and daughters. I pledge to you that if we are elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House."
1. We're not friends. We may have some things in common--motherhood, kid with a chromosomal diagnosis, age give or take a coupla years, race, messy dark hair, glasses, check check check--but we've never had a coffee together, or watched each other's kids, or worked on an art project together. And I don't see any of that happening in the future, either. So cut the "you've got a friend" line. I grew up in a state where that sentiment was on every license plate, and it means nothing when used in such a wholesale, consequence-free way. Worse, it devalues the real worth and work of friendship. I like and need friends. You're just not one of them.

(BTW, I also bristle at agency literature using words like "partner"--uh, no. Unless you're willing to take a 3am shift whenever kids are sick, you're not my partner in this.)

2. I don't think "very, very special love" qualifies as a policy. My kid doesn't need your "special love." He needs to have his rights recognized and protected; he needs the appropriate school education the law says he's entitled to; he needs accessibility to make living in the community a reality instead of a goal, and not just when he's a kid, but his whole life. I expect a vision with policy specifics. Hey, there's one!

3. Unless you started being a disability advocate long before your youngest son was born in April of this year, you're not in any position to use the term "advocate" for yourself. It's presumptuous to claim otherwise. You're still learning. Keep learning. Gotta say, I'm glad there were no reporters writing down my every word when my son was four months old--I'm sure anything I might have said about disability back then would have been a bundle of contradictions and confusion, because I didn't have near enough experience to speak otherwise on the subject. (And I'm still learning every single day, after thirteen years.) Presenting yourself as the stereotypical "kn0w-it-all mom" who is (rightly) dreaded by many in the disability world is not doing the rest of us parents any favors, so please rethink that pose.

4. Truth is, I was never going to vote for your ticket anyway, no matter who the VP choice was. But you're sure making me more secure than ever about that position.


5. Belittling the important work that community organizers do? Really not cool.

6. Vice-president Cheney, by all accounts, loves his daughter Mary--but it doesn't make the administration in which he serves any friendlier to gay marriage or same-sex parents. And Sarah Palin, by all accounts, loves her little son--but that doesn't mean the administration in which she'd serve would set any priorities for the equality of people with developmental disabilities.

LINKS: More Palin critiques and commentaries from disability bloggers:

Joel at NTs are Weird
Kara at Disaboom
William Peace at Bad Cripple, and in a sequel post
Sweet Machine guest posting at Shakesville
BadMama at BadMama
Sarahlynn at Yeah, but Houdini Didn't Have These Hips
Ruth at Wheelie Catholic
Dave at Chewing the Fat
Angie at Nuvision for a Nuday (and more from Angie here)
Terri at Barriers, Bridges and Books
Cindy at Bissellblog
CityzenJane at Daily Kos
ABFH at Whose Planet is it Anyway?
Emily Elizabeth at Lovely and Amazing
Kristina Chew at Autism Vox
Nicole at All 4 My Gals
Miryam at Breeding Imperfection
Becky Blitch at Open Salon
Dad at Kintropy in Action

See also Patricia Bauer's really nice FAQ about Palin, Down syndrome, and policy (thanks to Jeff at Big Dawg Tales for the heads up on that one), and the disability-specific portions of both the RNC and DNC platforms, as laid out at JFActivist (thanks to Stephen Drake at Not Dead Yet for pointing that one out).


Anonymous said...

I honestly don't understand why you are so set against the first presidential ticket that includes a disabled president and the parent of a disabled child as VP. Is it more important that a public PWD agree with your opinions than succeed on their own terms?

Penny L. Richards said...

So you're implying that I shouldn't consider the policy goals of the people I vote for? That wouldn't seem like a very responsible way to make decisions. I certainly wouldn't vote for anyone *just* because they had disability in their personal story.

(Also, if you're a regular reader here you may know that calling anyone the "first" anything is likely to send me into a second post, refuting that notion. McCain's certainly not the first disabled presidential candidate by a long shot.)

Anonymous said...

Please vote for whomever your conscience dictates. But, as a regular reader of your blog I appreciate your consistent and open celebration of the accomplishments of PWD's and inclusion at all levels of society. I was disappointed to see that such open mindedness doesn't apply to Republicans. Your statement that Palin is not authentic because she hasn't been a parent of a PWD long enough reminds me of the old saw that those who weren't born with their disability can't claim to truly understand disability. Like many, I believe that is offensive. Respectfully...

Penny L. Richards said...

I didn't question anyone's authenticity, Anonymous in Rochester NY. Read it again.

A few months isn't long enough to learn much about anything, and the first few months of parenting a kid with a developmental disability don't include any encounters with school districts, neighborhood playgrounds, inaccessible buildings, programs that say "we're full" when they hear the word "disabled," etc. etc. The work is yet to come, and keeps on coming.

Ahistoricality said...

Just to be fair, I read through the Republican Party Platform: aside from a reference to fully funding the 40% of IDEA, and Disabled Veterans support, there's nothing about disability there.

I thought someone here might have a reaction to that line: I know I found it condescending and inappropriate. If she were campaigning for First Lady, maybe...

Colleen said...

I suspect that Governor Palin lost a lot of votes for her ticket with her constant insults to community organizers. Not that she had mine anyway, but I thought her comments were rude and degrading.

If anyone stole the show last night, I'd say it was her youngest daughter with her perfect wave!

Anonymous said...

If McCain thinks that women are suddenly going to vote for him just because he has a female v.p., then he's totally 'round the twist!

And no, having a special-needs child doesn't earn a person cosmic Brownie Points.


Angela L. Braden, Writer, Speaker, Professor said...

As for Sarah Palin bad mouthing and/or minimizing the contributions of community organizers, I am personally offended.

Doesn’t this “pit bull with lipstick on her teeth” know that it was community organizers that gathered in Seneca Falls in 1848 to fight for the rights of women in this country?
Doesn’t this proud American know it was community organizers that helped to ensure the passing of the 14th Amendment in 1868, which granted Blacks, who resided in America, citizenship and the right to vote? (Meeting certain criteria, of course.)
Doesn’t this woman, the first woman to be on a Republican presidential ticket, know that it was community organizers who fought tirelessly to ensure that the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, which granted women their right to vote?
Doesn’t the mother of a special needs child, as she put it, know that it was community organizers that fought/still fight for the rights and protections of children and adults with disabilities?

I guess not.

Cindy said...

Thanks for posting this Penny. I am a parent of three teenagers who all have special needs. It is no secret to those of us in the disability community that when the democrats are in control, kids with special needs get help, when the republicans are in control, kids with special needs lose the services that the democrats fought so hard to get. There is nothing in the McCain/Palin agenda that will change the status quo. This is just one of many republican ploys to get elected. Sarah Palin is not my advocate!

william Peace said...

Penny, This is a needed and excellent post. Two things stick out to me as I thought about Palin last night that go beyond disability rights. First, she is against birth control education and advocates abstinence until marriage. This may go over well with conservative Christians but is unrealistic for most people who come of age in this country. Second, she does not believe in evolution, the bed rock of modern science. I shudder to think of schools being forced to teach creationism as a legitimate "science" or alternative theory of evolution. As for disability related issues, the difference between Republicans and Democrats, McCain and Obama is stark. This is clearly evident in Obama's support for the Community Choice Act advocated by many in the disability rights community. Obama is far from perfect but the obvious choice for anyone familiar with disability rights.

All 4 My Gals said...

I agree Penny. First of all being a VP who is not completely accepted by your own party insiders means you have very limited power. So many Moms in the Down syndrome community act like she will change everything for our's just not true. Our family members need services which unfortunately the Republican party does not support.

And her experiences of having a child with special needs will be totally different because she lives a life of privilege now...whether remaining the gov of Alaska or becoming the VP. She is not going to know the realities of not getting the services or medical care that your child needs.

With what limited knowledge I have of her, I will admit I do somewhat respect her. I think her jabs were totally written for her, which doesn't excuse her willingness to say them and be divisive. But I think she does for the most part walk her talk.

I'm anxious to read your thoughts over the next several weeks.

william Peace said...

Nicole, Yes Palin has a very privileged position. What she will do with it is the question. I for one am not hopeful. The last person who had money and fame in the disability community was Reeve. He was a disaster in terms of disability rights. He embraced an overwhelmingly negative view of disability and used his fame and wealth to distance himself from others who were similarly paralyzed. I suspect Pailin will do the same. I hope I am wrong but anyone that advocates the teaching of creationism scares me.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that the Temple Disabilities studies people are posting content with such a political valence. That strikes me as decidedly unprofessional.

Anyone can take issue with the vague statements in these speeches. Beating up on them is no feat.

I have few sympathies for the McCain/Palin ticket, but I find this post to be tacky. I was interested in finding info about disability studies at Temple, googled, and here I am. Why doesn't someone include this content on a personal or political blog? Do you speak for all of the Temple disabilities studies group? All of Temple? Or is this just your personal stuff that should be posted elsewhere?

Moreover, its a poor political post. You trade innuendo for innuendo. Do some research or show us something to back up your expression of these political biases. Sans that, you sound not unlike Palin, content-wise.

william Peace said...

Anonymous, I find it disconcerting that you critique the views Penny Richard and those that have left comments as "unprofessional" and "tacky" yet you remain anonymous. Of course you have the right to hide your identity just as others have the right to state their political opinions. Based on my reading of the Temple blog it is one of the few places that discusses disability related matters from a social, economic and political angle. This is why I think many people are drawn to the blog. I would also hasten to add that academics have the right to express their views--it is called academic freedom.

Penny L. Richards said...

We've written personal reaction pieces on news and controversial issues at DS,TU many, many times, Anonymous in Rochester. Responding to a recent political speech is well within the wide range of our coverage here.

Tim Lacy said...

Dear Penny,

Great post! I was hoping you or someone else here---someone with real knowledge of the issues---would vet Governor Palin and the Party on her comment.

- TL

Eric said...

Hi Penny,

Great post. You are right on that disability itself - nor race or gender etc. - is reason enough for anyone to get my vote, and I hope to get anyone's vote. It is about policy.

I think that Palin does give some ray of hope in that she demonstrates that having a child with a disability is not a reason that anyone should not pursue their career/dreams/whatever.

The McCain Palin ticket is so scary in a multitude of other ways that no way no how would they ever get my vote.

Unknown said...

Great post. If DS,TU blog is not for responding to political/policy issues that affect PWD, then I don't know what it is for. If this blog from a Disabilities Studies department only did inspirational fluff pieces, THAT would be unprofessional.

As for Palin, anyone who uses the term "special, special love" to distinguish the love parents have for their children with disabilities does not get it, yet.

It will be interesting to see how her views change or play out as her child gets older. But I agree, 4 months of infanthood does not an advocate make yet. a neophyte with potential perhaps, but not an advocate.

Terri said...

I have the same concerns that it is too early for Sarah Palin to be sure of herself as an advocate. I do think this is an opportunity for advocates to share their messages because people are listening, but this isn't a guarantee of disability awareness or support from candidates.

I am uncomfortable with the way disagreements are progressing in this election. People start out by saying "I disagree with you" which I think is good. But then progress to "You shouldn't say that," which I don't think is good.

Paula Apodaca said...

It makes me queasy when I hear Sarah Palin speak about her little son. It makes me want to vomit when I have to listen to her use him as a badge by which she can promote herself. As far as I know, she has acted in opposition to the disabled community in Alaska by use of her veto powers.

I don't think she needs our approval because she made the choice to have her littlest boy. Would she have done the same thing if the baby had spina bifida?

Makes me wonder...

Paula Apodaca
E. is for Epilepsy by Paula Apodaca

Paula Apodaca said...

According to a report by Soledad O'Brien, Gov. Palin cut funding for the disabled in Alaska by 62%---sounds to me like she is only offering "emotional advocacy" to all of us when she speaks of having a friend in the White House.

Willing to go it without Sarah's help...

Penny L. Richards said...

The 62% number that Soledad O'Brien quoted doesn't turn out to be completely factual, it seems--or it's a book-keeping thing, that moved funds without cutting them, or without cutting them quite that much, anyway.

But was she an "advocate" in Alaska? Did her "love" translate into well-funded programs and stronger rights legislation? Well, no--there's still no evidence that she was any kind of "special friend" to PWDs in Alaska where the budget was concerned.

Anonymous said...

Oh Penny, I am LOVING you right now.

Okay. I did before.

But now more.

And yes, if I wanted my daughter to pull herself up by the bootstraps, arm herself with assault weapons, kiss the Polar Bear and her reproductive freedom goodbye, I would vote for Palin. But I don't, and with two kiddos with special needs, one with the same extra chromosome Trig has, I'm going to need more than "I'll be an advocate for special needs kids".

Let's talk Medicaid. Let's talk IDEA. Let's talk Special Ed. Let's talk housing. Let's talk employment and job training. Let's talk independent and supported living.

Let's talk.

Not about your lipstick. Not about hockey moms. Not about shooting caribou.

Until Palin can talk about the issues that need to be discussed to even begin advocating for people with disabilities, I'm not going to listen. And wowza, even though by nature I distrust republicans like nobody's business, I want to listen.

Make me believe.

Because I don't. Not in Palin.

Belief ain't free, and I can't take this one on blind faith.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Penny!
I'd rather be corrected than post crap!

Still getting along without Sarah Palin!

Maggie World said...

I've just stumbled upon this blog and post. I LOVE it. I almost threw something at the television when Palin spoke about having an advocate in the whitehouse. I hope parent of special needs kids do have that advocate. And I hope it's not her. I've been advocating/fighting/dealing with all aspects of this community for 14.5 years as a parent. I felt belittled by her statements. I've just started a blog about my daughter and dealing with her issues.

Mike Dorn said...

Dear Sally, Welcome to our blogging community!

Dear Anonymous in Rochester,
I am glad that you are interested in learning more about Disability Studies. To learn more about our Graduate Certificate Program in Disability Studies, follow this link. And drop me a line.

These are issues that need to be broadly reflected upon, and we certainly hope to hear your perspective at greater length. Bringing together informed opinion with an interest in getting at the truth is exactly the sort that we seek to promote through academic Disability Studies.

The posters of this blog do not, however, speak for the Institute on Disabilities. This blog was founded in conjunction with our graduate offerings in Disability Studies by a faculty member in the College of Education, Mike Dorn. If occasionally we present what some would call "inuendo" then I hope others will help to gain greater insights.

Anonymous said...

I shared your post about Sarah Palin with my disstud group and I must tell you it generated much discussion. Of the roughly 24 deaf students involved, the reaction was nearly unanimous. We agreed that while the disability community is usually quite tolerant and accepting of anyone’s differences, it seems that the one unforgivable sin is to be a Republican. One friend commented to me that the disability community can celebrate the accomplishments of a bi-sexual paraplegic circus performer who lived in 1890 and believe that making his story mainstream advances all differently-abled people. However, if a PWD or parent of a PWD merely participates in Republican politics (like almost 50% of Americans), they are viewed as a freak and outsider whose accomplishments are dangerous. This seems to be counter-productive to the advancement of all PWD’s because it reduces us all to mindless tools of one political party instead of individual participants in all levels of society. Shouldn’t we support Sarah Palin for being the only candidate to even mention disability issues in a convention speech?
Anonymous in Rochester (BTW, I’ve only posted here once before, not 3 times as you’ve assumed)

Cindy said...

" seems that the one unforgivable sin is to be a Republican."
Seriously, personally, I have nothing against republicans, some of my best friends and family members are republicans. I just don't want them in office. It's very simple really; the democrats are better at providing services for people with disabilities.

Penny L. Richards said...

Hm, definitely didn't call anyone a freak or outsider or dangerous.

Definitely can't support anyone just for saying the phrase "special needs." As I said, I judge candidates by policy goals. And she didn't say she'd DO anything to support the rights of disabled people. And neither does the platform she's running on--with the two exceptions Ahistoricality mentioned above.

To add to Mike's clarification above, I don't work for Temple University (I live in California, that'd be one heckuva commute). My posts have my name attached, and not Mike's or anyone else's.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for promoting the popular perception that Disability Studies is not a real academic discipline, but is only a platform for people with a political axe to grind. Also, thanks to you and Mike for clarifying that the content of this site is only intended as yet another ranting blog instead of contributing anything of value to Disability discourse. I guess the lesson I should take away is that I should no longer refer students to this blog. Thank you.

Anonymous in Rochester

william Peace said...

Anonymous in Rochester, There is a huge difference between mentioning disability issues in a speech and being an advocate or friend to the disability community. The Democrats have a better track record in general than the Republicans in terms of disability rights. Are there exception to this? Of course. If you look at Obama and McCain in particular, Obama is the clear choice as he has specific ideas and goals. These are posted on the Obama website. For example he supports the Community Choice Act.
As for your lack of respect for disability studies I think you need to make a distinction between academics and blogs. The discourse that takes place in class and academia is studious and scientifically rigorous. This blog and many others like it such as mine are an outlet for political opinions we may not want to verbalize in our professional work. I am sure you can locate many conservative blogs that are more pleasing to you. While you may not like what has been expressed here I think open minded individuals learn more from those they disagree with.

Processing Counselor said...

Thanks, Penny. You said all the things I wanted to and more!.
As you know I, ahem, borrowed it.
Thanks again.

Angela L. Braden, Writer, Speaker, Professor said...

I was quite, quite bothered by Palin's speech for many reasons. But one of the reasons was because of the passage of the speech that is being discussed here. I wanted to know what other people in the disability community thought about Palin's supposed claim that she would be a "friend" to the families of disabled children.

Because this blog has always offered great commentary and information, I made this my first stop on my tour of disability blogs. Honestly, I was shocked to find such a tough critique of Sarah Palin. But then I was glad that I was not by myself in the frustration that I have experienced due to Palin's shallow statements. I was glad that someone, Richards, was speaking loudly, making her thoughts and position known.

With that being said, I thought it was a little strange for this type of commentary to be on a blog with Temple University attached to it. In particular, Richards statement that she wasn't going to vote for JM and SP, I thought was a bit personal for a blog that was not her own. But when I thought about it, Richards did not tell us who to vote for. She simply stated what her plans and intentions were as it pertained to her choice in the voting booth.

Likewise, I felt that TU, a place of higher learning, is completely aware and appreciative of individuals expressing ideas and opinions that elevate the thinking of others. And I'm also sure that TU understands that each person has an opinion, and that opinion does not reflect the thoughts and opinions of the entire TU population.

Thanks Ms. Richards for not being afraid to say how you felt. Thanks for having enough courage to be a real advocate, a real friend to the disability community.

Angela Braden
A Proud American with a Disability

Penny L. Richards said...

Actually, I've written quite personal commentaries here before--the post about the Ashley Treatment, for example. And political opinions before too, in fact. I've posted pics of my kids (a few times), and "what I did on my summer vacation" posts, and a "six things about me" meme. And Carol has written lovely eloquent personal posts too. It's not unusual for group blogs to reflect the posters' individual voices, not a group consensus.

This is the first presidential election for a lot of bloggers, myself included--I guess we'll all be finding our own comfort levels about that. For myself, I certainly don't see any ethical obligation to make my vote a big secret--I haven't seen any other bloggers maintain much mystery about it! And the whole point of this post is that disability issues DO inform that choice for me. So it's relevant here. I can see complaints or surprise if I posted daily about the campaign, but that's not likely to happen.

Penny L. Richards said...

Hm, I just read that over--to clarify what's probably obvious already, this is my first election WHILE blogging. I've been a registered voter for 24 years, which translates to quite a few presidential elections before beginning to blog.

Angela L. Braden, Writer, Speaker, Professor said...

Ms. Richards: Please know that although I was shocked to find certain aspects of your commentary here on this blog, I was not in any way bothered by it. I found it to be refreshing and encouraging to me, an adult woman with a disability, who often feels like my voice is either silenced or just not heard. I was glad that you were speaking up. And I was also glad that you didn't hold back.
I felt that I needed to clarify my above statement, just so you can know that I am not one of the one's that is offering a negative critique of your comments. Again, I was just shocked. Pleasantly shocked, but nevertheless shocked...
The best,

Penny L. Richards said...

Gotcha Angie! That's pretty much what I understood from your earlier comment; but clarification never hurts.

ZM said...

It's nice to hear someone talk about disability on the campaign trail. Typically, I hear a lot about the American home and hearth, but I'm pretty sure that they don't mean my home and hearth. Mine's got a full sharps container and a fridge packed with biological drugs. Not too soccer (or hockey) mom-ish.

Still, Palin's just spouting a line. When she's argued her son's way into a school that doesn't want him, or accepted a door shut in her face, well, then's she's an advocate. She can call me after her 17th late-night ER run, and we'll chat. Right now, she's paper thin.

For me, I'll be watching who offers plans with specifics. I want to see a health care plan that will cover my kid and his joke of a lifetime cap and offer enough services in schools, and oh - I don't ask for the government to make life easy for me. That would scare me. But hey, could we do something so that we don't go bankrupt with the kid's medical bills, hmmm?

Palin knows zip about that. Obama, on the other hand, seems to. I don't like her - or McCain, and Obama stills seems pretty green to me. But someone in the Dem party must be paying attention, from the looks of his health care plans.

And I'll take paying attention over an easy line anyday.

Anonymous said...

Your post sounds like you snuck in my head and took notes as I listened to Palin's speech. It's not about close-mindedness to the Republican party. It's about what it takes to REALLY be an advocate. What I think is the most clear indicator that we should be wary is very few true advocates have to announce their alliance, advocacy, or "friendship"-they show it in their ACTIONS. If she had some, she would've showed them. We're left to conclude she doesn't.

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