How Will People with Disabilities Fare in Trump’s America?

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Recently, the New York Times posted an article by blogger Melissa Blake, who has a genetic bone and muscular disorder. In the article, “Disabled, Shunned and Silenced in Trump’s America,” she expresses her concern that President Trump is setting a tone about disability that will further marginalize people, many of whom feel pushed to the edges of society already.

Like so many people who have disabilities, Blake writes that people often sell her short. Although she graduated from college with honors and has worked as a blogger and freelance writer for nearly a decade, she says that she has spent her life "feeling overlooked, excluded and underestimated. I’ve had people make assumptions about my abilities just by looking at me. I’ve had people talk over me — or, worse, assuming I can’t communicate and directing questions about me to the people around me as if I wasn’t even there.”

She is concerned that this marginalization will grow worse under the new president’s leadership. Within hours after his inauguration, the section on disability at whitehouse.gov posted by the Obama administration was removed. Trump has been “dismissive and rude toward us. We are all familiar with his mocking of the physical appearance of the Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, as we are with his denial of the real meaning of the incident, and his refusal to apologize. On matters related to us, we’ve heard nothing since.”

She fears that Trump’s rhetoric may set a tone for the rest of society to follow, which could have devastating consequences for this 20 percent of the U.S. population. “I think about young people with disabilities. Has Trump given any thought to them? What about the teenager with a disability who’s getting bullied every day at school? What about the kid who has spent more time in the hospital than on the playground? What about the young woman struggling with self-esteem issues, desperately trying to come to terms with her disability?”

She ends her essay with a challenge to our president to “sit down with members of the disability community and listen — really listen — to their stories and their concerns and their recommendations for the future.” She concludes, “I will never not be a person. I’m taking back my power and I want President Trump to know it.”

I’ve highlighted this article by Blake because I’m concerned too that the tone of our president’s communication focuses on strength, beauty, wealth, and power. It seems that he is eager to leave behind anyone who does not have these four characteristics, yet Scripture takes exactly the opposite approach toward people. In her vision of the world made right by the coming of the Messiah, Mary sings,

He has pulled down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of low degree.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich He has sent away empty.
(Luke 1:52,53 MEV)

What do you think? Are these concerns overblown? Do we need to wait and see? Or do you fear that the new administration is setting a dangerous direction? 

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Participant

My answer is part "wait and see," part "these concerns are overblown."

If Trump did everything he might have alluded to verbally at one point or another, all Hispanics unable to produce documentation of their right to be in the US would not be here anymore, but of course that hasn't happened.

Trump's communication style drives me beyond nuts,  but it is only style.  One cannot simply find an off the cuff point in an off the cuff speech he may have made and conclude that is what he'll do.  

The best approach to Trump is to take almost everything he says with a lot of salt, especially when he talks to his hard core supporters or the public in general (and most of us are not privy to Trump's private conversations so this is very difficult), try to decipher major themes amid all his verbal noise, and then, ultimately, wait and see what he actually does.

I think the chances of federal government disability benefits being curtailed because Trump is President, at least across the board, are slim.  And it isn't at all impossible that those benefits would increase because Trump is President.  In all the things he's said, support for that possibility is more easily found than what some in the disabled community may fear.

Guide

Doug, thanks for your comment. I hope you are right, though this author's concern is not only with federal disability benefits, but also with the way Trump so far has used his bully pulpit with regard to people with disabilities. My sense is that she fears that the incident involving Serge Kovaleski and the removal of the disability section of whitehouse.gov bespeak at least a lack of intentionality about engaging Americans with disabilities respectfully, or worse, a degrading of these fellow Americans which could lead to even greater discrimination in employment, housing, and so on. 

Participant

Mark: I do appreciate concerns about non-policy aspects of Trump (his mocking a reporter), but one should really consider him an equal opportunity offender, if you will.  Trump will rant against and offend anyone and everyone -- and has.  So anyone who is looking for Trump to be always be "nice to them" or "nice to the group they are part of" is just going to be badly disappointed -- sooner or later.  Russian's Putin, and everyone else, will get the same treatment, sooner or later. :-)

In terms of the broader picture, but perhaps expanding the conversation a bit, I have always been an advocate of smaller government, and for people to look first to their local resources (first private and only after that local and state government) for solutions to problems -- all before looking to the federal government.  Why?  Because one-size-fits all solutions (solutions "from the top") are clumsy at best, and because things "at the top" can change in the blink of an eye, in which case ... well, here we maybe are, aren't we, at least for some things?

We have been looking increasingly to the "top" for solutions over the past years, decades even.  OK, but then we maybe set ourselves up for these kinds of possibilities?

Guide

Doug, I agree that Trump is quick to lash out at anyone who makes him look bad in some way. Still, my sense is that there is an undertone to his rhetoric that diminishes anyone whom he deems as "weak." As you write, we'll need to wait and see. We're barely into his presidency yet.

I would like to be for smaller government. Yes, people closest to the ones receiving assistance are more likely to care and provide appropriate solutions, and less likely to allow waste. However, the kind of money that's required to provide supports for people like my daughter and many, many others with disabilities is not going to come out of people's pockets unless local, state, and federal government collects it in taxes. Don't get me wrong. People are generous. My daughter lives in a wonderful place that was fully paid for the day she moved in thanks to generous contributions, but providing day in day out support for her and others in group homes is not going to come solely from charitable contributions. She lives in a home that is a public/private partnership, and I truly wish it were possible for it to be funded fully privately, but I can't imagine it, not only for the place our daughter lives, but also for many other people needing supports for daily living. And that's just one example of group homes. There are people living in their own places who need some assistance. There are people in assisted living facilities and nursing homes. There are people in supported employment. There are people receiving health care through Medicaid. There are disabled vets. There are a lot of kids in special education programs. I believe that one of the ways that Americans show their heart is through providing supports (through our taxes and through charitable contributions) for people with disabilities, but I fear we would not provide this level of support to this many people if we all were simply asked to pitch in with voluntary contributions. 

 

Guide

One other thought: the federal government influences behaviors not only by where money gets spent but also by setting priorities. My Exhibit A is Executive Order 13548. Although employment (and unemployment) of people with disabilities has (sadly) remained relatively constant ever since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, the emphasis by the Obama Administration on hiring people with disabilities for jobs with the federal government has actually increased the percentage of people with disabilities working for the federal government. 

Admin

Thanks for this information and important discussion, Mark. Please keep challenging us and pointing us to those who are being marginalized. 

Participant

While I certainly don't oppose the kind of action that was taken by Obama's EO, Mark, I always wonder about the ratio of "show to go" with federal action. In my neck of the nation's woods, the biggest employers of the disabled (including a neighbor of mine that I've know for his entire life), are private non-profits.  My guess is that next to no one in my geographical area is benefited by Obama's EO (or Clinton's before that).

I think there is much more promise for increased employment of the disabled in the private sector, profit and non-profit, perhaps with some tax credit assistance from government, federal, state, and/or local even.

One thing everyone is likely to agree on is that is it better for the disabled to work, at whatever level that might match their abilities, than that they not work.  Even if they worked for no compensation, their lives are made better by working.  And frankly, I think that sentiment is quite bipartisan, and shared by those who like big or small government.

Guide

Doug, You wrote, "I think there is much more promise for increased employment of the disabled in the private sector, profit and non-profit." I agree. And from where I sit, it looks to me like churches are uniquely situated to assist people with disabilities to get employed. A couple basics to get a job are skills and a network. Churches can provide opportunities for people with disabilities to gain both soft and hard skills by encouraging them to be involved in various aspects of ministry, and providing mentoring and guidance along the way. And churches are a network of people who are employees, supervisors, and business owners who can assist fellow members with disabilities make the connections they need to get work. But this kind of thinking requires a shift that's starting to happen, but still is a long ways in coming: a shift from seeing first what people with disabilities can't do, to see and celebrate and encourage what they can do. This booklet produced in 2014, The Call and Opportunity for Faith Communities to Transform the Lives of People with Disabilities and their Communities, provides helpful guidance for faith communities. If every faith community helped one unemployed person with a disability get a job, that would be another 300,000 people in the workforce, who would have less dependence on government benefits, and possibly a greater sense of self esteem and a better sense of how to fulfill their calling while here on earth. 

Community Builder

  No, I DON'T think we should wait and see.  That would be wasting precious time.  We KNOW Trump's character and his values, and he's NOT going to change.  Why would he?  All his life he's been led to believe he could get away with his behavior.  Even the fact that he was elected would confirm him in the belief that he was right to believe he could get away with his behavior.  So it would be foolish to wait and see at this time.  No new data are going to come in about the Trump Administration.  Americans with disabilities and their advocates need to put pressure on that government to respect the laws put in place by previous administrations to protect those who are vulnerable.  It's too bad he was elected, but since he's there until some people decide to impeach him, American citizens need to deal with him.

Participant

Thanks for the link to the booklet, Mark.  I think its content is excellent.

I don't think it would hurt at all to send a copy, in paper form and perhaps also by email, to the clerk of every local CRC council, and the clerk of every CRC classis.

If all CRC members transformed 90% of their angst about government related politics, and the CRCNA 100% of its, into efforts toward serving directly in their own local areas, whether the disabled or others, much, much more would get done with infinitely more satisfaction.

We don't really have much power at all to overhaul the government, especially at the federal level, in whatever direction.  And we'll forever disagree about what that overhaul should be.  But our power as a church of Jesus Christ to directly impact the lives of many  immediately around us, each in our own communities, is great indeed.  And as to that, I really don't see any disagreement at all.

Guide

Doug, Disability Concerns bought 50 hard copies of an expanded version of this book as soon as it came out, and they are sitting in my office. We send a thank you gift to all CRCs that take an offering for DC, and this will be next in line for the churches in the US. I've lobbied a couple Canadian friends to create a Canadian version of the booklet, but that hasn't happened yet. The Putting Faith to Work model is excellent, and its principles are applicable across North America though the stats and resources are US-centric. 

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