Becky Blitch

Becky Blitch
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Largo, Florida, USA
Birthday
June 02
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Certified Life Coach
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Coach, writer, policy consultant, educator, & public speaker. No longer actively updating this blog. Please see links for current info!

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SEPTEMBER 8, 2008 4:28PM

Is Sarah Palin exploiting her son's disability?

Rate: 68 Flag

Much has been made of Sarah Palin's "special needs child" over the past week.  Today's LA Times features a two-page article declaring that "Trig Palin's story is safe ground for the Republican ticket". The article reviews Palin's record on disability in her short tenure as governor of Alaska, attempting to make the case that a McCain-Palin administration would be proactive on disability issues.

Palin herself started the meme by declaring in her convention address, "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."

The LA Times relays the reaction of a suburban dad of a teenage daughter with Down's Syndrome: "I clapped as loud as I could," he said. "We need a friend in the White House."

I write today to offer another viewpoint on Sarah Palin's much-touted advocacy creds. To be blunt: it's bullshit. People with disabilities, their families, and all equality-minded Americans are being mislead about which ticket is truly progressive on disability rights issues. Worse, Palin is exploiting her own son in the effort.

Before going any further, allow me to step back and establish my credentials. I'm a 28-year-old woman living with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2, a neuromuscular disease that was diagnosed just after my first birthday. I have never walked, and today am classed as functionally quadriplegic. I require assistance with pretty much everything.  I'm blessed to have an incredibly supportive family who have made it possible for me to pursue my goals (I'm currently in grad school). Like many young (and not-so-young) adults with disabilities, I still live at home. My family is relatively well-off, but living independently is (right now, at least) simply too expensive. I require 24/7 assistance, and neither our private insurance (which is, again, relatively good) nor the state (Florida) will subsidize any out-of-home living short of a nursing home. Case in point: a few years ago my family decided we needed to get a lift system to aid in transferring me in and out of my wheelchair. I'm pretty small, but 2-and-a-half decades of carrying me around was starting to take a toll on my parents' backs. The system we chose was relatively simple and cost about $3,000. Despite multiple appeals, our insurance and Medicaid both refused to defray the cost. I'm lucky, in that my parents could afford to put it on their Visa. But hundreds of thousands of other Americans with disabilities aren't that lucky, and are essentially being warehoused in nursing homes and assisted living facilities (where they are all too often victimized), denied the basic dignity of earning a living and contributing to society. I myself have yet to get a job, because doing so will disqualify me from my father's health insurance.

I don't share all of this looking for sympathy. I share it because it is the daily reality of hundreds of thousands of Americans with disabilities, and will one day be the reality of all those "special needs children" like Trig Palin and their families.

Many people don't realize that until the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law, people with disabilities in this country were not guaranteed full civil rights. It's also widely unknown the extent to which the Supreme Court has limited and in some cases completely nullified that essential piece of legislation in the intervening years. To have a disability in America today -- whether it's physical or cognitive, visible or invisible, congenital or acquired -- is to live on the edges of society. People with disabilities, as a population, are more vulnerable to changes in the economy, homelessness, abuse, and depression than nearly any other group.

That's why those of us who are true advocates for the disability community (I was Ms. Wheelchair FL 2005 and am involved in various groups as an advocate, facilitator, or educator) cheered the entry of Sen. Barack Obama into the presidential race. Sen. Obama, whose father-in-law lived with MS from his late 20's until he passed away in 1990, is the first presidential candidate to make disability rights a central plank of his platform. Personally, I'd always assumed (being a fairly hardcore feminist) that I'd support Hillary Clinton when she ran for president. But I cannot articulate what it felt like, the first time I visited Sen. Obama's website, to see the word "Disabilities" listed in the Issues menu, right alongside education, the economy, and Iraq. To borrow a phrase, I felt like my invisibility had been shattered. Sen. Obama  not only has a series of specific, significant policies to offer; his entire orientation towards people with disabilities is what we call "people first." It's usually a term heard in relation to language (call me a woman living with disability, not a disabled woman).  While Sen. Clinton did, to her credit, propose some similar measures (although watered down by comparison to Sen. Obama's), to find these proposals, one had to dig through her -- wait for it -- health care plan. To me and many others, Sen. Obama is not just an advocate for people with disabilities here and around the world. He represents the kind of shift in thinking about how we talk about disability, how we bring people with disabilities fully into  society, that is necessary for real change to occur.

That brings us to Sen. McCain, of course. His campaign likes to tout that he was one of the cosponsors of the original Americans with Disabilities Act... but so were 62 other senators (each and every one, apparently, a maverick). In truth, Mr. McCain is pretty much silent on the issue of disability. A search of his ccampaign site turns up a boilerplate "we feel your pain" statement on autism lacking any specific plans. Otherwise, the word "disability" only pops up in relation to veterans. And we all know his record on veterans' issues (in a word? shameful). And, notably, Sen. McCain is not a cosponsor of S.3406, the ADA Ammendments Act of 2008, which aims "to restore the intent and protections" of the original law, even though a bipartisan group of 65 senators do have their names on the law. I guess that's what he means by being a maverick.  (FYI: S.3406 has been recommended for a floor vote, and disability advocates are pushing hard for the vote to happen before the election.) Other information about McCain's views is sparse. He offered a prepared speech at the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) annual conference, again lacking in any specific policy plans and, in my opinion, rather patronizing in tone.  He did not respond to the questionnaire on disability rights issues sent to the candidates by the AAPD and other advocacy organizations.

(For a detailed, side-by-side comparison of the candidates' positions on these issues, please refer to the AAPD Presidential Election Action Center.)

And then we have Sarah Palin. It appears true that, while governor, she took a number of steps to help defray costs for families with young children with certain disabilities, although her actual role in developing that legislation is unclear. According to a NY Times article yesterday, Palin's self-proclaimed advocacy has been a bigger surprise to no one than the Alaskan disability community. But let me be very clear: every voice in this fight is needed, and I applaud Gov. Palin for using her office to help families who need it. I do not, in any way, mean to denigrate that work. or her personal experience as a mother of a child with a disability.

With that said, Sarah Palin is not nominated for President. Regardless of her passion, any policy proposals she has would rightly come in second to John McCain's in a McCain-Palin administration. We vote for the person at the top of the ticket for a reason: unless something terrible happens, they are the one actually in power. So despite Palin's positioning as some kind of champion for civil rights, we must never forget that she's stumping for a guy who apparently (given the evidence) couldn't care less.

Sarah Palin is, of course, a very smart plitician. She must know all of this. She must know that every time she talks about her son Trig and vows to fight for "special needs children" she is taking advantage of a very vulnerable population, people who are tired of fighting with insurance companies and schools and employers, people who desperately need to know that they are not alone. She is shattering their invisibility -- but in doing so, she's only offering false hope. This is fundamentally unfair, and outrageous.

The person it's most unfair to is Trig Palin himself. He's hardly old enough to know it, and he may never, but he is being exploited by a cynical political machine that cares more about winning than governing. In our society, people living with Down's Syndrome are the cuddly crips. We see them as sweet and loving and docile and unthreatening. They don't remind us of our own mortality, they don't remind us that "shit, that could be me sitting there, as many times as I've gotten behind the wheel after a few beers." They remind us, frankly, of Corky. This is paternalism at its worst, and I believe that the Republicans -- Sarah Palin included -- are trading on misplaced sympathy and, as I mentioned, false hope, just to win votes.  

One day, God willing, Trig Palin is going to be a young adult who wants to live away from home, get a job, and generally live a normal life. And on that day, he will not care about his mother's witty sarcasm or ability to call herself a pitbull in lipstick and retain any sense of dignity. He will want to know what she did, as an elected official, to make his life easier.  

I hope she's working on some better answers than what we've seen so far.

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Short answer - yes she is.

Fantastic post - I learned something, which is always welcome, and it's interesting, in all the accusations of Barack Obama not being issues-oriented enough, to read from someone who supported him precisely because of his stance on disabilities.
Wow. I must thank you for doing your homework on this issue.

And isn't it ironic that just as Palin uses her son as a prop, she herself is being used as one? Although in her case, I think she deserves it.
Excellent post.

Spent the last several years pushing my MIL around in her wheelchair, It was nothing short of eye opening for this able bodied person. Just going to mall, even with her handicapped placard was pure hell. There were too few handicapped spaces and the aisles in the stores, except for the main aisles were to narrow. We would up parking her on a main aisle and running clothes back to her for her approval.

There has been zero to no coverage of the issues of disabilities until Trig came into the mix, and it sounds like the wrong candidate is getting the press. Thank you for writing this.
Excellent post. Thank you for educating me on a subject I now
realize--because of you--I knew absolutely nothing about. And thank you for giving me yet another to vote Obama.
I cannot begin to tell you how disgusted I have been by Palin's use of her son as a political prop. I have a son with autism and I do not reveal his condition to anyone except on a need to know basis (and if my screen name were my real name I wouldn't do so here). Why? because we regard people's medical histories as confidential and only to be divulged as they see fit. A child, of course, does not enjoy a legal right to privacy (more's the pity), but that doesn't mean that those vested with his or her rights do not have an ethical obligation to respect that privacy so far as is possible. Palin has used her parental discretion to make a politcal spectacle of her boy. As such, I can leave aside the whole question of work vs. family that has rightly become such a point of feminist grievance and state that on the issue of her child's disability alone Governor Palin is one crappy mother.
Yes! Becky, This is a terrific post. Very educatinal, thorough, clear and tough. I only wish it would sway a voter or two as it ought to. I am very glad to hear that Obama's stand on defending your rights is as right on as you declare. One more good reason to vote for him. Good luck to you in your continued battles and in your academic career.
Excellent and thoughtful post, Becky. Thanks for sharing your insights and experience - although I'm a supporter, I had no idea about Barack's policies on this or his personal experience with it. I hope lots of Undecideds read this...
Beautifully articulated.
Thank you for your most thoughtful post on the subject of Gov. Palin and disabilities. I saw the following article last week and wanted to add it to the discussion here:

"Palin Slashed "Special Schools" Funding In Alaska"

"During 2006, children served by special education facilities and programs, including the Special Education Service Agency (SESA) and the Alaska School for the Deaf , received more state support; but as of 2008 and 2009, the proposed budget was cut from $7,949.30 down to $3,156.00."

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/adrienne-williams/palin-gutted-special-ed-f_b_123774.html
I have never before responded to any article I have read until now. You wrote the words I wish we all spoke. Great post.
it is a great post. thanks.
I just want to echo what others have said. Thank you for educating me about a subject I knew very little about.
Very articulate and authoritative takedown of McCain. And the phrase a cynical political machine that cares more about winning than governing is magnificent.
Thank you for your story. I groveled with the whole Palin issue from day one. I'm at rest with it now because I've released my anger against her line of b-s. One of my best friends has a daughter with Spina Bifida. She's 16 now and a beauty! But I now what that mom goes through. I was there with her when her daughter was born and I have watched my friend fight tooth and nail and devote herself to that girl to make sure she succeeds. To see the happiness they share together today is one of the greatest joys I know. Bless you and your family and thank you again for sharing your story.
Brilliant post. Thank you so much for sharing this story. I hope it gets lots and lots of attention.
Palin should know better than to be used as a prop. But she doesn't. That's on her.

But using her own kids as props? Shame on her. What a sickening human being.
"Americans with disabilities aren't that lucky, and are essentially being warehoused in nursing homes and assisted living facilities"

Thanks for a brillant post!
Do not forget the astronomical expense to the state providing all that out of home care most people don't really want as a first choice. Like you people prefer to living at home.
I'm glad you posted this, and I'm glad it was front-paged on Salon.com. This is a subject near and dear to my heart, because my father worked as an grant-writer for Goodwill Industries for many years, and now my sister is a special education teacher specializing in kids with cognitive impairments. Even though I was young at the time of my dad's "first" career, I remember him having to fight for every last penny of funding from any number of private sources, and begging for business to provide jobs to give special-needs people a measure of independence.

And now I hear my sister's stories of having to make do with too few aides, of having kids that should be main-streamed in her class, and having kids main-streamed from her class who should not be, and in general having students with wildly divergent needs lumped together because in her public school there is not the funding, space or personnel to put them into smaller groups that could better suit their particular needs.

So I'm with you, Becky--Sarah Palin should have to do more than just say she'll be an ally of the special needs community. She needs to put some concrete proposals on the table and say how she'd work with a President (gulp) McCain and Congress to enact them.
Great post. Your lucid, reasoned prose is exactly what is needed to counter the mirage that Palin produced with her remark.
Thank you for posting this. Very informative, well written, and moving. Let's spread this info!

- es
"Your excellent post exposes a real irony in that John McCain himself receives nearly $60,000/yr disability pension from his POW days. 100% tax exempt, I might add. Yet, he will be the first to claim how physically fit he is."

Is that true, that he gets that? This man who can hike the Grand Canyon from rim to rim to demonstrate his vigor receives disability? This man who flies around on his wife's private jet and has 7 (he thinks) homes, gets *disability*? Why isn't anyone talking about this?
"I don't share all this looking for sympathy." Yes, you are. Your largest part of your essay is very "look at me" oriented. "I am special needs toooooooo!"
Thank you for your well-reasoned and articulate post.

I have a severely autistic son, and like you, I was deeply moved by Barack Obama's attention to disabilities on his campaign web page. It made me feel great about voting for him in the primary.

Palin's exploitation of her son's special needs deeply offended me.
Thank you for providing so much information on John McCain's voting record on the ADA.
you write beautifully. I hope this woman does not make it closer to the White House than she already is. John McCain is a desperate man.
While I don't question the validity of Trig Palin's maternity, I do wonder why anyone would knowingly choose to bring a Down's Syndrome baby into the world. What loving parent would want their child to face life with all the associated disadvantages? Given Mrs. Palin's political agenda, it isn't a stretch to imagine that Trig was born to further his mother's ambitions.
Wow... wow. Thank you all for the amazing feedback. I'm actually kind of stunned by the interest and support! It's heartening to know that so many people -- presumably many of whom are not living with disability -- think that this is an important topic of discussion, both in the context of the election and in the broader conversation about diversity and civil rights in the 21st century US.

Please keep the conversation going! (Even I had no idea that McCain receives disability for his injuries received as a POW.) Hopefully after a good night's sleep I'll have something more insightful to say than "wow."

In the meantime, thank you, thank you, thank you!
Great article! I greatly enjoyed reading it. As someone who suffers from SMA type 3, I can totally relate to this article. At 38 (turning 39 tomorrow), I am still independent, relatively mobile and, so far, having an excellent career as a world renowned professor and researcher. In any case, it is a shame to see how being disabled in the US can be very problematic, especially when dealing with private medical insurance companies (if one can afford it) and Medicaid among others. (This may become even be worse under McCain et al.) Up until now, I haven't had too many complaints with regards to my private medical insurance company. However, I know that at some point in the future I may have to move back to Canada, because the health care system will provide better service than here. Sad really... given what else the US has to offer.

Good luck with your future endeavors!
Fantastic post. Thank you so much for writing it.
I was just thinking about this today, how they actually used her infant son for purely political gain--and she let them! That baby should not have even been onstage. And the chance of any change in programs for the disabled under McCain are extremely slim. Sarah Palin made that promise to be an advocate with no real idea of the magnitude of the challenges that face disabled people and their families when they try to get even simple assistance and services to keep themselves independent. She is about to learn.

Thank you for such a remarkable post.
This is a well-written, interesting post. I come from the "other side" so I do have a question.

What is the difference between you telling us your detailed story to help make your point and Sarah Palin telling her story to make her point?

Also, to the person who said this, "I do wonder why anyone would knowingly choose to bring a Down's Syndrome baby into the world."

I suspect that Trig might one day speak about his experience growing up similar to this and that might be enough to convince some of us that Sarah made a really good decision.
@McGarrett: Because of her beliefs and her political position, Palin was comfortable to give birth to her son Trig. She knows that as long as she can stay in power, there will be money and programs available to help HER son.

As Becky has written, she did not receive reimbursement after many attempts from either her insurer or Medicaid for a lift that is not "optional" for a person in her situation. Yet, McCain, a hugely wealthy man, is able to receive disability for his war injuries.

Who is monitoring the system there? Who is working for the "little guy"? Although certainly he qualifies as a disabled vet, what does he think about a system that continues to pay him money that he certainly does not need, while others go without? This is a question worth asking.

Palin has little doubt in her mind that her family's lot in life will provide either enough money, or enough clout, that Trig will always have a good life. I do not begrudge any special needs person that comfort.

For those that do not have the means to live in relative comfort, or who are disabled but cannot qualify for support from a system designed to help them, there is a fair bit of inequity. And for Palin to cut funding for special needs programs is the height of Republican (and Palinesque) hypocrisy in view of her statements that she is a "friend" to them? If you really want to be objective in your assessments, McGarrett, there are two potential Republican hypocrites listed within this article. They are running for the highest offices in our country.
@McGarrett50:

First, I want to sincerely thank you for your question and the tone in which you offered it. I don't mean that in a patronizing way. It's really refreshing to be able to dialogue with people from "the other side" respectfully and rationally. I'm going to have to hang around OS more, I think. :)

You wrote:
"What is the difference between you telling us your detailed story to help make your point and Sarah Palin telling her story to make her point?"

A valid question. I'll try to answer it the best I can, but let me know if I get to your point.

First, a mea culpa. I had no idea this essay, my first post on OS, would get picked up and read by as many people as it has. To tell the truth, I posted it here because the comments are screwed up on my personal blog, and I wanted to be able to get feedback from the dozen or so people who regularly follow my writing. Had I anticipated (and I guess I should've) that so many people would see this, I would have been much more careful in my planning, editing, and (gah) proofreading. And yes, I probably would have trimmed the bio bit down.

I've been planning to write either a blog post or personal mailing-list email for some time (actually, since the primaries) sharing why I'm supporting Sen. Obama. I'm as disgusted as anyone by the hordes of people my age and younger who are what I like to call "Facebook Democrats." I (obviously) have very specific policy reasons for supporting Sen. Obama, and I think that incubating post got merged with this one while writing. Again, planning and editing.

I wanted to include the more personal bio for a couple of related reasons. In general, as a matter of principle I feel that writers, especially of op-eds, have a responsibility to disclose their personal positions in relation to the subject matter. It's not just about ethics, it's about creating a richer, more textured dialogue. In this case, I felt it was necessary to establish my authority to speak about the topic. We in the disability community are often, as a group and as individuals, talked over and about without anyone asking what we actually want for ourselves (which is the basis of the whole rights movement). I could not write a piece in which I felt like I was sticking up for Trig Palin without identifying myself; otherwise, I'd be adding to the paternalism.

I also wanted to share anecdotal biography because, frankly, most Americans simply don't understand how near-impossible it is for people with disabilities to stand on their own two feet (if you'll pardon the expression). There is absolutely no reason for me, an educated, intelligent, capable young woman to be sitting at home taking disability (a whopping $600/month). I *want* to be working, paying taxes, contributing to society. I want my parents to be able to retire one day. And in pretty much every other developed nation, that's completely reasonable. People need to know that the system their tax dollars are supporting is actually keeping people like myself *out* of the workforce, because there's no middle ground, no guarantee of health insurance. In this country, either you have a disability and can't work, or do work and are magically healed. People need to know these things, and they need to know that there is a candidate and party committed to making specific, necessary changes to fix the problem.

So what's the difference between me and Sarah Palin? Most importantly, as other commenters have pointed out, I'm an adult making the choice to use my personal story - Trig Palin is not. And while it's true that Sarah Palin has her own experience as a mother, it's by definition a relational experience that cannot be shared without talking about Trig himself. He has not asked to be used as a prop, and it is morally wrong to do so -- particularly if they're then going to turn around and proclaim that no one else is allowed to talk about the children (which I think is the correct approach).

Here's the thing. If Sarah Palin and John McCain had a comprehensive, specific plan in place about disability issues, I would have much less of a problem with this whole thing. This, I think, would be fabulous for Sarah Palin to say: "I know what it's like to care for a child with a disability. Here are the things I plan to do to help families like ours: (a, b, c). Here are the things we plan to do to make sure existing legislation (ADA, IDEA, etc) are fully implemented and funded: (d, e, f). And these are our plans for giving adults with disabilities a fair playing field in housing, employment, and transportation: (x, y, z)." I'd love to hear that. But I don't. What I see and hear is a woman trading her story for votes, with nothing to back it up, at the expense of her son. And I take objection to that on multiple levels.
Excellent article! We need more critical thinkers looking at the candidates instead of wallowing in the euphoria of infatuation with a so-called maverick candidate who happens to have a son with Down Syndrome. Let’s not forget that McCain and Palin represent the party whose poster-child Ronald Reagan made a name for himself in the “Baby Doe” case in the mid 80s, threatening to deny aid to states and hospitals that adhered to parents’ wishes by withholding life-saving surgery of children with life-threatening problems such as reflux-esophagitis (which my son with Down Syndrome, incidentally, had). It was hypocritical of President Reagan to fight to save the children but then fought to deny them the right to education after they survived surgeries and then reached school age. It was President Reagan who tried to eliminate Public Law 94-142, the “Guaranteed Education of All Handicapped Children Act.” Thanks to courageous congressional representatives on both sides of the aisle, Reagan’s plan to refuse education of children with special needs did not happen. We can’t forget this lesson. That McCain, of the same party as Reagan, doesn’t consider important the rights of individuals with special needs should be a topic on the table during this election. Sadly, Sarah Palin’s exploitation of a child for political gain seems to escape the media pundits. Thank you for a well-written article!
Ms. Blitch,

You say yourself that you are from a "well-off" family, are fortunate enough to live with them, and have good insurance.
These facts alone set you very far apart from the average, American, citizen living with a disability.
You were unable to get Medicaid to pay for some of your lift system?
How dare you even attempt to tap into Medicaid, that program is for those who clearly do not fit your profile. See above.
You cannot work or you will be taken off your father's insurance and you are 28? Lucky for you , you have had a little time-killer, like, COLLEGE, to keep you busy.
Who paid for you to make it through Grad school? You poor, poor, nearly 30 year old, adult, woman.
I don't even know what to say to you, Becky.
You are out of touch.
The realities most people face living with a disability have very little to do with your's and you might think twice before doing speaking on their behalf.
To, at least, acknowledge that your many privileges are rare for disabled, scratch that, most Americans, would be a start in the right direction.

As far as Palin goes, I see no difference in her behavior/message and your's. None.
I don't think bashing her serves any purpose either.
That is not what this country needs now or what the Obama/Biden campaign is about.

Could you not have found a better way to serve those with disabilities than blogging/blitching about her online?

A feminist? Ms. Wheelchair? Aren't you exploiting your disability, as well.

I am no Palin supporter, QUITE the contrary but you are making little sense...if Palin had NOT mentioned her son's disability and her hopes and goals for his life and the lives of all disabled Americans, you would have found fault in that. Had Joe Biden or Michelle Obama mentioned their hopes and goals for the lives of all disabled Americans I am sure you would have applauded them. And you did state that you did just that when you learned of Obama's stance.

Viva Obama!

Kristine Kane
Safety Harbor, FL
Kristin Kane - Hateful post.
@Kristine Kane

Ms. Kane,

I am tempted not to respond to your vitriolic personal attack. But, despite your disrespectful tone, your accusations do point to some issues that many Americans (including yourself) are ignorant of. So I will attempt to answer you without resorting, as you have, to ad hominem attacks.

1. You will note that I described my family as *relatively* well-off, and our insurance likewise. Without getting too personal, I can easily assure you that my parents, both of whom work 60-70 hour weeks, did not come *anywhere* near benefitting from the Bush tax cuts.

2. I point out my good fortune, such as it is, precisely because I am aware of how lucky I am. I am viscerally aware that many people just like me wind up in institutions because their families cannot afford home lift systems, etc.

3. I am, as a person with a disability receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI), entitled to receive Medicaid. It is considered secondary insurance and is only used when my private insurance does not apply. It is *extremely* limited. It does not cover wheelchairs (mine was $8,000, and isn't as customized as most quads'). None of my doctors (who I see because they accept my primary care insurance) accept Medicaid. The only thing I use it for is picking up the co-pay on some of my prescriptions - totaling about $100/month. All told, my health care cost $14,000 last year. My parents had to pay about 2/3 of that out-of-pocket, not even speaking of premiums.

4. Just so we're clear, I'll finish grad school with about $40,000 in debt. I was lucky enough to get academic scholarships as an undergrad, but grad school is entirely loan-financed.

5. The Ms. Wheelchair America program is an advocacy organization. It's not about swimsuits or ballgowns. In my year as Ms. Wheelchair FL I spoke to thousands of students around the state and countless elected officials. You have absolutely no business questioning my authority to speak on behalf of people with disabilities, or questioning my commitment to feminism.

6. Unless you've hacked my Google Calendar, you have no idea how many meetings I attend, how many boards I sit on. I do a lot more than blog. But yes, I do write about the issues that affect my life, and I will not apologize for that.

7. If you read my previous response to McGarrett50, you would know that I *want* to work. Tell me, do you know of any job openings where I can earn enough to support myself, have the flexibility to adjust my hours on days like today when I'm up at 3am with unbearable pain, and will be eligible for health insurance despite my pre-existing condition? I'll happily send my resume off. As it is, I volunteer almost every single day at an elementary school. Out of the $600/month I receive in SSI, I keep $100; the rest goes to my parents for food, utilities, medical, etc. So do not insinuate that I am lazy or gaming the system. You have no idea.

8. You will note, in my original post, that I went out of my way to give respect to Ms. Palin's experience as a mother of a child with a disability. In no way did I intend to "bitch" about her. I was pointing out that her rhetoric is not backed up with actual plans, either her own or John McCain's. I find that offensive, and as an American am entitled to say so.

Thank you for your input.
Becky: I found your bio interesting because it delineated aspects of your identity differently than a lot of we deaf do. You recognize yourself first by your career, then your sexuality, and finally, your disability. On the other hand, it's culturally valid and encouraged for a deaf person to identify themselves as deaf first. Of course, this tendency puts us at odds with the rest of the disabled community. We aren't a person with deafness, we are deaf people. A lot of us feel that the person first approach actually diminishes the impact being deaf, and being deaf-in-this-world has on our lives and outlook (and that's ignoring the deaf-as-a-linguistic-minority view). When I was writing my graduate thesis on visuocentric learners, I often had to point out that regardless of the APA's people first approach, it's inconsistent with the views of the overall deaf community.

When I was in graduate school, I often came to words with a paraplegic who expressed his distaste for the deaf community's unwillingness to work for the overall goal of disability rights. He didn't understand the "deaf first" mentality many deaf advocates have. My point that deaf rights are fundamentally different than mobility rights didn't hold water with him.

But that's another discussion.

In any case, you might be interested to know that McCain sits on the board of trustees for Gallaudet University. During the 2005-2006 Gallaudet protests, McCain was inaccessible and deaf (oh I made a funny) to our needs. How about that?
Kristine,

Wow! I really believe you are very ignorant on the subject matter. You obviously missed the point of her article as well. I think it is you, Kristine, who is out of touch. Are you disabled? Have you experienced the system, if you are? I certainly do not wish you to become disabled in the future. However, I am certain that you would be changing your tune very quickly, if you were to become one. Similar to what comes from out from our dear friend Palin’s mouth or yours for that matter, respect goes a long way (no matter which viewpoints we have).
In the previous post, it should read "As opposed to..." rather than "Similar to..."
Very informational post, Becky. Thank you!
First of all, Sarah Palin is not exploiting her son. If anyone is exploiting her or other children it is the media. She simply has a son with Down Syndrome and wants to improve conditions for people with disabilities- quite understandable. Her son is only a few months old...she has yet to show people what she can do as far as making way for people with disabilities.

Second, look at how Cheney had a choke hold of Bush if you don't think VPs have any say in what is done in the White House.
@Mary Tillen

Of course she is exploiting her son. And it has even less to do with the politics of disability than of abortion. Her son has become the poster child, all but literally, of her pro-life bona fides. It wasn't hte largely pro-choice media that performed this act of political exploitation. It was Sarah Palin, hockey mom.
"While I don't question the validity of Trig Palin's maternity, I do wonder why anyone would knowingly choose to bring a Down's Syndrome baby into the world. What loving parent would want their child to face life with all the associated disadvantages? Given Mrs. Palin's political agenda, it isn't a stretch to imagine that Trig was born to further his mother's ambitions. "

So who are the loving parents here. The 9 out of 10 who are prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome who abort their children?

You can't be serious in the fact she is exploiting her child. Do you all think she should have hid the fact her son had Down syndrome? Did you see the how the press has dug into her background, digging into hospital records, birth certificates, questioning her prenatal care. Why should she hide her son from the public eye, many celebrities have joined the ranks of those advocating for autism and have come out to say their children are autistic. Is this to further their acting careers?

I am a mother to a son with Down syndrome. He is a teenager. I was a single mother prenatally diagnosed but carried to term this wonderful human being.

She has been a mother and a member of the disability community for all of what 5 months now? Her record on special education has been questioned and it has shown she has increased funding for such. I am intersted in hearing more of what she has to say but won't condemn her before than. Regardless, she is very new to this issue.
@ N Hudson
Did Sarah Palin have her last child to further her political ambitions? I sure don't think so. Has she exploited her decision to have that child by linking it aggressively to her pro-life politics--undoubtedly. Has she used her child as a political prop to rally support with the (dubious) promise that she'll be a friend to the disability community. You bet. and the difference between Sarah Palin and the acotrs you mention is that Jenny McCarthy doesn't use her autistic child to convince you to see her movies. Sarah Palin has used Trig to sucure votes. That's the textbook definition of political exploitation.
Becky -- Thanks so much for this post. All the presidential candidates need to know that the disability community is watching.

Thanks even to Kristine, for giving Becky the chance to so articulately explain her predicament. The "system" -- private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid, employers -- can make it easier for disabled people to stay out of extreme poverty and support themselves.

Fifty years ago it was routine to fire women when they got pregnant. The workplace has learned to be flexible for women. It can do the same with the disabled.
I find this article to be very left winged with enough self pity to shake a stick at! A true advocate? Ha! I applaud you for loading so, so much of your article with your obviously biased rhetoric towards the Republican party. Quoting the NY Times, classic! Now lets get to the the FACTS, do you know what state has some of the worst services for special needs children? Let me guess, of course you don't!! It just so happens to be the great state of Illinois, home of Senator Barrack Obama!! It is really upsetting that someone with your intelligence would believe things that they read in the Times or on Obama's website. He has a remarkable knack for telling people what they want to hear and making them actually believe it, lower taxes, healthcare for everyone, more jobs, higher wages, BLAH BLAH etc...I am sorry that the system has not worked for you in the past but let's not discredit Governor Palin just yet. As a parent of a toddler with DS myself, I find it deeply offensive that you of all people would attack Governor Palin for being a proud parent of her son. If one of your parents was picked to become VP wouldn't they have you there with them on the biggest night of your family's lives? Is that exploiting you for political gain? I don't think so, you would be offended if they didn't acknowledge your struggles and vow to help familys like your own. What is so wrong with that?!! What is really sad about this whole topic is the amount of comments that actually agree with your stance, some even claimed to now have enough information to make a decision to vote for Mr. Obama. What has happened to this country? Please folks do not believe everything you read, do your own research!!
There's a line between includinging one's disabled child and making a political prop of him, and the line isn't that thin and any fair minded person, particularly any fair minded person who was a child with disabilities should be able to see that Palin has crossed it. That said, you are right: I live in Illinois, with a disabled child, and it is indeed the single worst state in the union in this respect. Ranked as such and deserving of the ranking.
Wow you really are to be commended for being so positive and being able to deal with the disability you have. You and your parents deserve a great deal of credit for all the sacrifice and hard work to help make your life rewarding. I really hope someday things get better for you or a cure is found to help because people with your courage deserve it.

I bet that when you were growing up with all that you and your parents had to deal with that your family did not have to deal with people like you poking there nose into your business and questioning every decision you and your parents made to help make you happy. You should remember that and try minding your own business and let the Palins have the freedom of choice you had instead of the bitter comments you liberals thrive on.
Joan Black (& others),

I agree with you about the fact that people should do their proper research before voting for a candidate, but I will get to this topic further below. First, I need to explain some important differences between the political system here and elsewhere, such as in Canada and most countries in Europe (e.g., Italy) among others. In these countries, people do not care and rarely know who the spouse, children and the extended families are for the people running for office (unless the spouse is someone known to the public, such as a TV journalist). Voters are not concerned mainly because the most important issues they are interested in usually only include the candidate’s ideas and how they intend to implement these ideas. Whether the candidate is single, married, gay, or has a disabled child has no influence on the people’s decision process, primarily because they do not know the personal lives of these candidates. Voters will make their choice based on the candidate’s record that is know to the public (as it should be). Like anywhere else, this does not mean that there is no bulls**t going on and that promises get fulfilled. In fact, there are a lot of empty promises, but people expect it to some degree.

Here, on the other hand, the voter’s decision process is sadly governed more by the personal character of the candidate rather than how they intend to make the lives of the people better (this goes for both parties). In the most recent state election in the place where I live, all the TV ads focused on the family of the candidates (notwithstanding the typical and tiring negative ads): see my wife, children and grandchildren, which is, in essence, a substitute for “vote for me because I have good family values” (an empty term that totally means nothing to me – as discussed above, the personal life of politicians has no influence about what they could do for me, unless he or she sponsors/votes for bills that discriminate against certain groups of people, yet believes or do opposite things in their personal lives). In the case of Sarah Palin, it was obvious that, not only did she use her child to hide her daughter’s pregnancy on both nights, but used him and her family as a substitute for “family values.” I would have much preferred (other than for her to be gracious and respectful of other candidate’s views rather than being condescending) that she left entire family alone and focus on what she could do for us. On this topic, I will leave it at that for now.

With regards to the last point, this is where we hit the bottom of the barrel. As you indicated, voters in the US do not read enough about each candidate views or policies. I would also add that people get blinded by the “family values” stuff along with “the other candidate did this or did that” using half truths or sometimes complete lies. As a matter of fact, a political party in Canada very recently used the kind of negative ads we only see here (since there are elections there as well) and had to pull them out due to public pressure; many voters were turned off. For me, what I look for in a candidate are whether the candidate is critical thinker; is someone who is intellectually curious; and, most importantly is a person who seriously listens to different view points before making a decision. This is especially critical when very complex decisions need to made, such as what the President or Vice-President would do. The background experience, being executive or legislative (and for how long or where), plays a role but is not the governing factor. Furthermore, whether he or she is one of us (e.g., hockey mom or a person I would like to go out for a beer) is certainly not a deciding factor. In the case of Sarah Palin: when she believes that creationism should be taught as science (you only see this is in the US and a few countries in the Middle East), does not know what are the functions of a VP, cannot tell the difference between a public and private company (see her comments about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac), the Iraq’s war is God’s work, is in my book a person who is not a critical thinker. Anyone who maintain these kinds of views, no matter which party affiliation, should not be elected to higher office.
Dom. Since you reference people should know there facts, I think you should as well.

"when she believes that creationism should be taught as science"

Use this website to check your facts..

http://www.factcheck.org/elections-2008/sliming_palin.html

Palin has not pushed for teaching creationism in Alaska's schools. She has said that students should be allowed to "debate both sides" of the evolution question, but she also said creationism "doesn't have to be part of the curriculum."
Thanks for your opening my eyes thru your article and thru the rest of the comments ... Iam also a mother of children with disabilties ,, we have 2 children our oldest 17 is a teenager that just happens to have down syndrome and our 2nd child is over coming a process disorder for reading and ashma .
am not sure who yet am voting for but I do appluad palin,, for wanting to be a active advocacy for all people with disabilties..Our family lives in illinois , so I see the struggles with our schools and support for people with disabilities . , health care ect ...
we need to voice our concerns more about people in our country and about their future then we have seen in the past .
my number one concern right now ,, is how is my son going to survive in this state/ country if we dont fight for peoples rights with disabities. one person can make a difference , so even if she doesnt get into the white house , i really think she will make a difference in our country in the future , we all can
chris morley
proud to be a mother to children with disabilies
N. Hudson,

Thank you for your comment. Although I was technically right with what I was writing, I should have been more explicit and indicate that “creationism should be considered as a scientific fact” (or something in that line). Even though she may not have pushed school districts to include creationism/intelligent design as part of the teaching curriculum, the simple fact that it could be introduced to foster a debate with other science-based phenomenon if it ever comes up within the school or teaching environment (as in the link you provided) makes it equivalent to as if it were part of the curriculum. As indicated above, nowhere else except in the US and a few countries in the Middle East is creationism ever discussed or debated as part of the regular school program. Based on my own experience, the only place that it ever came up was in religious studies (not only Catholic), which are part of the teaching curriculum in grade schools (not high school). Even then, it is not presented as a scientific phenomena.

Thank you again for pointing that out.
Becky, this was a wonderful post! Thank you for so beautifully and intelligently sharing your story, your perspective, and your experience regarding this particular election cycle.

You said: "But I cannot articulate what it felt like, the first time I visited Sen. Obama's website, to see the word "Disabilities" listed in the Issues menu, right alongside education, the economy, and Iraq."

I couldn't agree with that more. I was glad that people with disabilities were being considered by the Obama campaign. I was also glad that during the DNC, many of the speakers, President Clinton, Senator Clin, and Senator Obama, included people with disabilities in the list of individuals who needed a voice, equal access to services, and protection from the constitution.

Yes, Sarah Palin is considerate to the "families" of "children" with special needs. Senator Obama, on the other hand, has demonstrated an understanding of how disability not only impacts the families, but the actual person, whether child or adult.

I was quite angry when one of the commenters above attacked you. But when I read your response, I was inspired. Why? Because you were much nicer than I would've been. **smile** And also because your story is the story of thousands of people who are faced with the challenge of living life with a significant disability and /or a chronic medical condition. Thank you for sharing the details.

I will certainly be back. Also, if you don't mind, I would like to link this blog entry to a post on my blog. Thanks!

Blessings,
Angie Braden
www.nuvisionforanuday.blogspot.com
You're my hero, Ms. Blitch - thank you for a brilliant lucid and moving article. It deserves to be on every newspaper's front page in boold type.
Ms. Blitch,

You have a very compelling story. You have overcome much in your life.

I am still not getting the "why" of your post, though. Please give us the "executive summary" of why McCain/Palin are the problem and Obama is the solution.

All the best to you and your family.
@Bobby Hill:

Quoth you: "Please give us the "executive summary" of why McCain/Palin are the problem and Obama is the solution."

The problem, sir, is not McCain/Palin. The problem is that millions of Americans with disabilities have not seen a significant improvement of quality of life since we first won our civil rights nearly two decades ago.
"The problem is that millions of Americans with disabilities have not seen a significant improvement of quality of life since we first won our civil rights nearly two decades ago. "

I totally disagree with you on this point. I know many parents like myself who have broken through the so called glass ceiling when it comes to having our children included where they never were before. In schools, social clubs, work, activities and sports.
I think it is a slap in the face of all of us parents of children/young adults with disabilities to say nothing has changed.

I think what the previous poster was asking you was why do you think Obama is the solution, because he puts on his agenda that he has a plan? If you read his plan he promises everything including the moon with no substance or explanation of the how and why?

I would much rather have someone with motivation for change as well as a record of it rather than someone who is just offering hope and change with no substance.

But I am insulted to hear you say nothing has changed. We are changing and advocating for change every day. Awareness is part of the change.
@N Hudson

Yes, there has been change - but for the most part, in the wrong direction.

I will concede that the education system has improved since I was a kid - but that's largely dependent upon the individual states.

But what about when those kids are out of school? What about people who acquire disability later in life? What about the entire generation of veterans who are receiving substandard care for life-changing injuries?

For many of us, things have gotten much worse. A lot of that has to do with the rules the government sets for Medicare. Once they are in place, states (through Medicaid) and private insurance generally see it as a green light to reduce their funding as well.

Nowhere is this more egregious than in durable medical equipment (the fancy name for wheelchairs, lifts, walkers, etc). When I got my first power chair in 1987, there was no problem - after deductables, it was entirely paid for. I'm now in the position of nursing an aging chair along because funding simply is no longer available for new chairs; insurance companies and Medicaid are willing to pay the bare minimum of what they deem is necessary, which usually has no connection to what the patient actually needs to be safe, healthy, and mobile.

The Senate, as I mentioned in the original article, is preparing to pass an ADA restoration law. If things had improved so much, that would hardly be necessary.

As for Obama's plan "promising everything including the moon with no substance or explanation of the how and why" -- I respectfully wonder if you took the time to read the full plan (an 8+ page incredibly detailed PDF) or just the summary on the website. If you did read the full plan and still find it "just hope for change with no substance," we'll just have to agree to disagree. If you haven't read the full plan, I urge you to do so. It's available at:
http://www.barackobama.com/pdf/DisabilityPlanFactSheet.pdf

I also wonder, and this isn't directed at you specifically, as others have made similar arguments: Why should we believe that any politician's personal experience will guide their governing? After all John McCain should be, by that logic, the foremost supporter of returning veterans, and yet ever major veterans organization has graded him poorly on the issue. He didn't even talk about it in his convention speech! So the idea that I should trust that Sarah Palin will become a strong disability rights leader on the basis of her son -- and that her failure to put forth concrete ideas is excusable because he's just an infant -- simply doesn't make sense to me. Sympathy votes should not have a role in choosing a President & Vice President.
Excellent post, Becky. One of my closest friends , a poet named Chris Hewitt, had osteogenesis imperfecta & used a wheelchair to get around. I often helped him negotiate theaters, restaurants, and coffeehouses in SF & NYC. He died a few years ago of pneumonia, and I miss him very much.

The Republican Party is not the party of civil rights for any group of American citizens. It is the party of CEOs, the oil industry, and those members of the hereditary rich who have no social conscience. It uses populist rhetoric and figures like Governor Palin to seduce voters, but its real agenda consists in cutting taxes on dividends and on estates, increasing the profits of multinational corporations, and deregulating businesses that pollute the environment. Palin is a pawn in their game. And surely poor Trig became tired of being carried around the klieg lights at the convention.

I actually benefit from the tax cut on dividends. I'm one of the relatively few Americans who receive dividends. But I wouldn't support the Republican agenda for such a selfish reason.

I'm sorry to read the few hostile responses to your excellent piece. Kristine Kane & Joan Black were particularly offensive. American citizens should know that the New York Times prints columns by two prominent conservatives, is the "newspaper of record" in the United States, is admired all around the world, and is regarded as merely centrist by members of the political Left. I agree with N. Hudson on one point: Palin is very new to the disability community & she's going to face problems she doesn't expect.
P.S. Since you live in Florida, I wish you would submit a version of this as an op-ed to your local paper. (Just be sure to follow their guidelines.) You might help Obama swing the state his way.
You said: "But I cannot articulate what it felt like, the first time I visited Sen. Obama's website, to see the word "Disabilities" listed in the Issues menu, right alongside education, the economy, and Iraq."

This is definitely the year for indescribable feelings.

The hyper-aggressive poster who belittled your right to advocate for disabled people is doing what people like her always do, but you already know that.

Martin Luther King was from an upper middle class family, a man who amassed three college degrees without holding a job at a time when 97% of all black people in the country did not go to college.

There was very little in his life experience besides otherness that he had in common with the average black man or woman on the streets.

The thing you seem to have in common with him is the ability to "act locally, think globally".

Your flesh may be weak, but your spirit is indeed willing.
Yes very good post. I felt from the very beginning when she first said her speech that she was exploiting nearly every child of hers, Trig-down syndrome baby, Track-9/11 Army signup and deployment, Bristol-Trig's not her baby, he's mine, cause she's 5mos. pregnant..... I guess the other 2 aren't being exploited because they have nothing to add to the Republican ticket. Lucky them.
Becky,
You're way too young to know how much has changed. Take it from someone who pre-dates converted vans, decent power wheelchairs, curb cuts, and accessible parking, there are somethings some of us have been fighting for before you were born.
@Aging Hipster

No, you're absolutely right. And I didn't mean to, in any way, disregard the generations of activists who have fought so that my life is as good as it is. Thank you for reminding me of that. (The myopia of youth. /smile/)

But I would argue that the general temporarily able-bodied population doesn't realize how much more work there is to be done. The emails and comments I've received this week support that. The broader public is unaware of the very real (and in some cases worsening) challenges we face in community living, employment, etc.

What gives me hope is that once they're educated about these issues, people are usually first appalled, and second, motivated to create change. That's why I've always felt like education ("consciousness-raising," you might call it) is an absolutely essential part of this work. People do have a fundamental sense of decency and common sense; I trust that one day that will win out.
Becky is a pussy licking turd
Im a Republican, and I dont intend to vote for Obama. But if you ever run for office, you definitely have my vote, if not my applause. You taught me a lot in this article, and I wish I could be around when Trig Palin gets old enough to make the choices you described. At nearly 68, I may not be there, but I am impressed with your grasp of issues, the questions you raise and the thoughtfullness you stimulate. As a Psychologist who works with people daily, trying to get them to bring intelligence to their emotions and depth of thought to their self imposed problems....I would use you as a clear example of skillfull living and clear thinking. Fine job, and very well expressed. All I can say, after saying all this is.....Thanks.
"I agree with N. Hudson on one point: Palin is very new to the disability community & she's going to face problems she doesn't expect. "

I never stated she is going to face problems she doesn't expect.
I don't think that's exploiting his disability as much as when she tells him to go around to neighbor's houses in a custome with a bag, saying, "Trick or Treat."

Like she can't afford to buy candy herself on a governor's salary?
excellent post! Palin and I have one thing in common - we are parents of children with special needs. I too applauded what she said but later heard she cut funding to Special Olympics in AK. Still, Saturday Night Live got it right - she held her son up like he was the Lion King. My son is a young adult and I, like others, spent years fighting for him. We need a true advocate and real policies with teeth - including comprehensive and life time health care coverage. The only way I could obtain the services my son required, (he has autism) was to be a student forever and stay very, very poor. I have a mountain of student loan debt and a son who is able to work and live in the world very successfully. While I am pleased with the outcome, we should have been able to access services based on what he needed... period. This is so awesome and thank you!
I am new to this type of forum so please bear with me. I will admit to being a republican and support the McCain / Palin ticket, however, I question each candidates legitimacy and their character.

Now to the point.

Those of you who question Palin's "prop" need to get a life. If anyone thinks that this is an issue at this time in our country's crisis needs to inspect their motives. whether you have or do not have a disability, whether you know or are involved with one who does, you must look within for guidance and family support. Are you embarrassed? or are you a proud parent or family member. do you pitch in or watch from the sidelines.

A child is not a prop. Maybe Sarah just wants you to know her. Make an informed decision, not an "Obama" .
Good post! Flying this little guy around when Down kids are infamous for having hearing problems anyway is a form of child abuse. He should be at home and being worked with by a team headed by a Special Ed professional. The early years are especially important for Down kids. Using your Down kid to get sympathy votes may be the most sick, cynical think I have ever witnessed in politics.
Palin's son was born in April 2008. In March of 2008, she signed and increase in benefits for disabled children in Alaska. The new law increased yearly benefits from around $35,000 to over $75,000. Nice supplement for someone planning to have a developmentally disabled child. There is no way to know if Palin would have supported this increase if she was NOT pregnant with a Down baby. But if it walks like a duck.....
@jack holt

Those who don't think Palin used Trig as a prop need to get a mind.
yes. yes she is. but then again, the idea is that you use everything to appeal to greatest amount of voters. Does Obama exploit his multicultural background and the amount of melanine in his skin to win the elections? Probably so.
There's a huge ethical difference between using your own attributes, including those you were born with, as political props and using the condition of your infant child. I would have thought that went without saying.
I think she is exploiting any and every member of her family to get what she wants, POWER. Regardless of what they are saying, Bristol and her baby daddy are being shotgun weddinged, and I feel that after the election, he'll be let off the hook. Especially when they lose.

As for their Down's child, I don't think she's exploiting him as much as she is exploiting ALL children born with disabilities. She is using it for her "holier than thou" persona. She's an irresponsible person and I can't imagine why people can't see through the smokescreen.

Great post and thanks for sharing your heartfelt story.
Yeah i didn't like the fact that she did that at all cause i have a mild case of autism and i find that offense