Tuesday, November 4, 2008

If You Care About Special Needs, Today is the Beginning, Not the End

Now that the election is over, here are 10 ways you can make a difference -- now

The campaigning is over, but now the hard work begins. You can't separate special needs issues from the numerous problems President-elect Barack Obama will inherit -- from a costly war to growing economic concerns. Will the economy allow him to provide middle-class tax relief, reform our health care system, fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the other things he's proposed? I have no doubt he wants to do all of these things and will do his best, but the economic reality is different from when he first developed his policy proposals.

As I've said several times on this blog, I am not a one-issue voter, even though I care deeply about issues related to disabilities. The best thing for families dealing with special needs will be what's best for all families -- including a strong economy, dependable health coverage, and fairness in all government programs.

In writing this blog, I've been impressed with the level of passion and involvement among other parents who are raising special needs children, as well as family members who are supporting adult relatives with disabilities and people who are living with disabilities themselves. Now that the election is over, I hope this level of civic engagement will continue -- and grow.

Regardless of which candidate you supported, here are 10 ways you can stay involved and make a difference:

1. Write a letter to President-elect Obama to congratulate him and remind him of the promises he made to people who are affected by disabilities, of all ages. Tell him to keep these issues in mind as he makes difficult budget decisions.

2. Write a letter to Sen. McCain, reminding him of the positions he took during the campaign. Urge him, as senator, to support full funding of IDEA and ask him to reconsider his opposition to the Community Choice Act, which would support community housing for seniors with disabilities.

3. Write a letter to Gov. Palin -- this is important. Thank her for raising awareness of special needs issues during her campaign. Encourage her to fulfill her pledge to be an advocate for people with special needs. She doesn't have to be vice president to be an advocate -- the campaign has given her a national profile, and what better way to use that visibility than to advocate for IDEA funding and other needed support? And as governor, she can set an example for other states by eliminating Alaska's waiting list of people who need disability services.

4. While you're at it, contact all of your elected officials about the issues you care about. Get their names and contact information at congress.org. You can even use an online form there if you don't want to send a paper letter.

5. Don't forget that "all politics is local." If you're not already active, get involved with your local schools, community organizations, and government agencies that provide and advocate for disability programs. A great place to start is The Arc of the United States, which has chapters in every state and the District of Columbia. Find your chapter.

6. Connect with others, online and in person. Attend meetings, talk with other parents, share your experiences and challenges, and support each other.

7. Can't we all get along? The weeks and months after an election should be a time of reconciliation. Many people who are passionate about the issues you care about -- family members, neighbors, professional colleagues, and others -- supported the other candidate. If your candidate won, don't gloat. Reach out, reconnect, and focus on what you have in common.

8. Stay informed. There is no shortage of news and commentary. Some of the blogs and websites I recommend are Disability News by Patricia Bauer, Autism Vox by Kristina Chew, Education Week's blog on special education by Christina Samuels, and Disability Scoop.

9. Walk the Walk(s). Get out and publicly show your support for disability services and research. There are plenty of walks and runs, including Autism Speaks' Walk Now for Autism and the National Down Syndrome Society's Buddy Walk.

10. Don't feel guilty if you don't have time to do these things. Remember that advocating for your own child, family member, or any other person in your life can have an impact on many other lives. Do what's best for them, and you'll be helping others as well.

Do you have other suggestions? Post them here. And please share this with others -- you can forward the URL for this abbreviated summary.

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