Friday, October 31, 2008

Disability Coalition Objects to McCain-Palin Mocking of Disability Rights

"The National Coalition for Disability Rights pushed back today against the McCain-Palin campaign for ridiculing the legal rights of people with disabilities. News reports describe McCain-Palin campaign representative Senator Kit Bond (R-Mo), joining vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin at a rally in Missouri, mocking presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama for stating that he’s looking to nominate judges who empathize with 'the disabled.'"

Jim Ward, the founder and president of the coalition, said "It’s Halloween, and it seems that Sarah Palin’s mask of support for people with 'special needs' is slipping. Despite past pandering to people with disabilities, McCain-Palin are actually opposed to vital disability legislation like the Community Choice Act and they want to appoint judges who will further roll back the civil rights protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act."

Read "Disability Organizations Outraged by McCain-Palin Rally Attacks on the Disabled."

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Looking at the Candidates' Records

From the Buffalo News, an op-ed by Jacqualine Berger, a member of the Disability Rights & Concerns Committee of United University Professions, titled "Voters Should Keep in Mind Policies on Disability." Berger takes a look at the candidates' positions and records, concluding with this:

"The nonpartisan group Disabled American Veterans monitors legislators’ voting records on issues relating to disabled veterans. Obama supported 80 percent of the legislative priorities of DAV, while McCain supported 20 percent. Biden and Obama each earned a 'B' rating from the nonpartisan group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America; McCain received a D."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Obama Campaign Responds

In response to Gov. Palin's speech on special needs, Kareem Dale from the Obama campaign circulated this letter from leaders in the disability community.

The letter links to this side-by-side comparison of McCain's and Obama's plans and records.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Secret Life of Fruit Flies

Read "Palin Wants to Help Special Needs Kids By Doing Away With Science." In Palin's recent speech, she mocked research on fruit flies and said that money could be spent on autism research. Turns out, fruit fly research has been instrumental in helping improve our understanding of autism. In fact, research on fruit flies is no more unusual than research on mice and rats. Oops.

On Countdown, Newsweek senior White House correspondent Richard Wolfe called this the "most mindless, ignorant, uninformed comment we've seen from Gov. Palin so far....If you give your first major policy speech of the campaign and make this kind of basic error, you either don't have a scientific advisor or you don't have a speechwriter who knows what they're saying." Watch the video here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Palin Speech Fails to Impress

Fact checking Gov. Palin's speech on special needs, Igor Valsy at the Wonk Room says, "Palin is a confident and compelling spokesperson for special needs children. But what the campaign gains in charisma, it loses in credibility." For example, she talked about "reprioritizing" spending in order to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) -- ignoring the fact (or not knowing) that achieving that goal by redistributing the budget would require a 6.4 percent cut in ALL OTHER DOMESTIC PROGRAMS. That means Pell grants, Section 8 housing, low-income energy assistance, WIC, clean energy research, and "dozens and dozens of other programs." Not to mention the fact that McCain has opposed funding IDEA numerous times.

How did the speech go over with people who know about disability firsthand? Becky Blitch, who I've quoted here before and who lives with spinal muscular atrophy type II, says she was infuriated by Gov. Palin's speech. "By going off on impassioned tangents about earmarks and Obama's tax plan, Gov. Palin gave the impression that this speech was merely cover for stump-speech attacks, belittling the importance of the topic at hand....It's worth noting that absolutely no new territory regarding disability policy was covered in this speech....Let's face it: John McCain and Sarah Palin are losing this election. The governor could have used this moment to 'pull a Bullworth' and make some bold statements about where this country really needs to go in terms of disability policy. She didn't. She stuck to a couple politically safe proposals, she attacked Barack Obama, and she got misty-eyed over the special-ness of special needs kids. That, my friends, is called pandering. Nothing new about it."

In a post titled "The Fantasy of Palin's Plan for Special Needs Children," blogger "Writes Like She Talks" says Palin "either has no idea what she is talking about or is purposely presenting false impressions about what the federal government currently does for special needs kids, who is responsible for taking care of special needs kids, and what impact she, as VP, could possibly have on any of that....Either way, or both ways, nothing that she suggests as a promise for what she would do or be able to accomplish as VP is, in reality, achievable."

Over at Daily Kos, "Critical Dune" writes: "As a special needs parent and advocate, it's killing me to hear this garbage because she is fooling some of the people some of the time with this pander." His post includes a good link to a Wall Street Journal summary of what a special needs trust is.

Do Lies + Fear = Votes? Special Needs Trusts and Taxes

Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin today started a new misleading attack against Sen. Obama -- that his tax plan would somehow harm "special needs trusts," which are long-term savings accounts for people with disabilities. Let's check the facts:

- Obama's plan will not raise taxes on any family earning less than $250,000 per year.

- A special needs trust earns interest, just like a savings account does. So if a person had a special needs trust of $5 million, that account could produce annual income of $250,000 and may in fact lead to higher taxes under Obama's plan. Do you have a family member with special needs who has $5 million in a special needs trust? If not, the Obama tax plan would have no impact on that account.

- What economic impact will the McCain-Palin plan have on children and adults with disabilities? To answer that question, consider the impact of freezing, reducing, or eliminating every federally supported benefit they currently receive -- Social Security, housing, education, and other support. Consider the impact of a health plan that does not require providers to cover pre-existing conditions like autism and Down Syndrome. Some analysts have predicted that as many as 20 million Americans could LOSE their existing health coverage under the McCain-Palin plan.

You will be hearing more McCain-Palin lies over the next 11 days -- their campaign has officially announced a new strategy to try to win votes by scaring parents with special needs kids. Are you more likely to vote for presidential candidates who turn away from visions and plans in order to try to scare you into voting for them? Apparently they think families dealing with special needs are so (a) stupid or (b) vulnerable they can be manipulated into believing outright lies.

11 Days Before Election, Palin Endorses Obama's Call to Fully Fund IDEA

In Pittsburgh this morning, Gov. Palin gave a speech on special needs. A big focus of her speech was fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). It took a long time, but I'm pleased that 11 days before the election, Palin has endorsed a position that Sen. Obama took more than a year ago, when he issued his policy position on disabilities. His first recommendation is to fund IDEA, a position he has advocated since he was first elected to Congress.

Here's what she didn't say:

In no part of her speech did Palin criticize the Obama-Biden plan for children and adults with special needs, or even draw contrasts between the positions.

She neglected to mention that the McCain-Palin health plan would tax employer-provided health benefits and allow people with special needs to be denied health coverage. Down Syndrome, autism, and other conditions would considered pre-existing conditions that insurers could refuse to provide coverage for.

She didn't explain why -- in all of her speeches and interviews about special needs, even when pressed for details -- she hasn't mentioned IDEA in the two months since she was nominated.

She chose not to mention the government-wide spending freeze she and McCain support, which will make it nearly impossible to fill the huge gap needed to fund IDEA. And she contradicted McCain's comment in the last debate, that no more funds are needed to meet the needs of families raising children with autism and special needs. McCain's solution was not funding, but "transparency, accountability, and reform" of government agencies.

Despite the fact that Palin has had a nephew with autism for 13 years, and claimed today that she and her sister Heather Bruce talk regularly about these issues, this Alaskan parent says, "The only 'special school' that received significant increases to its budget this year is the Alaska Youth Challenge Academy, which is a military youth academy for youth with behavioral challenges. There have been no significant increases to early intervention services (children have to wait for months to get therapy, clearly violating IDEA)."

The campaign has added a policy position to its website. As I promised the day I started this blog, now that they have created a position (11 days before the election), I will add it to my links.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Heather Bruce, Palin's Sis, Speaks

Gov. Palin's big sister, Heather Bruce, spoke with Autism One Radio, about raising her 13-year-old son with autism. What she said doesn't reassure me about her sister's understanding or commitment to autism. Here's what she had to say:

"She [Sarah] wants to help. She wants to help so badly, but she has a lot to learn, and she knows it. She’s fresh into this, being an advocate for autism, for Down syndrome. People expect her to know everything about everything. [She has said] We need to sit down Heather, tell me what your needs are, what do you wish you could see, what do you think would help the state. And that was just the time she was the governor."

So after Sarah has been an aunt to a child with autism for 13 years and governor for nearly two, the best endorsement her sister can give her is "she has a lot to learn, and she knows it"? Interestingly, she also gives credit to the Democratic candidates for also raising the issue of autism during the campaign. How strongly does she support her sister's candidacy? I can't tell after listening to this nearly hour-long interview.

Read other highlights or listen to her interview.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Palin Talks About Autism. That's ALL She Does.

Gov. Palin's absurd, illogical, and contradictory statements about autism reached a new high (or low?) in an interview yesterday with Channel 4 KRNV in Nevada. News 4's web article says what we already knew -- "Palin Advocates for Children with Autism, No Plan Specifics." Watch the video and ask yourself if she has any understanding of the issues important to families dealing with special needs.

In an interview with News 4's Shelby Sheehan, Gov. Palin said she "can't wait" to start helping the 5,000 Nevada families affected by autism. "However, when pressed, she was unable to provide details on a plan to do that," News 4 reports. Palin said it's possible to implement the government-wide spending freeze Sen. McCain has proposed and also uncover buckets of new money for research. But "Palin did not name any specific expenditure she wanted to cut in favor of funding for autism research or services, nor did she name what specific programs she'd like to fund in order to help those families."

And yet -- get this -- she attacked Sens. Obama and Biden, saying that she and McCain "don't just talk the talk, we walk the walk." It gets better. To support this claim, she said, "And that's why in not just that first speech, but in every speech I give, I talk about being an advocate and a friend in the White House for our families who have members who have these special needs." Yes, she's talked. And talked. And talked. But when asked specific questions about this topic, she hasn't strayed from her talking points, and neither she nor McCain have outlined a plan, a vision, or a single policy that would help anybody with a disability.

On the other hand, as News 4 reports, "Obama has released a specific plan to help the families dealing with autism spectrum disorder. He has promised $1 billion annually in support and services by the end of his first term as president. He has also promised to appoint a federal autism spectrum disorder doordinator to oversee all federal efforts and fully fund the Combating Autism Act."

If you care about these issues, is there really any choice? Do you want four years of talking, posturing, and soundbites? Or do you want real plans, real programs, and real funding to provide the health care, education, and other services families need?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Palin Opposes Help for Developmentally Disabled

On Monday in Colorado, Gov. Palin had an opportunity to fulfill her promise to be an advocate for people with disabilities. Instead, she expressed her opposition to a ballot initiative in Colorado to eliminate the waiting list for state services. The initiative is supportive by many Republicans, including the state's First Lady.

Palin spoke out against a Amendment 51, which would raise the sales tax by one cent on every $10 spent for the next two years to help serve 12,000 people on a waiting list to receive state services. These children and adults -- with autism, Down Syndrome, and other developmental delays -- are waiting for services like home nursing care and job training.

Frances Owens, wife of former Republican Gov. Bill Owens, says compassionate conservatives should support helping people with developmental disabilities because it's a moral issue as much as a fiscal issue. Palin disagreed.

Monday, October 20, 2008

McCain Campaign: "We Do Not Have a Policy on Disabilities"

As I said in one of my earliest posts on this blog, it's hard to compare the candidates' policy positions on disabilities when only one candidate -- Sen. Obama -- has one. If you don't believe me, read on.

Kareem Dale, Obama's national disability vote director, recently appeared at a disability forum in Athens, Ohio. The idea was to discuss important issues with a member of Sen. McCain's staff. The only problem is, the McCain campaign sent an email message instead of a person. As hard as it is to believe, Donna M. Jones, the national coordinator of the (impressive-sounding) Americans with Disabilities for McCain Coalition, wrote this:

"The McCain campaign does not have a vetted disability policy to release at this time. I also do not have any further information on when we might be releasing a platform discussing the senator's stance on issues that relate to people with disabilities. I understand that in this contentious political season, the needs of people with disabilities must be addressed as part of the policy conversation. It is my hope that we will be able to release a vetted policy from Senator McCain in the near future. That being said, I will not be able to send a surrogate to discuss a policy Senator McCain has not approved."

In a blog post, Dale writes, "This statement by the McCain campaign reflects one important reason I support Senator Obama. Over a year ago in 2007, Senator Obama released his comprehensive Plan to Empower Americans with Disabilities. And, over a year later, Senator McCain still has not set forth any plan for Americans with disabilities. We are 23 days from electing the next President who will have a significant impact on Americans with disabilities in terms of health care, employment, education, independent living, and many other important supports and services. I want a President who took the time to care enough and recognized the importance of setting forth detailed policies for our community of steps the federal government should take to empower Americans with disabilities. I do not want a President who 23 days before the election still has not released a plan for the disability community."

A Real-Life Look at the Impact of the Obama/McCain Health Plans

From today's Christian Science Monitor, an unbiased look at the health care plans that Sens. Obama and McCain have proposed. It includes this story about a family raiaing a child with special needs -- they would be guaranteed coverage under Obama's plan but would face potential bankruptcy under McCain's, which allows exclusions for people with pre-existing conditions.

"...Demko said she couldn’t keep working full time with an infant with special needs. When she quit, she didn’t realize that would result in her family’s being unable to get health insurance. Ohio does not require insurance companies to cover children with disabilities considered to be preexisting conditions. Both she and her husband have also had minor health issues, but she never imagined they might also be a barrier to finding an affordable healthcare plan."

The Demkos' income is too high for their daughter to qualify for Ohio’s state health insurance plan, but too low to qualify for another state-sponsored program. The article says, "She’s gotten quotes for family health plans that start at $3,000 a month, which is almost as much as they earn."

McCain's $5,000 annual tax credit wouldn't go very far for the Demkos, if they could get coverage at all.

"Sentimentality," "Rhetoric," But Little Else for McCain-Palin on Special Needs

From Newsweek: "Spotlight on Autism: The mother of an autistic son reacts to John McCain's recent pledge to help families like hers. Was it just rhetoric?" This is an interview with Kristina Chew,
an assistant professor of classics at Saint Peter's College in Jersey City, N.J., and the editor of the blog AutismVox. Commenting on McCain's remarks in the last debate, Chew says, "He's sentimentalizing the children, but not looking at how we can help them, how we can teach them, how we can make things better."

As the mother of an 11-year-old with autism, Chew worries about the impact of McCain's proposed spending freeze. "Every family with special-needs children feels like they need more support and services. They need another aide in their child's classroom, they need more therapy for early intervention, they need sick care, after-school care. I know my own son costs our school district a great deal more than a typical child. Any kind of spending freeze is either going to cancel out the creation of new services or make it harder for a school district to keep on providing the things it has been providing."

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Two Different Views on Autism

Over at Suite101, Jeffrey Donaldson writes about "The Politics of Autism," comparing the candidates' records in an insightful way.

"To distinguish the two candidates on this issue is difficult. McCain’s language in his position indicates that he perceives autism as an epidemic like polio, a disease to be contained and cured. Obama’s emphasis is more on the life-long nature of the disorder and the lifestyle it implies; he underscores the importance of the educational treatment of autism as much as the medical treatment....

"Obama's perspective is more accommodating of the lifelong nature of the disorder; after a child is born, autism can be treated, but the child still needs an education....Research on autism indicates that children benefit from at least 40 hours a week of intensive early intervention (immediately after diagnosis, if possible) in a 1:1 ratio. The funding for this type of care has been sparse at best...

"While Obama states to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and increase the implementation of the Combating Autism Act, McCain’s promises to advance research do not indicate any intention to increase funding for research or treatment (his website’s autism page is called 'Combating Autism in America,' which may indicate he views the act as a 'Mission Accomplished')."

This clarifies why so many parents raising children with special needs are drawn to Obama's positions. He shows a deeper understanding of the true needs of families -- health care, education, housing, etc. Even if we discovered a way to prevent autism, there are still a lot of families that have real needs now. Obama gets that. McCain and Palin don't seem to.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Palin Seems to Have No Idea What IDEA Is -- And That's a Problem

I recently had an insightful conversation with Jennifer Laviano, an attorney in Connecticut who has devoted her career to representing children with disabilities. A note she wrote to her clients, friends, and colleagues has started making the rounds on the Internet, and I wanted to confirm the letter was really from her -- and to ask if I could post it more widely.

Jennifer initially intended to keep her political views to herself. She didn't want to offend anyone who may support McCain-Palin, but so many of her clients were asking her opinion that she wanted to provide some information. She decided to write the letter when Gov. Palin demonstrated a complete lack of knowledge about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal statute that governs special education. Here are some of her main points. I encourage you to read the entire letter.

"The IDEA is up for reauthorization by Congress in 2010, and it is crucial that it reflect the policies and funding structure necessary to protect and appropriately educate our children with disabilities. I needed to know what Gov. Palin thinks about the future of special education legislation in this country.

"I know where the other three on the tickets stand; Senators Obama and Biden have issued position statements on the IDEA to various parent groups, strongly supporting full funding for the IDEA and the rights of children with disabilities and their parents....Neither McCain nor Palin have provided those positions on the IDEA to parent advocacy groups....I was extremely disappointed in McCain's discussion on the Senate floor regarding the reauthorization of the IDEA 2004, in which he expressed his concerns that parents of children with disabilities who have to sue to secure appropriate services for their children under the statute and win against districts shouldn’t have their attorneys’ fees covered. This is not just a matter of self-interest for me -- it is the difference between families, especially poor families, being able to vindicate their civil rights or not. But I knew those things -- I did not know where Palin stood, and I wanted to find out.

"Having waited for some specifics from her on just how she is going to be an advocate for children with special needs in the White House, I finally got close. In her recent interview with Greta Van Susteren on Fox News, she was asked what her position is. While never mentioning the IDEA at all or what needs to be changed, kept, or fixed in it, she stated that the issue that needs to be addressed is 'equal access' for children with special needs. EQUAL ACCESS? Seriously? We HAVE equal access, that is what the original version of the statute fought for in the early '70s, when children with disabilities were literally prohibited from attending our public schools....Our problems are not that children with disabilities aren’t allowed into the buildings; our problem is what happens when they get there! ... We are decades from equal access being the key question, and apparently Gov. Palin is not aware of that fact.

"It is not terribly surprising to me that Gov. Palin’s views on this are so far outdated. I have traveled to Alaska to give a speech to parents and professionals on the subject of the rights of children with special needs, in particular children with autism spectrum disorders. I was stunned by how far behind the state was from the vast majority of the rest of the country on the education of children with disabilities....

"This issue should be front and center for any candidate for the White House, and I write to let you know that, at least as far as Gov. Palin is concerned, it has been an opportunity not only missed, but frighteningly misunderstood. It does not bode well for her, for us, or most importantly, for the children we love who need and deserve better in an 'advocate in the White House.'"

The Backlash Continues, Part 2

It's ironic that by trying to connect with people dealing with special needs, McCain pissed off so many of them.

Christy Everett explains why she was offended in her blog post, "I Know Nothing About Special Needs." She explains, "Yes, my son Elias has multiple disabilities that affect his balance, movement, vision, communication, and breathe, and yes I’ve immersed myself in the disability world by reading books, blogs, articles, laws, and enough bureaucratic paperwork to fill a truck, but I am merely a tourist in this world, hoping to learn the culture so I can advocate for my son. I can’t claim to be an expert. I’m not even an insider. I’m just a mom who loves her child. For McCain to say that Sarah Palin 'understands special needs better than almost any American I know' just shows how out of touch he is with the disability community."

Christy is not just another parent living with the challenges of raising a child with special needs. She's a dedicated advocate who happens to live in that state "up north," as Gov. Palin like to say -- Alaska. In an emotional blog post back on Sept. 13, she reflected on her multiple meetings with Palin to advocate for funding to eliminate the long waiting list of nearly 1,000 Alaskans with developmental disabilities who are in need of treatment. She said she cried when she heard Palin announce at the Republican Convention that she would be an advocate for children.

But then she continues: "And now that the crowd has dispersed and the lights have been turned down, I find myself wondering how you could make this pledge when so many Alaskan families wait for the support they need. Especially with a state budget with billions of dollars in surplus. I know disabilities is not a mainstream issue. Not nearly as hot a topic as soaring prices at the pump. And so you pay each Alaskan an energy rebate, a one-time check of a little over a thousand dollars. I hope the big-screen TVs are worth it."

Since the time she wrote this, her opinion of Palin has continued to sink. Not surprisingly, Christy is among a large number of Alaskans, special-needs parents, and advocates who are voting for Sen. Obama.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Let the Backlash Begin...

It turns out people do watch these debates -- and pay attention when a candidate makes misleading comments like McCain's Wednesday night. The blogosphere is buzzing, and I'll give you just a sample of what I'm seeing.

In a letter to the editor in the Chicago Tribune, Janet Takehara, a mother of a 21-year-old with Asperger's Syndrome calls McCain's claim that Palin knows more than "almost any American I know" about special needs "condescending, offensive, and frightening."

Charles Fox, writing in his Special Ed Law Blog, says, "It is wrong at this late date to shill yourself as a champion for the vulnerable populations of children with autism, when he has no record to speak of before now. Senator Obama and for that matter Senator Clinton have taken affirmative positions on funding and supporting efforts for children with autism. Children with special needs, whether those with Downs or autism or cerebral palsy or any other disability, are not emblems to be held up for political gain....If Senator McCain's voting record with President Bush was not enough to disqualify him for the presidency, then his use of children with special needs as a political tool certainly rules him out once and for all."

In the Huffington Post, Janet Grillo, a former board member at Cure Autism Now, writes, "My Autistic Son is Not a Political Pawn." While McCain claims he would support autism research, he wants to freeze all government spending. And his offer of a $5,000 tax deduction for health care won't go far to meet her son's annual $90,000 of services. "Thank God that California state-funded regional center services have absorbed the lion's share of those costs. But, as everyone knows, California is now bankrupt. Those services have been frozen. Children and parents are floundering." Sen. Obama, she says, "was right to tell the American people that this essential work will cost money.... Piece meal tax rebates will not cover health costs for our families, as they contend with this lifelong neurological disability. Tonight, John McCain told us that Governor Palin 'knows more about autism than any other American I know.' Perhaps he should get out more."

At DailyKos, "expatyank" describes his 18-year journey with a son with autism. The title of his piece summarizes his views pretty well -- "McCain's Autism Pander: And Why This Parent/Professional is Disgusted." In addition to sharing his personal story (in great detail), he examines the candidates' policies, contrasting McCain's singular focus on research and children with Obama's comprehensive policies. "Obama doesn't stop there. He calls for "treatment, screenings, public awareness, and support services, opportunities and effective solutions for people with ASD, independent living, life-long services for people with ASD, and full federal funding of IDEA (special education)."

In his blog, health researcher John Feighery, asks "Which Candidate is a Friend to Special Needs Children?" Writing from his personal experience, he says, "We need an advocate who knows about our difficulties and has a plan to make things better. Based on my research, Obama will be the kind of advocate we need. I understand if you are suspicious about pledges from a candidate during an election and wonder how all these plans will be paid for considering the current state of the economy. But if Obama can enact just a few of his proposals, we'll clearly be better off than we are now."

Feel free to send me other opinions you think people should see.

Googlers Rush to Fact-Check McCain's Autism Claims

Because of last night's debate, this blog has had more visits than any other day since I started it on Sept. 7. Most of the recent visits are from Google searches, and many people are searching similar terms:
- sarah palin's connection with autism
- what is Sarah Palin's connection to autism?
- trig palin autism
- palin autism facts
- mccain down syndrome is not autism
- mccain says palin's child is autistic?
- does palin's kid have autism?
- palins kid downs or autistic

So if you're one of the people wondering, "What is Sarah Palin's connection to autism?" here's a short answer. Gov. Palin has a 6-month-old son with Down Syndrome, not autism. She also has a nephew who has autism. That's the extent of her expertise in this area, but during the debate, McCain said she knows more than "almost any American that I know." Of course, this is the same guy who last week called her "uniquely qualified" to cure autism.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

In Final Debate, McCain Says No More Funding Needed for Autism

Despite a lot of negative talk about negative campaigning, tonight's presidential debate was by far the most substantive of all four debates this election season. Both Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain addressed their plans for the economy, education, health care, and more. There was even some substance on disabilities, though McCain still seems to think that Down Syndrome and autism are the same thing.

In response to moderator Bob Schieffer's question about the qualifications of the candidates' running mates, McCain said Gov. Palin "understands special-needs families. She understands that autism is on the rise, that we've got to find out what's causing it, and we've got to reach out to these families, and help them, and give them the help they need as they raise these very special needs children. She understands that better than almost any American that I know. I'm proud of her."

Obama countered: "I do want to just point out that autism, for example, or other special needs, will require some additional funding, if we're going to get serious in terms of research. That is something that every family that advocates on behalf of disabled children talks about. And if we have an across-the-board spending freeze, we're not going to be able to do it. That's an example of, I think, the kind of use of the scalpel that we want to make sure that we're funding some of those programs."

Then McCain: "I want to come back to, notice every time Sen. Obama says, 'We need to spend more, we need to spend more, that's the answer' -- why do we always have to spend more? Why can't we have transparency, accountability, reform of these agencies of government?"

This exchange clearly points out the difference between offering a plan and vision (which Obama and Biden are) and making empty promises for political gain (which McCain and Palin are). Read their policy positions and listen to every interview, debate, and speech. McCain and Palin say they will support children with special needs, but refuse to back up their words with the needed plans or funding to provide any level of support.

Last week, McCain called Palin "uniquely qualified" to cure autism. You can't make this stuff up. Tonight, he said she understands the needs of parents raising kids with special needs "better than almost any American that I know." Really? From everything I've heard, I think I know a lot more, and I'm just an average parent of a child with autism. I know plenty of parents who know far more than me.

In all of her speeches since she was nominated, Palin has shown absolutely no insight about the challenges families face -- battling insurance companies, fighting for a decent education, scheduling therapists, and juggling medical appointments, to name a few. I'm sure she's learning a lot about special needs on the job, as my wife and I did, and I hope it serves her well as she raises her son. But it doesn't make her any type of expert I would trust to make decisions on my behalf.

"People with Disabilities Need More Than a Campaign Promise"

Since Gov. Palin entered the campaign, many parents have said the focus on kids with special needs ignores the needs of those children when they grow up. Pamela Merritt, who is co-guardian for her 38-year-old brother with severe autism, understands these issues all too well. In this blog post, she compares the candidates' positions and worries that McCain-Palin talk about special needs but don't support the programs that people like her brother rely on. She says her brother is "dependent on government programs to fund everything from his residential program and supported employment to health care and food. But changes in federal policies between 2002 and 2005 have resulted in a severe financial crisis in Missouri that has in turn trickled down to impact my brother's life....While the debate over how to address the economic crisis rages on and the presidential campaign closes in on Election Day, families with disabled members are looking for more than a campaign promise without policy and a funding pledge to back it up."

Monday, October 13, 2008

McCain-Palin Losing Support among Disability Advocates

I'm hearing a lot more from parents raising children with special needs who WANTED to support McCain-Palin but who don't see any true plan, understanding, or commitment to the issues they care about. Norma Stanley, a marketing consultant who specializes in reaching the disability community, says she was initially impressed with Gov. Palin after her acceptance speech. But now she writes, "not only does Ms. Palin not exhibit too much interest in knowing how she can assist this community, she doesn't recognize the power and influence of the disability community could have on her campaign." According to a recent survey, 57 percent of the disability community "are still leaning toward Sen. Obama, because what we do know of both their positions, support, and plans for the community, it seems that Obama's are more substantial than Sen. McCain's."

Thursday, October 9, 2008

McCain: Sarah Palin is "Uniquely Qualified" to Cure Autism

I was hoping that Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin would eventually outline a plan to help children with special needs. Last night on Fox News, they again failed to do so, but McCain did tell the American people that Palin is "uniquely qualified" to cure autism. Really.

Sean Hannity gave McCain and Palin a series of softball questions, and yet they still refused to offer any plan for children with special needs and the families who are raising them. In fact, Palin said nothing on the topic. McCain said: "At our town hall meetings, we have lots of families show up with children that have autism and other special-needs families. Obviously, Sarah Palin wants to take on that task of helping relieve the burden..find what's causing autism...find a cure for it. And those responsibilities not only would I like for her to do, but she's uniquely qualified to do."

Watch the video for yourself, starting at 2:26. The blog Autistic Living has more commentary.

If Sarah Palin is "uniquely qualified" to discover the cause and cure for autism, her talents will be wasted as vice president. Instead, she should be in a laboratory right now putting her genetic and neurological expertise to good use. Or maybe she should head the National Institutes of Health or the World Health Organization. But not VP.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

In Interview, Palin Confirms She Has No Plan for Children with Special Needs

In a rare interview tonight, with Greta Van Susteren of Fox News, Gov. Palin came up empty when asked a direct question about how she would help children with special needs. This was her best chance so far to articulate a plan -- but instead, she contradicted herself by calling for a spending freeze in one sentence and increased funding in the next.

At first, Palin tried to get away with her tired, rehearsed talking points -- "working with families with kids with special issue that's near and dear to my heart...I look forward to making the world more welcoming to children with special needs."

But then, Van Susteren finally asked the question I've been asking in this blog: "On the issue of special needs, there are lots of mothers with extra needs. What exactly would you do to help them?" Palin stumbled, first calling for increased funding -- until Van Susteren reminded her that in response to the previous question, she had agreed with Sen. McCain that we should impose a government-wide spending freeze. Palin then retreated, talking about "prioritizing" and shifting money around.

When pinned down, Palin contradicts herself every time she's asked a specific question that can't be answered with simple talking points that her team of Bush advisors have given her. She and McCain miss no opportunity to bash government and government spending. Then, when it's convenient, she talks about the need for more funding, with no plan and no apparent knowledge of the federal programs that impact the "real folks" she supposedly represents.

An Objective Comparison of the Positions

Are you tired of the negative and personal attacks that are beginning to dominate the campaign? That won't stop people like you from focusing on the issues that matter, and that's why I was happy to come across this side-by-side comparison of the presidential candidates' positions on disability issues, prepared by the Ohio Legal Rights Service, and agency of the State of Ohio. The agency neither supports nor opposes either candidate.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Guardian (UK): "What Disability Agenda?"

In "What Disability Agenda?" in the Guardian (United Kingdom), Ben Adler writes, "Sarah Palin says she's an advocate for special needs children, but she hasn't backed up her rhetoric with actual proposals....So far Palin's pledge to lead on disability issues because of her personal connection to the community has not been developed into more than mere rhetoric. And unless she specifies what exactly she would do for disabled children as vice president, she risks creating the impression that all she is really seeking with that rhetoric is political reward."

Monday, October 6, 2008

Who Hates Medicare More -- Palin or Reagan?

Did you catch Gov. Palin's reference to Ronald Reagan in last week's debate?


"It was Ronald Reagan who said that freedom is always just one generation away from extinction. We don’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream; we have to fight for it and protect it, and then hand it to them so that they shall do the same, or we’re going to find ourselves spending our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children about a time in America, back in the day, when men and women were free."


This quote has nothing to do with international threats. In fact, it is a quote from a 1961 anti-Medicare campaign, funded by the American Medical Association and hosted by Reagan. The "imminent threat" was a government program that has benefited 44 million Americans with disabilities and seniors who couldn't get health insurance otherwise. Watch the propaganda below, and ask yourself how closely these views reflect the McCain-Palin "vision" for America.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

It All Comes Down to This -- Read It and Pass It Along

Paul Langmore, director of the Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University, has written a brilliant analysis of the candidates in the Huffington Post. You can read my whole blog (which I encourage you to do), or you can read this one piece -- "Palin Talks About Special Needs Children, But Obama Has Substantive Plans for All People With Disabilities."

"Ever since Sarah Palin's acceptance speech," he says, "there has been a great deal of talk about 'special needs' children but little about the issues that concern the 54 million Americans with disabilities of all ages." So he looks at candidates' positions on some of the most important issues -- health insurance, Medicare, mental health, and community services.

Previously, I referenced Longmore's excellent essay, "What Kind of Advocacy Do Americans with Disabilities Really Need?"

Friday, October 3, 2008

After Debate, Still No Palin Plan for Special Needs

In last night's vice presidential debate, I was hoping for additional clarification about the candidates' positions, and I did in several areas, but not the one this blog focuses on. I've been saying for weeks that Gov. Palin has been too vague about being a "friend" to children with special needs. She hasn't addressed any specific plan in her numerous speeches, her handful of interviews, or any other forum. So what did we learn from her last night? Nothing new.

Repeating her vague listing of priorities, she said: "John McCain and I have had good conversations about where I would lead with his agenda. That is energy independence in America and reform of government over all, and then working with families of children with special needs. That's near and dear to my heart also."

In one of her comments about education, Gov. Palin contradicted her running mate when she said: "With education, America needs to be putting a lot more focus on that and our schools have got to be really ramped up in terms of the funding that they are deserving. Teachers needed to be paid more." Remember, McCain has proposed a spending freeze on all programs for education, including special education and new teachers. But he wants to tax your health benefits (if you're one of the 70 percent of Americans who get insurance through your job), while denying health coverage for anyone with a pre-existing condition, including children with autism and Down Syndrome.

Biden countered this way: "I hope we'll get back to education, because I don't know any government program that John is supporting, not early education, more money for it. The reason No Child Left Behind was left behind, the money was left behind, we didn't fund it."

Biden also stressed the need to fund education, even with the current economic challenges. "We cannot slow up on education, because that's the engine that is going to give us the economic growth and competitiveness that we need."

Here's CNN's transcript of the whole debate.

Mom Says McCain-Palin Approach Will Devastate Families

In the Beacon Broadside, Penny Wolfson talks about the challenges her family has met while raising their son with muscular dystrophy, who is now 24. Wolfson teaches creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College, and I highly recommend reading her entire essay. In brief, she says, Gov. Palin "does not represent my interests, she will, I believe make it harder and more costly than ever to care for a child with a disability." Why is that?

"In the society McCain and Palin wish to create, in which entitlement programs like Medicaid and Social Security are further whittled down, health insurance is more and more in the hands of private insurers, and deregulation continues apace, the picture for disabled children and their parents could only get worse. No matter what Palin might say about her advocacy for 'special needs' children, I have no doubt that her everyone-for-himself notions will prevail. I certainly hope Palin and her husband have plenty of time to fill out forms and make phone calls pleading Trig's cause to petty administrators; anyone with a disabled person in their family can tell you this is the substance of our daily lives.

"Private insurers want to make as much money and avoid any costs they can; they hate people like us, who have what must seem to them like an endless need for such essential items as wheelchairs, ventilator masks, home health aides, and psychological services. So they spend all their time and money fighting us, rejecting claims and having us call or email or get new verifications or asking us multiple times if we have another insurer. Every time my husband has changed jobs -- he is a physician himself -- we have had to fill out new forms, establish credentials, and deductibles, and re-explain Ansel's condition and needs -- all things that would be obviated by a national, single-payer system which Palin and McCain wholeheartedly reject."

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Vaccines, Autism, and Politics

There is no medical evidence that vaccines cause autism. Yet many parents, including Jenny McCarthy (who says her son was "cured" of his autism), are convinced they do. A while ago, Sen. McCain suggested in an off-the-cuff remark that there may be a link; Sen. Obama recently acknowledged there is no evidence but maybe more research is needed.

Apparently, McCain agreed to meet with McCarthy in May 2008 and then cancelled after learning there's no hard evidence of the link. She feels snubbed, claiming a campaign manager explained, "We're ahead in the polls and this is a very, very touchy subject." I don't know what to believe, but if you want to, read McCarthy's story and a commentary from Discover's Bad Astronomy blog.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Comparing their Positions on Mental Health

The non-partisan National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has released the candidates' responses to its questionnaire on mental health issues. Sen. Obama answered all 24 questions, while Sen. McCain responded with a four-paragraph statement. Read Obama's response and McCain's response.

Thanks to Carol of the Board of Directors of the Montgomery County (Md.) Federation of Families for passing this along.

Disability Scoop

Special Ed News (Education Week)

Special Education Law