Saturday, October 6, 2012

Campaign Reps Square Off on Disability Issues

Unfortunately, President Obama and Governor Romney chose not to participate in the National Forum on Disability Issues. Instead, the campaigns were represented by Ted Kennedy Jr. (for the Obama campaign) and Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-Wash.) (for the Romney campaign).

Read a summary by Jeff Gorman, "Surrogates Discuss Jobs, Education for People With Disabilities at National Forum," from The Mobility Resource.

While Kennedy focused on the protections that the government provides for families, Rep. Rodgers said the government has a "paternalistic" attitude toward people with disabilities and an attitude of 'can't,' not 'can.'"

Rep. Rodgers' comment reflects one of my criticisms of Secretary Arne Duncan's work on special education. Almost the only way he ever referenced special education was when he talked about giving students more opportunity to succeed -- to improve test scores, to give more children a chance to attend college. But my opinion is skewed by the fact that my own daughter is an example of someone who will fall through the cracks if the only focus is college preparation. What she and so many other students need -- and are legally entitled to -- is an education that gives them the skills they need to succeed in life, whether or not that means college.

If Secretary Duncan favored the "high achievers" and was a less effective advocate for the broad category of special education students, at least he hasn't argued for cutting government services for people with disabilities, which Governor Romney (and even more so, Rep. Ryan) advocate. While Rep. Rodgers understands many of these issues, as a mother of a child with Down syndrome, the word "paternalistic" is usually code for "cut services and let families fend for themselves."

And in many ways, that's what this election comes down to. As a society, do we want to fight for the rights and protections for all citizens, or do we believe in survival of the fittest?

What do you think of this debate?

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