Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Rud and Ann Turnbull: To the disability community in America: Be cautious

via Patricia E Bauer:

Guest Commentary:
by Rud and Ann Turnbull

To the disability community in America: Be cautious.

Governor Palin’s comments at her party’s convention bring to mind a famous line from Virgil’s Aeneid: “Timeo Danaos et donas ferentes”: I fear the Greeks even when bearing gifts.

On the one hand, Gov. Palin appealed to the hopes and fears of people with disabilities and their families by proclaiming she will be their friend and advocate in Washington.

On the other, she dismissed Sen. Obama’s experience as a community organizer. She asserted he bore no responsibility for his activities; she contrasted her roles as mayor and governor as freighted with responsibility.

Gov. Palin’s promise has understandable allure for the disability community. But words take on authentic meaning when buttressed by biography.

When a young man declines the pursuit of wealth to work with the far-from-wealthy, calling on them and their governments to be better, that man gives us reason to believe he means what he says and says what he means.

When a young governor line-item vetoes six appropriations for community disability services or for accessibility modifications to public accommodations, that governor gives us reason to be skeptical about promises and prospective performance. When the appropriations totaled $749,000 in a state that has a huge budget surplus, and when the governor apparently knew at the time that her nephew has autism, that governor gives us special reason to doubt her commitment to people with special needs.

Yes, state funding for “intensive special needs children” in Alaska increased for Fiscal Year 2010. But it is not yet clear exactly who those children are, how many of them are the intended beneficiaries of the appropriation, and precisely what role the governor had in proposing the appropriation or influencing the legislature to appropriate the funds.

In a word, Gov. Palin’s record on disability leaves us with our doubts about her promise.It also prompts us to concentrate on the governor’s dismissive mockery of community organizing and its portent for the disability community.

The truth is that community organizing benefits people with disabilities.

That is so historically. Like every other parent of an infant, child, or adult with a disability, Sarah Palin should recognize that the benefits she, her son, and her family can claim as theirs flow directly from the community organizing that parents have been carrying out for more than 50 years.

And it will be so in the future. It is inconceivable that parents and people with disabilities will ever find respite from creating new or better services and from advocating for progressive policies and practices. We are certain of that fact. It’s part of our history as parents of a man who is 41 and has intellectual disability, autism, and bi-polar disorder.

Community organizing has always been our lot. It always will be.

To discount that fact and prospect is to disrespect, in the most profound of ways, the valor of the parents of the past, the parents of the present, and the parents of the future. One wonders what Gov. Palin could possibly mean when she proclaims herself an advocate for people with disabilities in one breath and in another denigrates the organizing efforts of countless advocates who preceded her.

When Sen. Obama immersed himself in the communities on Chicago’s south side, he contributed to people with disabilities and their families. That is so because disability powerfully correlates with poverty, single-parent status, and ethnic minority status.

Whatever he did to counter poverty, make lives safer, and improve public services, his action –- and that of those who followed him then and believe in him now –- enhanced the quality of life of people with disabilities and their families.

When Sarah Palin invokes her own biography, she invites us to say it is a shame -– as in “sadness” -– that she does not know her history.

She also invites us -– we tired community organizers and national advocates -– to say, “Shame on you for devaluing our contributions to your and your son’s future.”

The ultimate shame would be for the disability community and those with whom its cause resonates to vote on the basis of group membership only.

Words and consistent action have meaning; words that are inconsistent with action do not.

Palin pales in comparison to Obama.

Rud and Ann Turnbull are Distinguished Professors in special education and life span studies at The University of Kansas. They are former officers and directors of The Arc of the United States, former presidents of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and recipients of an award from seven professional and parent associations recognizing them as two of the 36 people who "changed the course of history" in the 20th Century for people with intellectual and related disabilities.