Overall, I was very impressed with the Address. A lot of the policy initiatives President Obama talked about are right up my alley, politically. And truly, many of them would, if enacted, be especially helpful to disabled Americans.
That said, I was surprised that people with disabilities got only a very brief, basically positive, but rather sloppy mention at the end. Look, I’m not suggesting that it’s an insult of some kind that the President didn’t talk about long term care, the disability employment gap, or our apparently never-ending quest for better accessibility. Those of us who are disabled and who were motivated last night to participate in the #SOTU4PWD Twitter hashtag have an understandably skewed perspective on disability issues. Actually, it’s probably the right perspective, but most of our fellow citizens would find more detailed discussion of our issues incomprehensible.
Still, I am surprised that the President didn’t at least mention the ABLE Act, which he signed into law in December. While I have reservations about how the bill turned out in the end, it was a step in the right direction on an issue unique to disabled people, and the bill passed with rare bipartisan support. Since the President chose to make what sounded like a final, kind of wistful pitch for his original idea … more respect and cooperation in American politics … it seems strange that he didn’t cite it as an example.
A few folks on Twitter last night also mentioned how incomplete the President’s mention was at the end … “Americans with mental illness or physical disability,” an odd choice of words that suggests awareness of the need to be inclusive, but insufficient awareness to actually be fully inclusive.
Are we really surprised though? This is exactly the kind of incompleteness that characterizes ableism, especially in liberal, progressive, social justice circles. You have good intent, not enough knowledge, and yet, crucially, not enough motivation to ask anyone how to actually follow through in the right way. As I have said before, I don’t expect people to know this stuff … I just wish they’d take the time to ask.
I think the best thing about the evening was seeing so many disabled Twitterers making smart, pertinent connections to disability issue throughout the speech. This kind of engagement is how we will get to a day in some future January when a President will mention real disability issues, and understand not only how they are important to us, but to the rest of the country, too.