This is the third in a series of posts on disability and politics. My aim is to air out some thoughts and ideas that I think are important for disabled people to consider as we here in the U.S. gear up for another General Election in 2016. We all have our own political beliefs and natural leanings, which probably don’t change much just because we have disabilities. Still, having disabilities does give us insight into some important political and policy questions … insight that others might not have.
At the same time, I think that we are also sometimes vulnerable to some popular political opinions that tend to make us feel less important, less worthy of consideration and even political power than we should be as disabled citizens.
Take these thoughts for what they are, ideas to chew over.
Part 3: Government and Bureaucracy
- Because so many of our support services come directly or indirectly from government, we tend to blame “government” in the broadest sense when things aren’t going well, or when we feel humiliated by the systems that are supposed to support us. Some of the most anti-government people I have met are people with disabilities who rely on government for their everyday well-being.
- When bureaucracy becomes frustrating, we may look towards more private solutions … such as private schools, charities, and religious organizations. These all have a role to play, and can help keep larger, more established programs, including government agencies, on their toes.
- These different directions also coincide with some of the major mainstream political parties and philosophies commonly debated. Conservatives and Republicans tend to distrust government solutions and hold up businesses and private charities as better avenues to meet human needs. Liberals and Democrats tend to view government approaches as more likely to do what needs to be done consistently, and to remain accountable to citizens.
- It is important for disabled people to evaluate the role of the government and private sectors in terms of which is best equipped to meet disability-related needs reliably, consistently, for everyone ... not just here and there or for a lucky few who make the right connections.
- Probably the most common model in the United States is disability services provided directly by local, private not-for-profit organizations, funded and overseen by state or federal programs. It’s a hybrid public / private model with both advantages and disadvantages. One of the disadvantages is that it is easy to become confused about who, exactly, is responsible for good or bad services, and who, exactly, we should be talking to to make changes.
- It is also important to think about the limits of the for-profit business model for providing vital services. Disabled people are equally valuable as human beings and citizens, but our disability-related needs aren’t always … or even often … equally profitable. Someone is always coming up with new ways to make meeting human needs "pay off” in the conventional sense, but it rarely works out as well as planned, and in the end, people on the receiving end tend to be left holding the bag, without backup.
- Another reason disabled people sometimes turn against government programs is that even when they try to do the right things, they tend to do them in top-down, impersonal, ham-fisted ways. Sometimes that’s unavoidable. Closing large institutions and sheltered workshops is going to be traumatic for some disabled people and their families no matter what. However, disability policies do better when they are developed under the guidance and leadership of disabled people.
- “Nothing about us without us,” isn’t just a nice thing for disabled people, it’s essential for making good disability policy and services.