Once again, I am putting my Three Threats To Disabled People Today series on hold until after a convention, this time the Democratic Party Convention. While these threats are very much in the news, at least for the disability community, my thoughts are all on the election right now.
I am prompted today to address parents of kids with disabilities. I just read a Facebook post by J.W. Wiley, director of the Center for Diversity, Pluralism, and Inclusion at Plattsburgh State University, here in Plattsburgh, New York. He says:
“Parents, I highly recommend that you sit your kids down and introduce them to the political process by making sure they watch/listen to some of the political speeches, both Republican and Democratic.”
This goes double for parents of kids with disabilities.
My parents happen to have been passionate about politics, so they didn’t have to make an effort to introduce me. I couldn’t help being exposed to politics from an early age. Most people aren’t naturally interested in politics, though, and most parents of disabled kids have a thousand other things to think about, so I worry that for that reason alone, they may let politics slide for too long with their disabled kids.
On top of all the understandable practical distractions, some parents may also think that their kids’ disabilities make politics inaccessible to them, that politics and political philosophy aren’t important, or will be incomprehensible to them. Peoples’ understanding and ways of processing information and ideas do vary, but I believe it’s extremely dangerous to assume that politics are irrelevant to kids with disabilities. If anything, they need all the time available to them to learn about the political process and what it means for them as disabled people … as people who will will one day be disabled adults for whom disability rights laws, the structure of disability support programs, and life and death issues like health care, employment, and law enforcement are absolutely critical.
While politics can be disheartening and corrupt, political activism can also be an enormous source of personal empowerment and community for disabled people. Activism isn't for everyone, but for many disabled people, activism is a path to pride, self-confidence, and the assertion of personal rights and agency. Parents on their own can only do so much to give these things to their disabled kids. We need other sources. Most of us need, if you will, second families, second communities to fully develop our potential. Politics and activism are viable, well-mapped pathways to those to full citizenship for kids, youth, and adults with disabilities.
Above all, politics and activism are avenues for service. They aren't therapy for disabled people, though involvement can certainly be therapeutic. They are necessary elements of a better future and better government in our society. "Nothing about us without us" isn't just about the benefit to disabled people themselves. Disability policy gets better for our country when disabled people make and influence disability policy. All those laws, policies, and practices that make you mad, that you wish were different? They can be different if your kids with disabilities grow up and make them better, alongside their brothers and sisters in the disability community.
So please, watch convention speeches and debates with your disabled children. Discuss politics and your views in their presence. Take them with you when you vote. And when they come of age, make sure they’re registered. Politics are more important for them, because of their disabilities, not less.
By the way: Check out #CripTheVote, just one of the many, many disability activist communities of all shapes, sizes, and flavors that you and your kids can use to start your conversations.