Weekly Watching List: Convention Speakers

Photo of a crowded audience, viewed from behind a speaker's platform and microphone

I have so many thoughts about the party convention speakers with disabilities we saw over the last two weeks. Instead of trying to make some definitive statement about what this sudden increase in disability representation means, I’m just going to post all of the available videos here, and suggest a few things to think about when you watch them.

1. The chronological list starts with Brock Mealer, who spoke at the Republican National Convention. As far as I know, he was the only speaker with a disability at the RNC, and certainly the only one who spoke about anything related to disability as a topic. If I missed someone, please tell me and I will gladly add them to the list.

2. The main question within the disability community seems to be whether the disabled speakers at the Democratic National Convention were signs of real political progress, or just weapons used to exploit one of Donald Trump more distinctive weak points. My thinking leans towards authenticity. I think the breakthrough people are talking about is more or less real. However, I also believe that a disabled speaker can be both authentic and “used" by candidates who may or may not fully understand or buy into disability issues. These positive and negative "spins" are not mutually exclusive.

3. Or, maybe this was all just politicized "inspiration porn." Again, I think something can have inspiration porn qualities, and also be genuinely empowering and substantive at the same time.

4. Individual reactions to these speeches and their meanings are also influenced by pre-existing feelings about the political parties and candidates involved. If you’re a Hillary Clinton hater or skeptic, it takes extra effort to appreciate the historic significance of the DNC's speakers with disabilities. And if you can’t stand Trump, it’s hard to see any value in Brock Mealer’s talk about his injury and rehabilitation. Maybe the best we can do is maintain a bit of loyalty to any disabled speaker, and try to at least entertain the thought that they are at least there because they want to be, and saying things they really believe, whether it completely works for us or not.

5. What is right response to Donald Trump’s offensive mockery of a disabled reporter last fall? It seems likely the DNC's inclusion of disability had something to do with rubbing Trump's nose in the incident, but how significant is Trump’s mockery? How is it connected to disability policies that can help or hurt disabled people much more profoundly than moral outrage and hurt feelings? How can we take non-disabled observers to the next step, from shocked sensibilities to a functional knowledge and interest in actual disability issues?

6. In other words, if this is a real breakthrough, where do we go from here? How do we capitalize on it, regardless of how pure and principled ... or compromised and sullied by partisan politics ... these convention appearances may have been?

Watch the speeches in the clips below, and share your reactions in the comments:

Brock Mealer

I did leave out speeches by non-disabled people who mentioned disability, including Hillary Clinton's Acceptance Speech. That's well worth listening to as well, particularly for the ways she talks about disabled people and disability issues. Here's a beautiful reflection on this by Ingrid Tischer, #CripTheVote: You Have Hillary Clinton to Blame for This Blog Post.