By now, I've become exhausted from talking about Donald Trump. I just want the election to be over. But if you're wondering, "Then why the heck are you writing this?" it's because I'm more angry than I am tired. I'm angry about how Donald Trump treats people with disabilities (PWD), and about the fact that the disability community doesn't have very many voices fighting against Trump's behavior toward us.
Even though I've only been able to vote in one presidential election so far — the 2016 election will be my second — I do know that there aren't many recent presidents whose campaigns have featured so many racist, sexist, homophobic, and ableist remarks. Over the past several months, it's become increasingly difficult for me as a disabled woman of color to hear and watch clips of Trump, as so many of them appear to mock or stigmatize people with disabilities.
One of the many reasons Trump's treatment of PWD upsets me is that it has helped to normalize harmful language that further stigmatizes the disabled community — which in turn has reinforced many harmful stereotypes about PWD that are still rampant and widely believed. This is not the time to take a step back from disability visibility. Not now, and not ever.
When people think of Donald Trump's relationship with the disability community, many of them think back to the time he appeared to mock New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, who has arthrogryposis, a congenital physical disability that can make joint movement difficult. Trump later denied that he was mocking the reporter, telling NBC News, "I have no idea who this reporter, Serge Kovalski [sic] is, what he looks like or his level of intelligence. I don't know if he is J.J. Watt or Muhammad Ali in his prime — or somebody of less athletic or physical ability. If Mr. Kovaleski is handicapped, I would not know because I do not know what he looks like." But the damage was still done. Even if the intention behind a specific behavior or statement is not to offend, that does not render the behavior or statement incapable of being offensive, particularly to people it appears to target.
This incident is also far from being the only time that I feel like Trump has neglected and disrespected the disability community. Here are just a few instances where I felt offended as a disabled woman by his words and actions:
His Properties Have Allegedly Violated The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Multiple Times
In total, Trump's properties have reportedly been sued at least eight times for allegedly not making bathrooms, guest rooms, and emergency exits accessible to people with disabilities, according to the Huffington Post. HuffPo reported that, in 2004, the Republican nominee stalled on an ADA lawsuit for years after a disabled Purple Heart veteran filed a suit against the Trump International Hotel and Tower for allegedly being inaccessible. The suit was eventually settled, with changes being agreed to be made to the hotel. In another case from 2001, when two wheelchair users requested a wheelchair lift at the hotel, they said that the employees allegedly didn't know how to unlock or use it. Again, the suit was settled.
In July, Trump boasted that he spends millions of dollars on ramps, elevators and other means of accessibility for PWD, according to the Huffington Post. But this is not something to boast about; it's a requirement per the Americans with Disabilities Act. You don't get a cookie for meeting a legal requirement.
He Has Made People With Disabilities Into A Punchline
Charles Krauthammer, an opinion columnist and wheelchair user who's paralyzed from the waist down, once referred to Trump as a "rodeo clown." When asked by MSNBC about the comment, Trump said on air, “I went out, I made a fortune, a big fortune, a tremendous fortune… bigger than people even understand. Then I get called by a guy that can’t buy a pair of pants, I get called names?"
This, by the way, happened during the summer of 2015, several months before the incident involving Serge Kovaleski. It indicates an extremely troubling pattern.
He Has Allegedly Used Stigmatizing Names To Describe PWD
Reports from The Daily Beast recently came out alleging that Trump called Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin "retarded" repeatedly while working with her on the set of Celebrity Apprentice in 2011, according to several staff members on the show. Shortly after the allegations came out, Matlin, who is Deaf, called Trump's alleged remarks "abhorrent" and said they "upset me deeply," according to USA TODAY. (Trump has not commented publicly on the alleged remarks.)
He Regularly Uses Phrases That Stigmatize Mental Health
It is troubling enough that Trump has used words like "sicko" and "basket case" to describe people with mental illnesses. Then, at an event for the Retired American Warriors Political Action Committee in early October, Trump said during his speech, "When you talk about the mental health problems, when people come back from war and combat, they see things that maybe a lot of the folks in this room have seen many times over. And you're strong and you can handle it, but a lot of people can't handle it." Trump's campaign later defended him, saying that the media took his comments "out of context"; additionally, he does talk about providing veterans more mental health help in other parts of the speech, according to Fox News. But the implication lies heavy in those words: That people with mental illness are weak or somehow lesser.
Not only is it wrong to talk about people with post-traumatic stress disorder or any other mental illness in terms of whether or not they can "handle" their problems, but this creates a major "us versus them" mentality that people with mental illness are not as physically or emotionally strong as people who don't have mental illness. Mental health (and disability in general) lie on a spectrum. It's not anyone's place to say whether a PWD is weak or frail, capable or incapable — whether they're running for president or not.
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