How To Show Support For People With Disabilities in Trump's America
In his first week in office alone, Donald Trump has signed numerous executive orders that have dire consequences for millions of Americans. It's more important than ever now to stand up for all people at risk under his policies, including the disability community. There are many ways to support disabled people under Trump and his administration, which has shown very little regard or care for what is at stake for one of the most overlooked marginalized groups when it comes to discussions of diversity and inclusion. As someone who's lived with a disability for 24 years, I'm absolutely enraged with the way Trump and his administration have been treating my community's needs — and, to be perfectly honest, I'm terrified of what the next four years might bring.
Consider, for example, the Affordable Care Act: During his first week as president, Trump took the initial steps toward repealing repealing the ACA, a decision that could potentially take away health care coverage from 18 million people who need it (not to mention the fact that health care should be a fundamental right, not a privilege). While it's not yet clear exactly what Trump is planning to replace the ACA with, Tom Price — the president's nominee for the Department of Health and Human Services — has previously made suggestions for a health policy where people with "pre-existing conditions" would have a difficult time getting health coverage. As TIME recently explained, Price's "continuous coverage" provision would mean that "if you have a pre-existing condition but haven't had a recent gap in your health coverage, insurers could not discriminate against you" — but if your coverage lapses, it could be much harder to get covered again later. Although this would of course be a concern for many people, people with disabilities would be particularly vulnerable in this situation.
And that's just one example. Trump's cabinet is full of people who spell bad news for people with disabilities. During Betsy DeVos' confirmation hearing for the Department of Education, for example, she appeared to have little knowledge of a major federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which ensures all students with disabilities the right to an education. Additionally, Trump's pick for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, slammed the IDEA in 2000. In his lengthy statement in front of the Senate, Sessions called for the government to "take our schools back from this small group of children who feel it is their right to endanger the education of every other child in school" — simultaneously "othering" children with disabilities and placing less value on their right to an education compared with the right to an education of children without disabilities.
These are just a few of Trump's team members and policies that could harm people with disabilities for years to come. If you, like me, are angry about what Trump's presidency could mean for the disability community, here are seven ways to support people with disabilities:
1. Educate Yourself On Disability Laws
You may have heard of the Americans With Disabilities Act, but do you know exactly what it is? Now would be a good time to read up on it. The ADA is the primary law for ensuring that disabled people are treated equally and fairly, and that they can live and prosper in this nation without fear of discrimination.
Another law that's important to know is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which strictly focuses on providing a high-quality and accessible education to all children with disabilities. And if you've never heard of an Individualized Education Program, or IEP, it's worth understanding why and how IEPs help kids with disabilities meet their greatest potential in schools. You probably knew multiple people who had an IEP, in fact. I had one, and it's one of the major reasons why I've succeeded so far in my life.
Why is it important to know the difference between disability laws? Once you know what rights are granted to the disability community, you'll be able to identify when such laws are being violated (i.e. when public buildings don't provide accessibility, etc.).
And on that note...
2. Actively Stand Up For People With Disabilities
If you see people with disabilities who are struggling to have their voices heard, give them the microphone. If you're in a hotel or restaurant and notice that there are no elevators, no bathrooms with rails, or other barriers to accessibility, speak up and tell the manager. Ask your friends to do the same. If you see disabled coworkers getting left out of meetings or group lunches, ask them to join in. Be more inclusive. Don't be a bystander.
3. Call Your Senators
The Women's March in Washington, D.C. and around the world was the largest inauguration-related protest in history. But unfortunately, sometimes it's not enough to march or protest for important causes. Zeynep Tufekci, a columnist for The New York Times, recently pointed out that "the significance of a protest depends on what happens afterward." That means taking action to make sure the folks in Congress know what the people want (and don't want).
Call your senators today and let them know the potentially horrific consequences of confirming Jeff Sessions and Betsy DeVos. It's not enough to email or tweet. The best thing to do would be to speak with a representative or assistant (AKA a real human being), but even leaving a voice message is helpful. Making a call only takes about five minutes.
Just a few days ago, I called Richard Burr, the senator of North Carolina, and left a detailed message about why DeVos is a poor choice for the Department of Education and why the IDEA is important to me as someone who grew up in North Carolina public schools. It felt empowering to know that I actually took action and reached out to someone with the power to make a positive change. (Let's cross our fingers that change comes through.)
4. Understand The Nation's History Of Disability
Did you know that part of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act was the first civil rights policy to protect PWD, but it was only implemented after disability rights activists organized sit-ins nationally? Every community of people in the United States has played an important role in shaping our country to be the way it is today (for better or for worse), and yes, that includes people with disabilities. This digital exhibit from Google Arts & Culture is an excellent place to start.
5. Participate In The Disability Visibility Project
A great resource for people with disabilities is the Disability Visibility Project, which provides articles on disability issues, Twitter chats about themes surrounding disability, and a creative outlet for PWD to share their individual stories. And in general, try to be as inclusive as possible in your news consumption by reading articles not just about a couple of different issues or communities, but about stories related to the disability community as well. The Mighty and Huffington Post Accessibility are good go-tos.
6. Listen To People With Disabilities
Many people with disabilities are used to being talked down to, and they aren't asked nearly enough about their own opinions, beliefs, and values. It's up to everyone to actually listen to people with disabilities on issues that affect them, and to give them a chance to share their stories if they choose to do so. That means recognizing that the disability community is not monolithic. That means journalists reaching out directly to disabled people (not just their parents, friends, teachers, and caretakers) for a comment. That means asking relatives with disabilities how they want to be called (some PWD prefer person-first language, while others don't care).
7. Donate Money To Organizations Dedicated To Fighting For Disability Rights
Chances are, most people will be affected by a disability at some point in their lives, whether it's visible or invisible, physical or mental. Make a point to donate to an organization that focuses on advocating for people with disabilities, even it's just a few dollars a month. You can also set up Amazon Smile so that whenever you make a purchase online via Amazon, a small percentage goes toward an organization of your choice. Every little bit counts.