This has been a season of taking sides, whether rooting for (or against) candidates in debates or cheering your chosen World Series favorite to victory. Every ballot cast was taking a side – Republican vs. Democrat; yes vs. no; retain vs. not retain. For each, one side was a winner and one side went home empty-handed.
Throughout, the question on my mind has been, “which side is better for people with intellectual disabilities?”
The disabilities-rights movement, like most social justice campaigns, has long been associated with the progressive left. Concepts of governmental intervention to promote social change and creating equal opportunities of access for all people are fairly comfortable to liberals. A majority of advocates and professionals within the social service sector align themselves with the left. It seems a natural fit.
Yet I recall a mentor in the intellectual disabilities system in Colorado once telling me not to discount the impact we can have with conservatives. “We get lost in the multitude of social initiatives the Democrats are juggling,” she told me. “Supporting individuals with disabilities is a social cause many Republicans can champion.”
Disability-rights activists have found an alliance with conservatives in their core issue of the sanctity of human life. While liberals have shied away from discussions of providing counseling to parents seeking to end a pregnancy due to a prenatal disability diagnosis, conservatives have held the common goal with the disability community to value the potential contributions of all humans.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been a rocky relationship between disabilities activists and Republicans at times, especially when government-supported disabilities programs are under consideration. For instance, the Community Choice Act of 2009 was proposed to allow people with disabilities to use their Medicaid for home-based care instead of nursing home care. The Act, unpopular with many Republicans, did not make it through Congress.
There are some issues important to people with disabilities (particularly individuals with intellectual disabilities) that can be embraced by both sides of the aisle. Getting people with intellectual disabilities off public assistance and into meaningful, living wage jobs is a win-win for everyone. Increasing businesses’ accessibility not only improves access for people with disabilities, but strengthens businesses’ customer base. Both parties have purported valuing the contribution of all Americans to our success as a nation. I think most people with intellectual disabilities would heartily agree.
Now that our ballots are cast and the Cubs have ended their 108-year curse (though now football season has given a whole topic of argument at the water cooler), perhaps it’s time to take a break from choosing sides. Maybe now is the time to go back to our core values and find those places of commonality that can be the basis of our future conversations.
Tara Kiene is president and CEO of Community Connections, Inc.