Americans both with and without disabilities were outraged when then Presidential candidate Donald Trump mocked New York Times Reporter Serge Kovaleski, who lives with a chronic joint condition called Arthrogryposis.1 Months later, the incident is still on the minds of many, including actress Meryl Streep, who used her Lifetime Achievement Award speech at this years Golden Globes as an opportunity to call out Trump on many accounts, specifically recalling the mockery of Kovaleski2. People with disabilities far and wide have wasted no time in responding to both the mockery itself and Streep’s speech. I’ve heard everything from intense outrage over the mockery, to gratitude that the debasing of someone with physical disability has been brought to national attention, to dissatisfaction concerning specific ways Streep acknowledged the issue, to people arguing that Trump never mocked Kovaleski in the first place.
As a result of the continued outcry and controversy, I’ve noticed that the only understanding of disability in relation to Donald Trump’s presidency is this single insensitive happening. This contrasts his relationship to other disadvantaged groups, where a recognition is present in how his actual policies affect them in addition to his general insensitivity. For example, criticism regarding his interaction with women doesn’t stop at the disgusting comments recently leaked3, but extend to his actual policy concerning reproductive health and access to safe abortion. Similarly, understanding of his islamophobia is not limited to commentary, but extends to protests against his Muslim ban4. This is not to say that I condone or mean to minimize his mocking of Kovaleski in any way, but only that to see mockery as the main issue at hand is to see the disabled population as nothing more than a victimized group who are bullied, as opposed to a disadvantaged minority that is legitimately oppressed through action. Because yes, words and imitation absolutely sting, and more should be expected from a perspective leader of our country. But we are a thick skinned group, and while the abled majority was up in arms about a few minutes at a speech in South Carolina, my community was collectively worrying about the slew of problematic policy that directly affects us all in some way. This policy goes largely unnoticed because the oppression of those with disabilities is often minimized or forgotten about, and it easier to call Trump a bully than to face the depressing facts of what he is about to do to the largest minority5 in the United States.
The most obvious and concrete danger that Trump presents to those with disabilities is the repealing of the Affordable Care Act7, and the block granting medicaid9. For the many who were born disabled and/or acquired disabilities at a young age, the words “pre-existing condition” are just a euphemism for their lived experience and status as person with a disability. This means that even those with some variation of health insurance prior to the enactment of the ACA have come to rely on the policy because of its revolutionary non-discrimination policy. Because disability can many times place restrictions on the jobs one is able to work, people with disabilities are less likely to poses employment-based healthcare benefits, and therefore are more likely to depend on the ACA for healthcare coverage. Additionally, many insurance companies do not have comprehensive mental health coverage, causing even people who have other paths to coverage to rely on the ACA or Medicaid to cover treatment and tools pertaining to a wide variety of mental illnesses and emotional disabilities. Furthermore, people with severe or multiple conditions are more likely to need the supplemented assistance of medicaid because of a demonstrated need a multitude of treatments, hospital/rehab stays, and/or tools to live their best life. This assistance would be non-existent following block granting.
I would not be a true practicer of the social justice model8 if I only saw ableist oppression through the lens of healthcare. Like most Republicans before him, Trump plans to cut social welfare services9, including SSI and SSDI funding, despite claiming differently. For some, this is the difference between poverty and thriving, or getting necessary day to day care in the best possible setting. Beyond the endangerment of the very lives and residences of people with disabilities, this jeopardizes caretakers and family members alike, as the (currently meager) sum often contributes to salaries for caretakers, and is used to support the families of recipients, just as one’s employment salary is often used to support one’s family members. In a more complex way, though, the mass cut of this funding reshapes, or attempts to eliminate, the role of disabled people in society. This funding allows the population of people with disabilities who are unable to work (or to work very little), a sense of autonomy in their choices and money management; to go out and see a play or eat amongst others or enroll in daily activities and programs. If it is non-existent, this population is limited to one space, a space that is often lonely. Suddenly, the average abled-Joe will see less people with disabilities in everyday public space, which perpetuates a dangerous, othering divide between the majority and minority, furthering the idea that those with disabilities do not lead “normal” lives that include a variety of ways to spend one’s time. Of course, there is also a large amount of people who are disabled and don’t receive SSI/SSDI because their disability does not hinder their ability to hold a reasonably paying position. But to assume everyone holds such privilege is to ignore the 2,321,583 applications for disability assistance that were submitted in 201610.
Of course, this is just scratching the surface of Trump’s inevitable effects on the lives of Americans with disabilities, and I encourage you to do your own research on policy affecting folks with disabilities. Also, it is important to remember that issues of ability are intersectional, with disabled immigrants and refugees impacted in a way completely separate than those born in the US, which I acknowledge my post presumes the experience. To my anti-Trump abled readers: while you are protesting, think about what you have not yet seen being protested; who’s not marching next to you. (Ableism in activism is a whole separate post.) When you call your elected officials to voice your dissent, remember your disabled neighbors. To my abled readers who support Trump: I am not here to convince you to change your mind. If you are reading this blog though, chances are you care about someone with a disability. And that person has to deal with more than mockery, they are affected by some extension of what you just read, no doubt. And lastly to my readers with disabilities: Hopefully you felt heard with this post. I’d love to hear from you specifically, as we all venture into this uncertain time. I am with you, I am struggling and scared too. But we are strong, and there is hope to be found in others and in allies. Please, don’t let anyone make you feel you have less of a place in conversations of oppression than you and I both know you do.
Today, this is where she stands
Have questions about the sources above? Please reach out to me here! I am committed to only sharing reliable information, so if I slip, I want to know! Thanks for reading.
*This post was originally published on Spastically Yours some time ago- see it here