Disability issues in particular risk being sidelined even more than they usually are. Despite some notable recent success in bringing disability policy to the attention of politicians, disability is still widely regarded as a niche concern.
The phrase “Everything that’s going on” has rarely been so potent. Presidential Election results have been openly challenged in Congress. The Capitol building itself has been physically attacked by a wild but disturbingly directed mob. The Covid-19 pandemic seems to be escalating everywhere.
So it may be tempting for elected officials and political strategists to set seemingly specialized concerns aside in 2021 and focus just on a few of the perceived “fundamentals” that are understood to affect “everyone,” rather than narrower “special interests.” Conventional wisdom might suggest that with American democracy literally teetering on the brink, matters like Social Security rules, disability rights laws, and even health care eligibility should be put not just on the back burner, but in the deep freeze for the foreseeable future.
This would be a mistake – morally, practically, and politically. Disability issues are far more important and relevant than most people realize. They also offer ground for some tentative returns to a semblance of political bipartisanship, and restoration of faith in society’s ability to do things better. Here are five reasons why disability issues shouldn’t be set aside right now.
The disability community is a large constituency, not a tiny special interest.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 61 million adults in the U.S. have some kind of disability – that’s 26% of the adult population, or 1 in 4 adults. 13.7% of adults have a mobility disability. 10.8% have cognitive or intellectual disabilities. 5.9% of adults have hearing impairments. And 4.6% have vision impairments. These are all minorities in the numerical sense, compared with the whole U.S. population. But they are all substantial minorities.
We should also count families and friends of disabled people too, as part of a more broadly-defined disability community or constituency. It’s a common mistake to assume that non-disabled spouses, siblings, adult children, and work and school buddies always have the same views and priorities as actual disabled people. But they are at least potential and often genuine allies on disability issues.