For over a decade, I’ve been fighting alongside people with disabilities and their families. I’ve stood with mothers whose children were being restrained and secluded in schools. I’ve seen the fear in the faces of parents about to enter an IEP meeting knowing their child may not get what they need.
I’ve watched families ripped apart by a mental health diagnosis, feeling left alone and desperate for help. I’ve seen grandmothers raising small children with autism trying to navigate a system that did not exist when their own children were in school.
I have friends with disabilities who have a near impossible time finding a job, and often have to settle for unpaid “internships” as if they were somehow less deserving. I’ve met with too many caregivers who can make more at McDonalds or Walmart than they can caring for our most vulnerable citizens.
These amazing people are our friends and neighbors – and they are struggling to navigate a system determined to chip away at their dignity. But they don’t whine about how hard it is. They cringe when people tell them, “I don’t know how you do it” because for them it’s just parenting or caring for a loved one. While they don’t complain, caring for their loved ones should be easier and more dignified.
With them in mind, I wrote letters to many of the local organizers from presidential campaigns asking about disability rights. Only one campaign responded – Pete Buttigieg’s.
Within two days an organizer knocked on my door. She sat and she listened. She didn’t ask me for anything – not even my vote. She just listened. The following day, a campaign staffer was on the phone with me and another disability advocate arranging for us to talk to the national policy team about our input on Pete’s disability policy. I put the campaign in touch with people I respect around the country who share my values and have policy experience. All along the way, I was asked for my input and kept in the loop. It was clear my voice mattered.
The result is a disability policy that is the most comprehensive I’ve seen from any candidate since I’ve joined the club of mothers of kids with disabilities. Pete talks in great detail about so many issues that New Hampshire families have been fighting for like an end to waitlists, restraints, corporal punishment, and the disproportionate rates of incarceration for people with disabilities. He addresses the need for alternative communication so that every student can communicate and offers supports so students with disabilities can successfully transition from high school to college or a career.
His plan even ensures that during a disaster first responders are able to recognize and assist people with disabilities during times of escalated behaviors. And of course he addresses civil rights, accessibility, global leadership on disability issues, technology, housing, and more. These are just a few of the highlights of a 17-page policy which raises the bar on disability issues for all the presidential candidates today and in the future.
I’m proud to have had a small voice in the process, and I’m proud to be a Pete supporter. I’m even prouder to be a New Hampshire citizen that can say first hand that even in today’s political environment, all of our voices can be heard, we just have to decide to vote for the candidate who listens – and that candidate is clearly Pete Buttigieg.