Don't boo, vote! by Elizabeth Forst

Posted by Elizabeth Forst in Life After Paralysis on August 04, 2016 # Advocacy and Policy

It seems only appropriate to spend time discussing the importance of voting in this next presidential election. I am not shy to discuss politics and up until now I have been blogging primarily about my adventures in travel as a wheelchair user. As most have read, my passions in life are bound in adventure, exploration and continuing to learn about expanding my own experience especially now being a new part of the disabled community. Yet, because of the current political platforms underway between two very different candidates, it is important to bring to light their stance on disability issues; this is significantly important for our population to understand the different viewpoints and help educate and guide our decision making process. Who becomes the next president of the United States of America will have a profound effect on our healthcare issues, access, community integration, future employment and general well being for the next four years.

In order to educate my own self on these issues, I watched in entirety both the Republican and Democratic national conventions respectively in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The Republican national convention opened with an outstanding performance by a young woman named Marlana VanHoose who sang the Star-Spangled Banner; she had been born with a debilitating virus causing blindness and mild cerebral palsy at birth. Hands down, her musical talent is amazing and she stole the show with her outstanding vocals – it brought many to tears including myself. The other appearance was a young man who had a spinal cord injury years ago resulting in paraplegia named Brock Mueller; he was able to walk on stage and speak at the podium using double upright braces and bilateral ambulation canes.

Unfortunately, he made no mention of the importance of spinal cord research, advocacy and or any spinal cord issues for that matter – a huge disappointment especially with such a great opportunity in such a public venue with millions watching. As the convention continued, there was no reference by any of the speakers and especially by Republican nominee Donald Trump of any disability and or spinal cord issues. There was no discussion of accessibility, employment, education and/or improvement in science in any of these areas, frustrating to say the least. I was expecting such a lack of information as even Donald Trump's website makes no reference on his stance for disabled rights. And of course let's not forget the mockery of the disabled reporter – this does not fare well for Trump and or the Republican representation for the disabled.

Contrarily and refreshingly, the Democratic national convention placed disability rights front and center starting with Anastasia Somoza's beautifully performed speech highlighting Hillary Clinton's promotion of the access, employment and advocacy for the disabled, especially with children. Anastasia uses a power wheelchair, as she has cerebral palsy, and has clearly flourished in her own activism throughout her many interactions over her lifetime in the press. Her speech was well done, to the point and inspiring – a showstopper to say the least.

There was a welcoming presence to those of the disabled community, and it showed on the television cameras, on the floors of the convention and amongst the chatter of the political reporters scurrying around discussing the various speakers. Apparently, there were even power chair charging stations and guide dog relief areas to assist those attending the event needing such additional services – a well thought out touch.

Many of the speakers throughout the week confirmed and acknowledged the significance of augmenting the rights of the disabled, and especially of note when Hillary Clinton acknowledged in her acceptance nomination speech the importance of integrating the disability community in bettering our country's progress towards the equality for all. Further, while perusing her campaign website, there is an entire page dedicated towards issues in which disability rights are highlighted. It states that she will:

"1. Work to fulfill the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

2. Expand support for Americans with disabilities to live in integrated community settings.

3. Improve access to meaningful, gainful employment for people with disabilities.

4. Provide tax relief to help the millions of families caring for aging relatives or family members with chronic illnesses or disabilities."

The purpose of this blog is not intended to change one's political beliefs or to sway one from left to right or right to left – one has to make their own decisions based on their own background, belief systems and or approval/disapproval of exposed truths. But as a member of the disabled community and especially the spinal cord community where access, employment, equality and furthering scientific discovery is paramount, I feel it necessary to not only educate myself but others that may be in the dark on such candidates' stances. Most importantly, as we approach a volatile 3 1/2 months of political commercials and commentaries, I urge everyone to stay positive, get involved, continue to read and educate yourself on the issues at hand, especially with disability rights, and choose the candidate that provides an equal playing field for both able-bodied and disabled individuals. It is the right thing to do, the American way.