Back of the Bus, Back of the Rally

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Emily Munson

Yesterday I attended the Trump rally in Westfield, Indiana, not because I’m a Trump fanatic, but because the political junkie inside couldn’t resist the spectacle. In a previous CDR blog (Link to Blog Post), I defended Trump from criticism after he allegedly mocked a disabled journalist. After attending the rally, I may have to reassess my conclusions.

My first surprise was that people using power wheelchairs were not allowed to enter the rally like everyone else. TSA agents stopped my sister and I at a metal detector while a Secret Service officer called for a bomb-sniffing dog. The wait for the dog and his handler was approximately five minutes, as there was no designated security lane for people with disabilities. On the plus side, although the TSA agent made my mom throw away her soda, I was able to convince him to let me keep mine to medicine during the rally.

The major issue was seating. No campaign or local party staff was present to direct anyone into the rally which, for the most part, was standing room only. Finally, a friendly police officer pointed us to the right of the field, where metal barricades delineated a pathway toward several rows of folding chairs. This, apparently, was the accessible seating. My sister and I were the only individuals at the rally using power wheelchairs, but the only room for us was behind the rows of folding chairs. The chairs were not to be moved.

What galled me most was when the people in the folding chairs stood right in front of us. I found a man in a Trump shirt, asked him if he was in charge, and he confirmed he was overseeing accessible seating. I asked if he had any intention to make people in front of me sit down, and he sheepishly replied, “I can’t. There’s too many of them.” He proceeded to walk away and talk with standing, able-bodied individuals, now blocking the pathway into the “accessible” area.

Although my disability is mobility-based, I also couldn’t help but notice that several people in the chairs ahead of me were cupping their ears, straining to hear what was happening. It probably didn’t help that we were completely to the side of the speakers. I had trouble seeing (given my butt-level position), but didn’t notice any ASL translators or CART availability.

Last night, the Trump campaign disappointed me – “bigly”! How are people with disabilities to make their issues known and addressed if they can’t even participate in basic parts of the political process? Staffers’ obvious inability to foresee access issues and address them once identified is another concern.

I hope that candidates from both the Trump, Clinton, and third-party candidate campaigns will see this blog and reach out to their supporters with disabilities. The candidates don’t have to solve these problems independently; we are here to help! Although some of us cannot “stand straight and stand tall” with our candidate, as the introductory rally speaker commanded, we have much to offer, much which is clearly needed.

Contact: Emily Munson