Reading Between the Lines: Republican Debate Eight

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Emily Munson

Saturday night’s Republican debate was full of disability, but perhaps not in the way one might expect. First, Ben Carson and Donald Trump couldn’t hear their names being announced, and waited behind the curtain as other candidates took their podiums. Next, the moderators had temporary memory loss, forgetting to announce John Kasich at all. Finally, it was suggested that Ted Cruz suffers from a peculiar cardiac anomaly – no heart. Unfortunately, aside from Kasich, neither the candidates nor the moderators actually engaged in discussions of particular interest to the disability community. That’s not to say, however, that the debate was of no consequence to people with disabilities.

One of the unusual subjects that came up was eminent domain, specifically in regard to whether Trump got New Jersey to levy this power to take an elderly woman’s home for purposes of casino construction. Presumably, the moderators wanted candidates to discuss whether it is permissible for the State to seize private property for public projects, such as the Keystone Pipeline. Candidates also then had the opportunity to debate which projects, exactly, fall within the scope of public benefit.

Eminent domain interests me, in part, because it is incredibly difficult for people with disabilities to find suitable – and affordable – housing. I wondered if the woman discussed may have had a modified shower or handrails around the toilet. If her home was demolished, how long would it take her to find a new place to live? Would it suit her as well? If she had to move outside her neighborhood, would her natural supports be abandoned? Alternatively, let’s say an elected official decides to demolish a slum apartment in the interest of urban renewal. What if someone with a disability lived there? It’s very possible that they would be displaced outside the city limits. Does the local paratransit service cross county lines?

Another unique topic raised was whether women should be required to sign up for the draft. Candidates skirted the specific question of whether women should be forced into military service in the same manner as men, but did express support for women serving in combat provided minimum physical standards are met. Again, my mind immediately went to people with disabilities. Would these same candidates support military service for people with disabilities? What if they dearly want to serve? Obviously, I am not cut out for hand-to-hand combat; but I’m absolutely up for intellectual combat. Why is someone like me – an attorney, though physically disabled – not permitted to serve my country through JAG? Why can’t my disabled sister, who is a videogame ace, fly drones?

Finally, the biggest issue during the debate was immigration. Anyone supported by personal care attendants (PCA) should be paying close attention; in some areas, up to 40% of the PCA labor force are immigrants. Certainly, people with disabilities sit on both sides of the issue. Years ago, a home care agency sent me a PCA that did not speak English. I was hurt because we could not communicate effectively. Largely due to the personal struggles I have experienced with many foreign-born PCAs, I am in favor of immigration reform. On the other hand, I have a friend who hires many immigrants as PCAs and has a fantastic relationship with each of them. She tells me that they are her most dedicated employees. She supports these PCAs being granted full citizenship, despite current illegal status. While we respectfully disagree on solutions, we both agree that the immigration question is important.

Even if the word “disability” is not raised during the presidential debates, people with disabilities should be paying close attention. A particular candidate’s position on seemingly obscure subjects may actually have significant effects on quality of life and opportunities for people with disabilities. Chris Christie accused Marco Rubio of having canned lines. Regardless, we need to read between them.

Contact: Emily Munson