This is the Most Important Election of My Life Because I’m Autistic

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Many people are calling this the most important election of our lives. That’s certainly true for me because I’m autistic. This is the first election in the history of the United States where disability rights and autism are playing a central role. This is the first election where individuals with disabilities have been in the spotlight at a convention. This is the first election where a candidate has focused on disability in a convention speech. Unfortunately, this is also the first election where a candidate has mocked those of us with disabilities. Putting aside my personal politics, I would find it hard to vote for a candidate who did not support disability rights and have a plan for individuals on the autism spectrum.

When I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at the age of nine, autism was still mistakenly considered a rare condition. As a teenager, in 2004, I created which was the first major online community for people on the spectrum to connect with one another. Since that time, awareness of autism has skyrocketed. That’s good, but acceptance and inclusion are even more important.

Hillary Clinton & Donald TrumpLast month’s Democratic National Convention placed a high value on inclusion for those with disabilities. Anastasia Somoza, a graduate of the London School of Economics with cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia, gave a powerful speech that was echoed by both President Obama and Secretary Clinton. Ryan Moore, an instructional technology leader with dwarfism, spoke about the necessity of affordable health care. And Hillary Clinton emphasized the importance of inclusion in her own speech, mentioning disability on five separate occasions.

The Republican National Convention, by contrast, seemed to focus mainly on exclusion. The word disability wasn’t even mentioned once. Eric Trump said that his father was running for “families with special needs children,” as if adults with special needs don’t exist.

The differences between the two parties’ approaches to disability also informs their platforms. The Democratic Party platform includes 35 mentions of disability rights in 19 sections. The Republican platform, on the other hand, specifically states that it does not support ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (which is supported by the Democrats).

Even more importantly to me, the Democratic platform specifically addresses the needs of people with autism, stating that Democrats “believe that our country must make supporting the millions of individuals with autism and those diagnosed in the future and their families a priority.” The text goes on to explain how this will be accomplished by expanding services — including housing and employment — to include adults, as well as those transitioning to adulthood.  Additionally, the platform states that the party will “push states to require health insurance coverage for autism services” and stresses the importance of early screening for autism in children.

In stark contrast, the Republican platform does not mention the need to support individuals with autism at all. In fact, the word autism is mentioned only once, in a paragraph about biomedical research that also describes “new dangers like Ebola, Zika, Chikungunya, and antibiotic-resistant pathogens.” The juxtaposition of autism and terrifying diseases like Ebola and Zika is incredibly damaging to people on the spectrum, many of whom see autism as a core part of our identities. It’s also incredibly dehumanizing.

The candidates themselves have also offered starkly differing views of disability. Donald Trump has been widely criticized for mocking New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, who has a condition that affects the movement of his right arm. At a rally in South Carolina in November, Trump flapped his right arm around uncontrollably while making fun of Kovaleski’s speech. Instead of apologizing, Trump has denied that he knew Kovaleski was disabled and claimed that he was merely making fun of flustered reporters in general. He has also erroneously linked vaccines to autism, which has been repeatedly debunked by scientists.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton has fought for disabled people’s rights throughout her career and has always treated us with respect and love rather than mockery and disdain. As a senator she pushed for legislation to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities, including co-sponsoring the Individuals with Disabilities Education Reauthorization Act and developing legislation that authorized over $1 billion for autism research and services. And as Secretary of State she worked on global human rights initiatives that included individuals with disabilities.

Acceptance and empowerment for all disabled people should be bipartisan goals. I hope going forward that the Republicans will learn that they cannot win national elections by acting with disregard and flagrant contempt for the 53 million Americans with disabilities.

By Alex Plank

402 thoughts on “This is the Most Important Election of My Life Because I’m Autistic”


    • MDD123 on August 17, 2016

      There’s a very strong possibility that the next president will also appoint our next supreme court justice, so it won’t be 4-8 years of just Trump’s vision, but an entire generation of a Trump/Pence appointee tipping the scales.

    • alex on August 17, 2016

      The next president will likely appoint multiple justices actually. It’s pretty certain that the next one will be appointed by the winner of this election.

    • lordfakename on August 17, 2016

      I, erm, misread an ‘r’ for an ‘l’ in that title and thought this thread would be about something rather different

    • ToughDiamond on August 17, 2016

      Well yes, it’s hardly surprising to me that the right-wing party doesn’t want the disabled to have benefits, respect, rights, inclusion, etc. It’s been axiomatic to me for some time that disability rights and left-wing politics are strongly associated. But I’ve not seen the disability issue so polarised before, as it is with the Trump thing. I’m lucky to live in the UK where we’ve even got a Conservative peer rooting for autistic folks.

    • ScoeyB on August 17, 2016

      Alex: This is why I and so many love you so much. You are indeed a worthy spokesperson for the autistic community. I know I speak for many when I say: You fill us with pride. Thank you!

      Diamond: I don’t think it’s so much that they (right wing) doesn’t WANT the disabled to have "etc." for the disabled as much as they don’t consider people with disabilities to be important to their elections. This was something Alex shone a spotlight upon and is yet another reason the GOP needs a "checkup from the neck up", or more accurately, from the center of the chest, behind the sternum, a little to the left. They supposedly had one after Romney, a "postmortem" they called it, which made headlines, in big bold print that said: BE MORE INCLUSIVE. Clearly, the majority of the GOP has doubled down on exclusive, and so we have Trump. You don’t get more EXCLUSIVE than Trump. If only more people woke up to that. Trump’s never hidden that.

      Fakename: (sarcastic)Really? That’s not a very likely headline for an op-ed from Alex. It makes no sense. Besides, what exactly is a "Rife" anyway? ;-)

      My $3.50:
      As Alex touched upon, my hope for the Clinton campaign and (hopefully) the second Clinton presidency in regard to "people with disabilities" is that we cancel out the whole need for "PC" language to describe those with autism, those without hearing, or those whose cognitive abilities preclude them from feeling empathy with those who are different from them. I hope that we are no longer labeled as anything but "different but equal".

      Like anyone, people with what we call "disabilities" by our current cultural/linguistic configuration, are different from other people in their own way. People who are NOT presently recognized as disabled but MAY be one day, like people who have an underdeveloped part of the brain that promotes empathy, are already familiar with the idea of people being different but equal. Whether it’s "race" (another terrible misnomer), gender, height or hair color, most enlightened people are already capable of accepting people with those differences as their equals.

      The need for "PC" language will disappear once true acceptance is the norm. Like comedian Amy Schumer said in an interview today, and as Simone Manuel said after winning an individual swimming medal, the first African-American woman to do so, we need to get to a point where Amy is not told "You’re my favorite FEMALE comedian." and where Simone’s skin color is no longer a newsworthy notation when describing her achievements.

      We also need to get to where Alex, for example, can be introduced to a symposium simply as a "social entrepreneur" and speak from THAT aspect of his identity, not necessarily prefaced with "autistic social entrepreneur". Yes, there are situations where that introduction is appropriate, as when he’s specifically talking about autism. But perhaps Alex would like to be asked to speak about his experiences as the creator of a social media site and all that such an endeavor entails.

      In any situation in which a "different but equal" person may require some form of accommodation, that obviously calls for some attention focused on their difference, but socially speaking, when referring to them as a person, such a distinction should be RARE and only when specific to a question or relevant reason.

      I’m not proposing a new "PC" term in "different but equal". I’m really proposing not to use any such labels. I’m proposing a new way of people interacting with and respecting differences without defining us by them. That’s not "P.C.". That’s etiquette. That’s decency.

      I know, I’m no Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but that’s a nice dream too, and it is really part of King’s as well.

      Can I get an "amen"?

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