Teaching children with disabilities about politics

All the buzz about last night’s presidential debate makes today the perfect day to publish a guest post about an article in disability thinking that encourages parents to talk with their children who have disabilities about politics. That article got a lot of attention over the summer, and I asked guest blogger Chris Hermann to write a post with his impressions. Chris and his wife have two children, and the family bonds together every Sunday morning in front of the TV to watch shows about, you guessed it…politics.

That’s Chris Hermann with his ten-year-old daughter.

That’s Chris Hermann and his ten-year-old daughter.

by Chris Hermann

I completely agree with that story in Disability Thinking. The author was spot on about both the importance of introducing our children to politics and the benefits of activism.

Introducing our children to politics and our legislative system gives them an idea of how this country runs and provides an avenue for open and honest discussions about what is happening in the world. Rather than just telling our seven-year-old son and ten-year-old daughter how to interpret news of the day or quoting the candidates, we have real discussions with our children and learn what they feel about things they’ve seen and heard. Different perspectives are brought to light by our children, and as parents, we know that teaching them to back up their statements with facts rather than just opinions will benefit them in many ways later in life.

It is especially important to include our daughter, who has cerebral palsy, in our conversations. Nearly 1 in 5 people in the United States has a disability, yet you’d never know that from what the politicians say. The focus of politicians when discussing disability is often limited to linking it to healthcare. This does a disservice to everyone. The world of disabilities is large and diverse, and the disability community isn’t as organized and unified as, say, the women’s movement or the LGBTQ community is. Yet, if you include people with disabilities, those who care for them, those who live with them, it could be an enormous voting block to get some effective change.

If we speak with our children about politics there is a chance they will be active citizens in democracy – at all levels. This means the children with disabilities may grow up to be activists with disabilities, furthering a political discourse that includes them and doesn’t just talk about them. Or at them.

Even if children with disabilities don’t grow up to be activists, talking with them about politics now will make it more likely that they understand their government, their own rights and how to exercise them. They can put all this knowledge into practice as early as elementary school as they learn how to navigate teachers, school policies and the education system — all while making friends on the playground.

In our home, we make it a point to watch and listen to political figures we don’t always agree with as well. It is important to understand where other people are coming from with their opinions and viewpoints. We also do this to try to see where compromises can be made. We want our children to understand it is unrealistic to expect a party to unilaterally do everything it wants. Compromise is important, and if the two parties cannot agree on anything, nothing gets done. (Illinois budget crisis anyone?) This really is a life skill, isn’t it? How often do you get to do exactly what you want to do?

We have yet to see a person with a physical disability on one of the Sunday morning political talk shows. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened — just that we haven’t seen it. And in our family, the absence or infrequency of this demographic is a discussion topic itself. Why aren’t there more people with disabilities on these shows? Why aren’t the hosts asking people with disabilities how the election will affect them and their needs? Why is it that so few people with disabilities become policy wonks and come up with the policies that affect them?

The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) didn’t just magically end discrimination towards people with disabilities, and it didn’t suddenly make the world physically accessible to all. If the legacy of the ADA is to continue and to be effective, we have to educate our children about activism and politics.

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