Courting the “special needs vote”

Our son turned 2 right before the 1988 presidential election. Gus was enrolled in our local Birth to Three Early Intervention Program then, and would be entering the world of special education at our local public school the next year. If Michael Dukakis or George H.W. Bush had mentioned “special needs” in a speech or debate in 1988, I would have taken note. But trust me, I didn’t hear a word.

Fast forward 20 years. Last Friday, Republican vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin delivered a speech outlining policy goals for special education and disability and advocacy. You read that right. A major policy address. On special education and disabilities.

Here’s an understatement for you: this is an amazing election year. I already posted a blog about the final presidential debate, where both candidates mentioned autism and other disabilities. A post on the Left Brain/Right Brain – Autism News and Opinion blog asks whether McCain is “courting the autism vote.” A story in the American Chronicle this week mentions “the special needs and autism vote.”

But wait, there’s more! Last Tuesday, I got a call from an ABC 7 reporter here in Chicago. She interviewed me for a Sunday morning piece about McCain and Obama’s policies when it comes to disability issues. ABC 7 wanted to know who I thought might get … you guessed it, the “special needs vote.” If you missed my 8 seconds of fame on the Sunday morning ABC Chicago news, never fear! The story is available online.

Special needs vote. Twenty years ago, I would have never thought of stringing those three words together. But hey, nine million American children under age 18 have a special health care need, 54 million (1 in 5) have a disability, and an additional 54 million individuals are caregivers of people with disabilities.

Gee, I guess it’s about time the candidates started courting our vote!


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