Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Texas Candidate, Pt. 2

Candidate Draws Support and Critics for Talk of Disability
Manny Fernandez, New York Times - July 22, 2013

I guess I'll have to double-down on my previous post on Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott; I'm intrigued by, but now thoroughly opposed to his candidacy. I wondered whether his personal experience of paraplegia would make his disability-related policy positions less staunchly conservative. Now, it appears, we know. His views on disability are as conservative and … privileged … as they can possibly be.

Abbott not only has fought to curb the Americans with Disabilities Act's power over states … that's arguably been his job as State Attorney General … he portrayed himself as an example to others with disabilities that "you don't have to hide behind some lawyer" to get by and make good. At the same time, people apparently credit Abbot with improving accessibility of businesses in Texas … but only in the sense that certain hotels and other facilities made themselves accessible to accommodate him, personally. If you'll excuse the expression, that's pretty lame.

It seems like Greg Abbott was a fairly well-to-do person before the accident that caused his spinal cord injury. The article mentions that his rehab. center installed an extra phone line so he could work while there. That says something about how hardworking he is, but it also suggests a degree of privilege … both literal and mental … he might be used to. This would help explain how he could be so dismissive of people with disabilities using legal protections to improve their lives. To him, maybe, all it takes is determination. You need an extra phone line? Just ask for it! Making a speech at a hotel, and you need a ramp to get in, they'll install one for you! Of course they will!

He surely knows about the physical pain and mental stress of a catastrophic injury, but he may not be personally familiar with the bureaucratic and financial barriers that most people with disabilities face because they aren't wealthy, don't already have high-flying careers underway, and aren't, for instance the Attorney General of their state!

Franklin D. Roosevelt was an enormously privileged man. Few people of his day were better equipped to handle paralytic polio than he was … financially, but also probably from a sense of basic entitlement that I think can be uniquely useful to people with disabilities. But as rich as he was, and as well accommodated, FDR also had the imagination to understand that most people didn't have his advantages. His policy positions were driven by his understanding of the world, not just of his own life. I give full credit to Abbott for seeming to integrate his disability into his life effectively, but it looks like he desperately needs to broaden his mind and realize that most of his fellow Texans with disabilities really do need some of the laws and support systems that he so casually despises.