THANK YOU, Obama, for Referring to Americans with Disabilities

Posted on 5 November 2008. Filed under: Advocacy, CRPD (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabili | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

Tradução portuguesa

Dear President Elect Barack Obama:

I wanted to convey a heartfelt THANK YOU to President elect Obama for making an entire class of excluded citizens visible in his acceptance speech last night: people with disabilities. THANK YOU for including the word “disabled” in your acceptance speech last night.

I am a Deaf US citizen who also has attention deficit disorder and a mild foot problem. So I, too, am an American with disabilities. This is the first time I can recall feeling included in a political campaign as a person with disabilities.

Historically, people with disabilities have been pushed to the margins, confined to our homes–or worse, to institutions. This was partly because of who we are and partly because people simply did not prioritize our inclusion, even when it would be simple to do so. Then, because we were not allowed to be in the mainstream of society, people didn’t see us–and thus assumed we do not exist. So the issues and concerns with the most profound impact on our lives, our most basic freedoms, and even our day to day survival have been historically assumed to not matter.

We are among the largest minority groups in this country–the World Health Organization estimates we comprise about 10% of the population. Yet people don’t see us in their streets, in their homes, in their offices, in the policies that they draft, in the programs they run, or in their lives. In American society, and around the world, we are consistently “invisibilized.” Most politicians, most of the time, don’t even mention us the way Obama did last night. We are so consistently excluded that even tokenism would be a step forward for us.

I voted for Obama yesterday morning for many reasons. But one important motivation for me was that he was the only candidate to provide a truly comprehensive disability rights platform (PDF format, 62 Kb). It is particularly unique and impressive in that it is one of the few acknowledgments by a politician that disability issues are not confined to social protection programs, or to services for veterans disabled in war, or to education services for so-called “special needs” children.

All of these are important concerns also, but Obama’s platform is a rare recognition that people with disabilities are not a monolithic group. Social protection programs are not the start and end of our needs; we are not all veterans; and we are not all children. We are mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, brothers and sisters, friends and confidantes, co-workers and professional colleagues, spouses and partners, neighbors, and even professional and athletic rivals. We are everyone. And our needs are, correspondingly, as complex as the needs of everyone else.

Above all, as with any other marginalized minority group, our needs include the need for human rights protections. This makes it particularly noteworthy that Obama was the only candidate to pledge to sign the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and encourage the Senate to ratify it.

Yet: when Obama referred to “disabled” (and non-disabled) people in his speech last night, I stopped breathing. Even with his disability platform in mind, I had not been prepared for this moment. Suddenly, one of the most overlooked group of Americans was acknowledged as a force in our own right. Suddenly, I felt visible.

I had to stop writing this letter twice because I kept stopping to weep. How powerful a thing it is, simply to be validated. Simply to have a president elect of the country acknowledge that we exist. How powerful a thing it is, to have a president elect of the country acknowledge us, not as a special class apart, but as a part of the mainstream of society. Exactly as we should be. Exactly where we belong.

Mr. Obama, you can expect more letters from me in the years to come. I am a person with many opinions and am not afraid to express them. In particular, I will be calling upon you to follow through on your pledge to sign the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). You can bet I will be calling you to account on your promises to Americans with disabilities!

But for now, just for today–thank you. Thank you for referring to Americans with disabilities in your acceptance speech on the evening of November 4, 2008. Just, thank you–for acknowledging us and for including us. Thank you.

Ms. Andrea Shettle, MSW

This is an open letter to Barack Obama. I hope other Deaf people, and people with disabilities in general, will join me in reaching out to Obama from across the US and around the world. Thank him for including us in his remarks on election night. And remind him of his campaign promises to Americans with disabilities (Follow the link to download the 8-page, 62 Kb PDF file.

Even if you didn’t vote for Obama–if you are in the US, he will be your president too. Democrats and Republicans may disagree with each other on a great many things, including who would have been a better president for Americans with disabilities. But I think we also have many concerns in common that are well worth crossing the ideological divide. No matter who we voted for, let’s work together to ensure that we are increasingly included, and increasingly visible, in the mainstream of American politics and policies and public life. Let’s work together to ensure that we are included in the mainstream of society, full stop.

If you’re interested specifically in the CRPD–the first international, legally-binding human rights treaty to protect a wide range of human rights for people with disabilities around the world–check out Ratification of the CRPD is very much consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), with the bonus that it could help expand human rights protections into areas not currently covered in the ADA.

Obama’s administration can be contacted via his new Office of Public Liaison.


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18 Responses to “THANK YOU, Obama, for Referring to Americans with Disabilities”

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I gathered with a group of friends to watch the election results last night. I was helped up the three front stairs and remained watching from above the tv in the sunken den separated from everyone else. (“Visitability” was not in the architect’s vocabulary or cultural competence). When the President mentioned us by name all eyes turned to me with the shared glow of victory and – for a moment – the exclusion-through-design was erased at every level from the personal through the political.

I, too, am excited about Obama. Excited enough that I made this. Check it out if you haven’t. 🙂

[…] Novembro 5, 2008 · Nenhum Comentário Escrevi uma carta aberta ao Obama agradecendo por ter mencionado as pessoas com deficiência em seu discurso ontem à noite. A carta está no link: […]

I am proud to be an African with Disability. Obama’s speech lifted my spirits. During my course of work as a disability activist in Uganda, the nearest I have had our leaders refer to disability has been with disdain. Obama made a whole lot of difference – with just one mention of those of us who live in daily marginalisation, contempt and negative judgement by other members of the community; sometime our immediate relatives.
I have been re-energised and I hope his administration will do much more towards uplifting the lives of PWDs not only in America, but in the ‘forgotten parts of the world’ – as Obama said in his speech. I hope the USA shall sign and ratify the CRPD.

thank you for sharing your thank you letter.
I hope you don’t mind if I share it with others and encourage others to write to remind President Elect Obama of the wonderful work he has in store for him.

You so eloquently put in words what so many of us feel. Thank YOU, Andrea.

[…] Want to read a letter to Obama before you write your own? Click here. […]

President (elect) Obama & Vice-President (elect) Biden,

The issue of providing access to government officials and government offices for Americans who happen to be deaf, must not be allowed to fall into the category of a “special interest”. This issue is NOT a special interest, it is a fundamental issue that says, as an American, who happens to be deaf, I have a right to have full access to everything that MY elected officials do and say in the execution of their duties. This means, providing TDD/TTY phone numbers for Americans who happen to be deaf, like your campaign and the Democratic National Committee failed to do throughout the entire election.
This means making it law that anytime an elected official appears in public, be it on television or an online video, everything he/she says MUST be captioned, without exception.
This means that every government office and every elected official, be it Federal, State or Local, must provide access to their American constituents who happen to be deaf.
This means that anytime an elected official appears in public, a Sign Language Interpreter MUST be present. If you held a rally and then someone came in and picked out some people and said, “you can’t listen to this speech”, you would be outraged, and rightly so — and not providing access for Americans who happen to be deaf, is tantamount to just that.
This means that every single PUBLIC service message MUST be captioned for Americans who happen to be deaf. By way of example, there has been a huge campaign lately on behalf of the American Lung Association, to encourage people to get flu shots. The spots are never captioned. They will not answer me when I ask why. But I know why — it is a matter of not wanting to spend the money to caption these ads. If this message is important enough to spend that kind of money to get the message out to Americans, isn’t it also important enough to spend a little extra to get the message out to Americans who happen to be deaf?
Your election, to the highest office in the land, sends a new, clear message to every American child who happens to be Black, that they too can achieve anything they set their mind to. Let your election also send a new, clear message that American children, who happen to be Deaf, can also achieve anything they set their mind to.
You told Republicans, “I will be your President too.” I need to “see you say” that you will be MY President, too.
So today I am posing a question to you: “Will you be MY President too?”
I have asked my own elected officials about this issue many times, for many years now. I have received an answer from only one of them who said, “it’s not my problem”. I plan to ask you this question every single day of your administration, until you tell me that you will address this issue. There are new ads out now on television, encouraging people to ask their elected officials whatever questions they might have, and DEMAND an answer. (The ads are not captioned.) This is what I plan to do — demand an answer.
Let me reiterate by saying, this is not a special interest issue. I’m not asking you to caption my favorite movie. I am asking for total access to my government; the access we afford everyone else.
Your campaign and the DNC failed every American, who happens to be deaf, this election year by not providing even one TDD/TTY line for us to contact you. Election Protection failed us by not having even one TDD/TTY line, so Americans who happen to be deaf, could get help understanding their rights as voters.
Howard Dean and the Democratic National Committee failed us again. His first message to the American people after your election, was not captioned for Americans who happen to be deaf.
You know how disheartening it can be when you are excluded. Your lovely wife mentioned in an interview, how African-Americans have heard “no” for so long, they began to just expect that the answer would always be “no.” (I’m paraphrasing) So you can you imagine how Americans, who happen to be deaf, after standing in line for hours to vote for you – Americans like me, felt when they clicked on Howard Dean’s message and saw only his lips moving?
“There is not a liberal America and a conservative America – there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America – there’s the United States of America.”
But unfortunately, there is a “Hearing America” and a “Deaf America” Please help us end this disparity, forever, so that we too can join you in the task of moving America forward.
So I would like an answer to my question: “Will you be my President, too?”
Samuel Hayes

This email was sent to my friends on 4th November 2hours after Obama’s acceptance Speech. Read it NOW. YES WE CAN make disability history!

Dear Friends (especially Americans with or without disabilities),

Today, i am tempted to write on Sen. Obama’s victory and its implication to Americans with Disabilities in particular and PWDs in general (world-wide). Many scholars and some politicians have been questioning why the international community was fondly behind Obama’s presidency. They argued that nothing different will happen outside America but when i tasked some of them to distinguish between Obama’s and McCain’s foreign policies they could not. Now, its a defining moment and the world is watching America. Early this morning at his victory celebration in Chicago, Obama was quoted as saying;

“If there is anyone out there who doubts that America is a place where anything is possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer,”

“Young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled, Americans have sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of red states and blue states,” he said. “We have been and always will be the United States of America”.

Therefore, my attention has been paid to the second quotation – Its a hope for a reason and a reason for hope -Its about us – we, individuals with disabilities. When i read it, i cried tears of joy. It is not a secret, America is superpower… Its like a heart of the world. Meaning that a better America is a better world. A month ago, i was paid by Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington DC for their failure to fix TTY (phone for hearing impaired people) in my hotel room. This partly explains that a better America is a better place for everyone. Sen. Obama’s own foreign policies tells us all. You are also reminded that disability is one of the Obama’s top priorities – focusing on early intervention! You will also recall that Sen. Obama played a key role in the formulating and approval of various regulations relating to disability…

So what? Since Sen. (now President-Elect) Obama promised change which is already in America… Let AWDs tell him to change whatever disable them because they are Americans first – so that America can send a message to the World as he has stated it early today. Tell him that all his support nationally and internationally should be inclusive… Your voices counted in this historical elections so let us demand for change in our lives too. The most important thing is to watch closely to any changes and ensure that all the changes made are inclusive – No Person is to be Left Behind! The International community (beneficiaries of US government support) will also demand for change wherever its necessary and that change must not only be necessary but it must be sufficient to the needs of PWDs…

Just few points for today! Americans: THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU A BILLION TIMES, THANK YOU for choosing Obama.

My best regards,

Ambrose Murangira,
International Disability Activist,

[…] Read another letter to Obama this one from me. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Why Deaf Americans Should Vote Obama in 2008U.S. Again Hailed as ’Country of Dreams’Global Obama celebrationsThe World Welcomes Obama’s Victory […]

[…] Letters to Obama A Deaf woman with attention deficit disorder in the US writes about how she felt when Obama mentioned people with disabilities in his election night speech–and what she hopes he will do next: […]

[…] Escrevi uma carta aberta ao Obama agradecendo por ter mencionado as pessoas com deficiência em seu discurso ontem à noite. A carta está no link: […]

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