As an African American and “Disability Scholar” meaning a person who is not merely engaged to the disability struggle but a person who lives with it daily and is married to it, I was torn in this election cycle. On one hand Hillary Clinton referred to young black men as super-predators and on the other hand Donald Trump mocked people with disabilities. Now that Mr. Trump will be the next president how will he treat people with disabilities during his presidency? Just last November, President-elect Donald Trump mocked a reporter with a disability named Serge Kovaleski. Kovaleski is a New York Times reporter, who has arthrogryposis, a congenital condition affecting the joints. His disability is noticeable in his right arm and hand. Kovaleski covered Trump as a reporter at The New York Daily News in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Trump had begun talking about Kovaleski at the 2015 rally in defense from a controversial statement. A statement claiming that Trump had seen “thousands” of Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attacks. As Trump disputed the statement he mimicked the way that the disabled reporter arm flail as he speaks. According to the results of a Bloomberg poll, voters stated that Donald Trump’s mocking of the disabled reporter was his most bothersome action.
In a time when mainstream society is beginning to recognize the ability of those who are disabled, the Trump administration has the ability to step up the progress of people with disabilities. People with disabilities have already been mocked and ridiculed in society for decades and decades and are seen as not capable of doing what others can. They are already fighting the unwritten definition of what society views as “normal.” People without disabilities struggle with their own self-image and identity and is partly the reason that we as a Nation spend billions of dollars in cosmetics and plastic surgery. Unfortunately in 2016 people with disabilities are still not deeply ingrained into mainstream society. Sure there are certain individuals with disabilities that have accomplished great things and have been given the credit and exposure that they deserve but what about the children with disabilities? How can a child develop positive self-esteem or a sense of self when the only time that they see themselves on television or in the media is when they are being talked about or laughed at? What was the last television show or blockbuster movie that main character featured a person with a disability? Imagery is important because the more it’s seen in society the quicker it becomes normalized. The normalization of disability in mainstream society will eradicate some of the bullying against those who are disabled. The British Journal of Learning Support (2008) revealed that 60 percent of students with disabilities report being bullied regularly compared with 25 percent of all students. The aftermath of Donald Trump’s presidential victory has not only impacted bullying among adults but children as well. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project, more than 10,000 teachers and other educators responded to an online survey and 90 percent of respondents said the election had negatively impacted students’ behavior and mood. The report also stated that teachers have reported nearly 2,500 “negative incidents” of bigotry and harassment at U.S. schools in the first 10 days since Mr. Trump’s election as president.
How can Donald Trump make an impact for the disability community?
In May 2012, TIME magazine named President Barack Obama the first “gay president” because he officially announced his support for same-sex marriage, becoming the first sitting president in U.S. history to do so. By voicing his support for the LGBT community and signing what is known as the LGBT Executive Order, Pres. Obama was able push the LGBT movement further along during his Presidency. Mr. Trump and his administration can do the same thing to help people with disabilities by advocating for them during his White House tenure in the same capacity as Pres. Obama did for the LGBT community. It’s estimated by the year 2020 (the next election cycle) there will be 78.7 million disabled people in the United States. When we juxtapose that figure by the slim margin of victory by Donald Trump this past election, the next election could possibly be decided by people with disabilities.
Roosevelt Mitchell III is an Award Winning Educator and Author of “Diary of a Disability Scholar.”