Of course, there are more problems that need fixing than can be covered in one column. My aim here is to focus on issues concerning people with disabilities.
All issues, arguably, have an effect on people with disabilities, as all of us are part of the same "American people." But here are a few particularly relevant areas to think about before casting your vote:
Health care: There was a time when a wonderful health care plan was constructed and presented to our congressional leaders. It would have, among other things, put us on the same page with other civilized countries. We need leaders who recognize that every human being deserves to receive the medical care they need and affordable medications. Many people who have disabilities or are elderly depend on Medicare and Medicaid, systems that often leave gaps and sometimes force people to make difficult choices.
What would your answer be, for example, if you had to ask yourself: Do I get married or keep my Medicaid benefits that provide the daily personal care I need to survive? Do I take a job and fulfill my dream of having satisfying employment for an honest wage or keep my Medicare benefits? You get the idea.
Then there's employment itself. Despite passage of impressive (and threatened) legislation such as the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, the United States still sports a deplorable 70 percent unemployment rate among its citizens with disabilities.
As baby boomers age and acquire disabilities and as veterans from Iraq return with disabilities as mementos of war, the need for job training programs and increased awareness among hiring entities are desperate needs that are only going to increase.
Transportation: Not to bring up another sour grapes memory, but we had an opportunity to launch a 21st century mass transit system in this city a few years ago but apparently decided it wasn't nearly as important as two stadiums. If those aging baby boomers and returning disabled veterans are going to get to the jobs my optimism sees them landing, they'll need reliable transportation to get there.
Communication and entertainment: The Internet has been a truly amazing equalizer for people with disabilities, but it's still pretty much a toss-up and surprise as to which web sites will be accessible when you need to go there. Government entities are required to follow Web accessibility guidelines, but chance, good business sense or losing litigation are the deciding factors for too many others. The commitment to have all television programs accompanied by closed captioning has recently been weakened by the Federal Communications Commission. The commitment to providing video description for people with visual impairments has long lagged far behind.
Then there's life and death. While my stance on these might seem inconsistent with other views, the sacredness of life and death -- and protecting them solidly with legislation -- are high rankers on the disability agenda. If we abort babies because they might be less than perfect or place a lower value on the life of the hospitalized person who has serious (or sometimes not so serious) disabilities, we're headed right down the slippery slope that launched the Holocaust.
Every human life has equal value. It's no simple matter, but we need legislators who care about employing, educating, housing and transporting people with disabilities as well as providing everyone with health care and an equal opportunity to be alive.
Sadly, a deplorable minority within the country's largest minority -- i.e., people with disabilities -- has turned out to vote in past elections. Now that polling places are required to be physically accessible and every polling place is required to have at least one accessible voting machine, there is less reason than ever for anyone to stay home Nov. 7.
Three weeks is plenty of time to inform yourself and your neighbors, co-workers, family and friends of the policies maintained by this election's candidates. The hard-won legislation protecting the civil rights of people with disabilities are not cast in stone. If you don't take the time to cast your vote, you could easily be part of the problem, not the solution, as items on the disability agenda slide beneath the radar screen.
So, to quote that beloved pundit once more, "Vote as if your life depends on it -- because it does."
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