Dear Presidential Candidates, My Vote Counts

In Columns, Just My Bellybutton, Opinion by Nathasha Alvarez

Photo of a ow of plants in a garden.

It will be over by tomorrow. We will know the results of our presidential election. No more ads. No more pandering to certain groups with promises of a better future.  Can’t wait, right? If you think about it, how would we, the physically disabled community, know how it felt to have our vote courted when neither candidate approached us the way they approached Latinos, women, and other minorities?

Trust me. I am a Latina. Over the telephone, on the Internet, my disability doesn’t show but somehow because my last name is Alvarez, the Latina in me has captured the attention of both presidential candidates. When their campaign volunteers call me to ask for my vote, I ask them, what is your candidate’s agenda for the physically disabled community? That question pretty much shuts them up.

You know why? They don’t have an answer. So far, no one does. Not even my friends on each side of the political spectrum can answer that question.

It’s a shame. There are millions of physically disabled people whose vote should be courted. Not only do we have the same concerns about the economy, health care, and education like everyone else but we have our own set of interests. We want to know about access to transportation, housing affordability, and job opportunities that will enable more people with physical disability to lead a more independent life.

I keep hoping that the president will call me one day to ask me for advice.

If SHE did ask, I say SHE because I think a female president would be more open to asking for my opinion than a male one, then I would tell her the following:

  1. Start with a strong educational program for people with disabilities. My focus is on people with physical disabilities because that’s what I know best. As a teacher, I see too many other teachers giving physically disabled students another crutch to lean on rather than a strong educational foundation. There’s nothing wrong with our mind. Don’t lower the educational standards on a physically disabled student’s life.
  2. If a person’s educational background is solid, earning a post secondary educational degree should be achievable. Reality is that not all people with physical disabilities can go to school full time and take on a part time job. Therefore, available academic scholarships for people with physically disabled people should be increased. These scholarships should apply to technical and vocational programs as well. The goal is to help people with physical disabilities more independent. Either way, make us work for those awesome grades. We can rise to the challenge. Isn’t it better to help us become independent at this stage than totally dependent on the government for the rest of our lives?
  3.  Once we have earned our college degree or vocational certificate, we are ready to earn a living. But wait! It’s not that easy for people like us. Our physical disability usually comes with extra expenses that others don’t encounter. There are those extra pesky medical expenses, transportation issues, accessible and affordable housing, and for some personal care assistance. Therefore, I suggest you don’t cut us off so quickly the minute we get our first check.

I remember when I first started out as a substitute teacher. It wasn’t a steady job. But the minute the government got a whiff of my $75 per day paycheck, they wanted their money back. It got to the point where it would be financially better if I didn’t work. The only reason I continued to work as a substitute teacher was because there was hope that I would get a permanent position one day. But that’s not the case for everyone.

Wouldn’t it be better for our society as a whole if our government gave realistic expectations about how much we could earn before dropping the axe on us?

  1. It wasn’t just the monthly check from the government that got cut but also the medical coverage. Thankfully, my employer’s insurance covered me but not all people with physical disabilities have that same fortune. Many of us were born with a physical disability. Many insurance companies don’t cover people with pre existing conditions. So why should we look for a job when we can lose another benefit? Instead, the government should continue to cover people with physical disabilities until an insurance company will cover them while they work full time.
  2. Housing is another problem. I didn’t have a place to live for about four months this past year. No one could understand why. I am after all a teacher. I earn $42,000 per year. Yet, I couldn’t remain in the same complex where I had lived for almost 20 years because my income wasn’t high enough. When I went to find a place that I could afford, it wasn’t accessible. It’s not that easy. There should be a housing program to help people with physical disabilities like me who are somewhere in limbo between too poor and not poor enough.
  3. Transportation is vitally important. I’m not saying that we should each receive a Mercedes from the government. I’m asking for affordable, reliable and safe transportation services. You can’t expect us to get a job if our transportation is not there.
  4. Many people with physical disabilities need a personal care attendant. This should be a boon for many people who can work as a PCA while ensuring that the disabled person leads an independent life. What’s better for our society? Is it better to stay in a home and live 100% off of the government or to have a PCA in order to be a productive member of society?

Many of us can work from home but need a PCA for our personal care. Once again, which choice is better for our society? 100% reliance on the government or a little bit of help here and there?

I’m sure I have left out many other realistic solutions. I hope you, the reader, can add them in the comment section. Who knows? Maybe one day in the near future, our votes will be as important as all of the other minorities.