Speech Issues & the 2016 Campaign: Autism
By Tamer Abouras
Regardless of your profession, there’s always something exciting about hearing a politician reference what you do in a speech — to a point. When they’re on the campaign trail, it’s usually nothing but positives: tax breaks, more jobs, student loan forgiveness, etc. If and when they are elected, the addresses and policy announcements can be a little less galvanizing — few cheer for regulations.
For speech-language pathologists, it’s heartening to see politicians respond to issues the field is passionate about, because it’s a clear sign that voices are being heard and messages are being communicated. And in the world of speech, that often means they’re being sent out on someone else’s behalf.
This all comes in reference to Hillary Clinton’s release last week of what David M. Perry, an associate professor of history at Dominican University in Illinois, called “ … the most detailed policy document on autism in U.S. presidential election history.” A fellow ADVANCE staff member covered it for the ADVANCE Outlook: OT blog just last week.
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Writing for CNN, Perry said, “Her ‘Plan to Support Children, Youth, and Adults Living with Autism and their Families’ (document) is notable for its focus on adults and for the complete absence of stigmatizing words such as ‘cure’ or ‘epidemic.’"
Perry’s CNN piece is possibly too effusive about Clinton’s policy proposal — its applause of the language is basically a compliment for its having been published in 2016 and not 2008, when then-Senator Barack Obama’s disability policy committee (the first of its kind in presidential history) put out a document that’s language reflected the norms and understanding of its time, using several instances of “causes,” “treatments” and “cures.”
Still, praise aside, Perry’s not the only one giving Clinton’s document high marks. Sara Luterman, editor of NOS Magazine and an autistic activist said, "If even half of the things on Hillary Clinton's plan happen, I'd be extremely pleased."
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Some of the thrust of Perry’s argument — not only that the former First Lady and Secretary of State’s proposal is great, but also that it also fills a vacuum left by the other presidential candidates — is somewhat disingenuous.
He even cites Lauren Appelbaum, communications director of RespectAbility, a nonprofit focused on empowering people with disabilities, later in his article. Just last week she wrote, "What is most remarkable is that Clinton is just one of numerous presidential candidates to be discussing disability issues. In comparison, during the 2012 cycle, the word ‘disability’ was very rarely even uttered. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has been talking about autism since his announcement video. Ohio Gov. John Kasich often gets emotional when talking about the subject."
Perry counters that he’d like to see more documents like Clinton’s.
“I know many disabled Republicans, including plenty of autistic people. None of them plans to vote for Hillary Clinton. But they are going to vote, and the Republican candidate who takes a stand on their issues is likely to get their attention.”
He’s right, and with the attention they seem to be paying to these issues even in their rhetoric, proposals of their own should be expected right around the corner. And rest assured, SLPs, we’ll cover them here at ADVANCE when they do.
In the meantime, what do you think of the Clinton plan, (the full text of which can be accessed at tinyurl.com/zvuo3cf)? Let us know in the comments below.