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Politics and Developmental Disabilities

September 6, 2017

The regrettable state of politics in our nation is a concern for all of us. Unfortunately, many people do not take the actions, or lack of action, by elected officials seriously – until it suddenly affects them personally. But if we allow ourselves to step back and look at the bigger picture, we can see that political decisions impact all of our lives in profound ways.

This is particularly true for citizens with developmental disabilities who rely on the government to act in their best interest regarding their health and safety.

The level of responsibility that elected officials have to protect the welfare of those who are at risk cannot be overstated. When politicians act irresponsibly it is typically those who are vulnerable that suffer the most.

Obviously, it is easy to do the right thing when there is plenty of money. Funding the vital programs that make a difference to people who depend on them to maintain quality of life is not a challenge.

But it becomes a far different matter when there are difficult choices that must be made because there are fewer dollars to go around. But these are the decisions that must be made by the men and women who willingly seek to hold office during both good times and bad.

Although the government rarely embraces budgetary responsibility, we should, at the very least, be able to expect those who represent us to spend the funds available in the most thoughtful, beneficial way.

Budget constraints are never easy. Hard choices have to be made. But there must be careful consideration given to financial cutbacks that are aimed at those who too often do not have a political voice to express their concern and their outrage.

The needs of an individual with a developmental disability should receive the same attention as those of any other person. But instead, they often become faceless collateral damage in the eyes of some legislators who are not concerned about the suffering that results from poor planning and mismanagement. The fact that innocent lives are adversely affected in serious ways does not move them. Their dispassionate approach to meeting basic human needs is disturbing, and, in many ways, their innate sense of right and wrong is compromised, leaving them with the inability to feel empathy for those who are at risk.

To target a group because they might be less likely to understand what is happening or because they struggle to stand up for themselves is immoral at the least and actually cruel in many cases. That is why those of us who care about people with intellectual challenges must be willing to advocate on their behalf.

Cutting funding for the programs that individuals with developmental disabilities depend on, demonstrates a clear lack of compassion, a possible lack of character and a complete lack of knowledge regarding the long struggle that these men and women have waged to lead fulfilling and rewarding lives.

To have this progress stopped and reversed is unacceptable. There can be no justifiable explanation for hurting those who innocently trust political leaders to provide them with the support they require.

Unfortunately, some elected officials view constituents with developmental disabilities as less important than other citizens. Some of them believe that people with intellectual challenges are not likely to follow the issues or to vote. Therefore, they are not considered to be a critical part of their political base.

But even if those assumptions are true – it doesn’t matter.

People with developmental disabilities are equal citizens under the law, and they deserve complete representation, just like anyone else.

When a person is voted into political office there is a trust placed in that individual that they will look after the rights and concerns of all their constituents. When that faith is not kept, the trust is broken. Once that occurs, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to repair. When a politician demonstrates their willingness to take advantage of those who do not have the ability or resources to defend their rights, we move in a perilous direction that can do irrevocable harm to society.

That is why it is imperative that elected officials govern with a sense of fairness that is guided by human decency. They have an obligation to embrace change in a way that does not leave some behind. They must look to the future while respecting the efforts made in the past by groups fighting against injustice.

If a political figure cannot meet that criteria they do not deserve to continue to hold office.

Elected officials must understand that they have an opportunity that few have. They have the ability to create laws that govern the lives of others. They can affect change, both positive and negative, with their votes on legislation. They can improve everything from living conditions to educational opportunities. They can ensure that people have adequate and affordable health care.

The men and women who hold political office, wield power that people with developmental disabilities do not possess. Therefore they can have a profound effect on the lives of individuals who are depending on them to make fair decisions. This is a responsibility that must be taken seriously. It is their duty to protect those in society who can be exploited or taken advantage of. To do otherwise is a form of neglect that cannot be tolerated.

In our political system, every person has the same rights. Every person deserves to be heard and understood. Every person deserves representation. Every person is equal.

That means that people who are vulnerable cannot be pushed aside just because it is inconvenient to make the effort to assist them. They cannot be marginalized because it requires funding to give them the support they require to live a rewarding life.

Whether at the state or federal level, the men and women we elect to serve us have the obligation to do exactly that. A political life should be one of service, particularly to those who need assistance so they can participate fully in society.

Governing is not about passing laws that benefit a particular special interest. It’s not about catering to campaign contributors. It’s not about giving preferential treatment to those who lead lives of privilege and prestige.

Governing is about ensuring people’s safety and well-being in all demographics. It’s about creating the opportunities that allow people to move forward with their lives. It’s about making a positive difference for those who entrusted you with power.

Elected officials must treat all of the people they represent with dignity and respect – and that includes individuals with developmental disabilities.

Compassion should always come before cost.