President Trump may have successfully read his teleprompter during his address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday, but his attempt to assuage members of the disability community may have fallen flat.
After mocking a disabled reporter during his presidential campaign (twice), which, according to one poll, people considered one of the most inexcusable acts over the course of his entire campaign, Trump has angered some disability advocates by using a woman with a disability, Megan Crowley, as a vehicle to justify his stance on loosening regulation on the Food and Drug Administration. Crowley who had the rare illness Pompe disease, was saved by an innovative treatment created by a company her father launched in 1999.
“Megan’s story” Trump declared, “is about the unbounded power of a father’s love for a daughter. “But our slow and burdensome approval process at the Food and Drug Administration keeps too many advances, like the one that saved Megan's life, from reaching those in need.”
The Trump administration’s decision to use Crowley as a poster child to push FDA deregulation did not sit well with those in the disability community.
“This is not the moment to use disability as a prop,” Kate Meuser, who has cerebral palsy and works in marketing in Washington, DC, told Vox. “[Megan’s] father founded a company to find a cure. Many people don’t have that luxury.”
Though Meuser recognized Trump’s probable intention to “make a point,” she said she is more concerned about the future of the Affordable Care Act, since she, like many others living with disabilities, depends on the program. Right now she is insured through her employer, but she worries about what would happen if she were to lose her job. “If I’m being honest, I’m scared,” she said. “My condition has no cure. ... I feel like my life is not considered and that it is in limbo.”
Meuser is not alone. Many people with disabilities are worried about losing indispensable and basic health care access and protections under the Trump administration. For instance, before the ACA, having a disability was a preexisting condition that could hurt people’s ability to obtain affordable health care. Though Trump has shown support for keeping this particular provision, nothing guarantees it will be preserved. If Trump’s plan to change Medicaid is approved, it would mean that thousands of people with disabilities could be displaced from their communities and would be forced into nursing homes or hospitals if they can’t afford things like a wheelchair or assistive technology that allows them to live in their residence.
Ted Jackson, the former Democratic National Committee’s director of disability community engagement, said he was unimpressed by Trump’s address Tuesday night. “It’s always good to see disability issues discussed in the nation’s capital. But it’s hard to stomach when it comes from a president who has yet to apologize to our community for mocking a disabled reporter” he told me. “Americans with disabilities want an equal education, access to real jobs, and to be included like anyone else — not to be used as an excuse to limit regulations meant to protect people.”
Of course the visibility of people with disability like Crowley matters, but it unfortunately loses its meaning when Trump’s proposal will likely do little besides pay lip service to both people with disabilities and able-bodied people. “Trump’s track record leaves me wondering if people with disabilities were merely a prop in his speech, intended to be nothing more than inspiration porn for others,” Jackson added.
In an attempt to possibly correct his callous record on disability in the past, Trump’s use of Crowley’s story may have further illustrated his perspective on outdated views on disability. He never addressed the community directly during his campaign and would often instead refer to people with disabilities as receivers of his (questionable) charity donations as opposed to contributing members of society. He also never presented a plan for disability rights on his campaign website or responded to a campaign questionnaire from the political disability rights organization RespectAbility, despite other Republican candidates such as John Kasich doing their due diligence.
People living with a disability like Meuser said Trump could make inroads if he “actually acknowledged disability as a minority group” and addressed the specific issues they deal with in terms of health care and job access. One in five people who are disabled are currently living in poverty, and the unemployment rate is twice as high as it is for non-disabled Americans. There are plenty of ways Trump could address these urgent problems within the disability community, if he were actually interested in fixing them.