President Obama’s Speech: A Disability Perspective

Obama 6a00d83451be5969e2010536a7b4ae970c[1] FDR and Fala

At times Tuesday night, Mr. Obama was genuinely inspiring with a vision for the country to move forward with confidence and sense of responsibility. Americans need to hear a lot more like that from him. NYTimes.

I tuned in to President Obama’s speech last night with my guide dog Nira by my side. (In the photo above you can see Nira posing with a stuffed replica of F.D.R.’s dog Fala.) As I listened to the President argue both for leaner government and intelligent domestic spending I felt like calling him up. In fact I wanted the STOTU to be a live “call in” show. This is because I feel that my own story—my personal journey—reflects the stories of tens of thousands of Americans who have disabilities. Let’s call it a singular story: we got on our feet and became employed (read “became tax payers”) because government sponsored programs helped us get the tools and know how to become fully engaged citizens. I feel as though I should repeat that but I won’t. Not now. Here is what I would have said to the President—and because the format would be like one of those electronic town hall meetings everyone would have been able to hear it:


“Mr. President, as you discuss our nation’s future I would like to point out that people with disabilities are properly part of that future. I say this because in the coming months there will be tremendous pressure to cancel or reduce programs that help people with disabilities in these United States. We have already seen many such efforts from coast to coast.”


“I am the product of services for people with disabilities. I use the Talking Books program of the Library of Congress. I have received training and support in the use of technology from the New York State Commission for the Blind. I have been unemployed and have lived in Section 8 housing and have received food stamps and social security disability payments. Today I am a full professor at The University of Iowa. I dare say that even cursory scrutiny of my financial history will show that I’ve paid back to the government more than I’ve received.”


“Now is not the time to pull back from programs that educate and rehabilitate our people. Now is not the time to take books away from the blind as Governor Christie of New Jersey has tried to do. Now is not the time to eliminate support for in-home care and personal attendants. I could of course go on and on. Mr. President our nation must look after its own people.”


“Mr. President, the Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer once wrote:


“Jesus held up a coin

with Tiberius in profile

a profile without love

power in circulation.”


“Mr. President, what will power become in our country? I will argue that this is the central question of our moment.”




0 thoughts on “President Obama’s Speech: A Disability Perspective

  1. SK, you are a wonderful, albeit anecdotal, tax-paying example of the economic benefit of investing in the potential of people with disabilities. From a purely economic perspective, taxpayers also need statistical evidence of an overall cost-benefit in funding rehab programs to promote these programs’ continued support.
    Moreover though, you are a voice that provides critical substance to the ongoing national dialogue about who we are as a nation — a voice that might not have been been heard without initial public support and encouragement. Perhaps it is intangible benefits such as this, more difficult to quantify, but of no less importance, that also should be considered as we debate the relative necessity of helping a broader spectrum of citizens to obtain the skills that are needed to actively participate in the workings of our democracy.


  2. Thank you Steve! I can relate to your feelings about this! And consider myself lucky I was born after the ADA was passed.
    Sincerely: Ken Mannion.


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