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Thursday, November 06, 2008

A thank you letter to Obama

A thank you letter to share.

Dear President Elect Barack Obama:

I wanted to convey a heartfelt THANK YOU to President elect Obama for making an entire class of excluded citizens visible in his acceptance speech last night: people with disabilities. THANK YOU for including the word "disabled" in your acceptance speech last night.

I am a Deaf US citizen who also has attention deficit disorder and a mild foot problem. So I, too, am an American with disabilities. This is the first time I can recall feeling included in a political campaign as a person with disabilities.
Historically, people with disabilities have been pushed to the margins, confined to our homes or worse, to institutions. This was partly because of who we are and partly because people simply did not prioritize our inclusion, even when it would be simple to do so. Then, because we were not allowed to be in the mainstream of society, people didn't see us and thus assumed we do not exist. So the issues and concerns with the most profound impact on our lives, our most basic freedoms, and even our day to day survival have been historically assumed to not matter.
We are among the largest minority groups in this country the World Health Organization estimates we comprise about 10% of the population. Yet people don't see us in their streets, in their homes, in their offices, in the policies that they draft, in the programs they run, or in their lives. In American society, and around the world, we are consistently invisibilized. Most politicians, most of the time, don't even mention us the way Obama did last night. We are so consistently excluded that even tokenism would be a step forward for us.

I voted for Obama yesterday morning for many reasons. But one important motivation for me was that he was the only candidate to provide a truly comprehensive disability rights platform . It is particularly unique and impressive in that it is one of the few acknowledgments by a politician that disability issues are not confined to social protection programs, or to services for veterans disabled in war, or to education services for so-called 'special needs' children.

All of these are important concerns also, but Obama's platform is a rare recognition that people with disabilities are not a monolithic group. Social protection programs are not the start and end of our needs; we are not all veterans; and we are not all children. We are mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, brothers and sisters, friends and confidantes, co-workers and professional colleagues, spouses and partners, neighbors, and even professional and athletic rivals. We are everyone. And our needs are, correspondingly, as complex as the needs of everyone else.

Above all, as with any other marginalized minority group, our needs include the need for human rights protections. This makes it particularly noteworthy that Obama was the only candidate to pledge to sign the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and encourage the Senate to ratify it.

Yet: when Obama referred to disabled (and non-disabled) people in his speech last night, I stopped breathing. Even with his disability platform in mind, I had not been prepared for this moment. Suddenly, one of the most overlooked group of Americans was acknowledged as a force in our own right. Suddenly, I felt visible.
I had to stop writing this letter twice because I kept stopping to weep. How powerful a thing it is, simply to be validated. Simply to have a president elect of the country acknowledge that we exist. How powerful a thing it is, to have a president elect of the country acknowledge us, not as a special class apart, but as a part of the mainstream of society. Exactly as we should be. Exactly where we belong.

Mr. Obama, you can expect more letters from me in the years to come. I am a person with many opinions and am not afraid to express them. In particular, I will be calling upon you to follow through on your pledge to sign the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). You can bet I will be calling you to account on your promises to Americans with disabilities!

But for now, just for today - thank you. Thank you for referring to Americans with disabilities in your acceptance speech on the evening of November 4, 2008. Just, thank you–for acknowledging us and for including us. Thank you.

Ms. Andrea Shettle, MSW

This is an open letter to Barack Obama. I am also sending it to the Barack Obama campaign via their web site. I hope other Deaf Americans, and Americans with disabilities in general, will join me in reaching out to Obama. Thank him for including us in his remarks last night. Remind him of his campaign promises to Americans with disabilities (Follow the link to download the 62 Kb PDF file, read it, and pick out an issue that speaks to you at your deepest level. Mention it in your letter.) Then thank him again for including us. Be sure to include the word 'disabilities' in both the subject line and in the first paragraph of your letter to ensure it catches the attention of staff devoted to disability-related issues. Follow this link to send an email to Obama via his website.

Even if you didnt vote for Obama yesterday he will be your president too. Democrats and Republicans may disagree with each other on a great many things, including who would have been a better president for Americans with disabilities. And regardless of political affiliation, we may also disagree on the most politically correct terminology for referring to ourselves. But I think we also have many concerns in common that are well worth crossing the ideological divide. No matter who we voted for, or what party we most commonly vote with, let's work together to ensure that we are increasingly included, and increasingly visible, in the mainstream of American politics and policies and public life. Let's work together to ensure that we are included in the mainstream of society, full stop. Send an email to Obama and let him know that Americans with disabilities are watching what he does.
If you're interested specifically in the CRPD - the first international, legally-binding human rights treaty to protect a wide range of human rights for people with disabilities around the world check out and consider joining them. Membership is free. Ratification of the CRPD is very much consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), with the bonus that it could help expand human rights protections into areas not currently covered in the ADA


Chris said...

Yes, when I heard Obama include those with disabilities in his victory speech, I was touched. It didn't feel like pandering. It felt like a true recognition that he will be speaking for that demographic as well.

Shelley said...

Yep - I agree - I was moved by his speech "in the forgotten conrners of the world" - although in the 'burbs of Sydney we were huddled around our plasma screens! What a great letter - thanks for posting it.

Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

Thank you to "Mauzy's Musings" for posting this letter, and thank you to the people who have left comments here. I'm the author of this letter. I'm glad to know that it touched a chord -- though I'm highly aware that the chord it touched was already reverberating from when Obama rung it.

I'm now trying to mobilize a campaign to persuade people with disabilities from across the United States and around the world to write their own emails to Obama and his team. By joining together with other letter writers, we can work together to ensure that Obama's staff is well aware that, one, we appreciate being included and, two, and more importantly, we will be watching to see that he follows through on all his campaign promises to people with disabilities. For example, he promises to sign the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which you might know is the first international, legally-binding human rights treaty to protect the rights of people with disabilities.

Mauzy (I hope it's okay if I call you Mauzy ... I'm trying to address the person behind the blog, not just the blog title! :-) Because, I know you're a person, not a blog! ) ... would you be willing to copy/paste the following text into your blog as well?

In particular, please note that this now has NEW INSTRUCTIONS for the best way to reach Obama's staff--email Kareem Dale, Obama’s National Disability Vote Director (at, WITH COPIES TO Anne Hayes, a volunteer on the Obama Disability Policy Committee (at

I would love to see you and your readers send your letters to Obama (via Kareem Dale and Anne Hayes) to join all the rest.