Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Obama on kids with disabilities

First, several disclaimers. It must be remembered that the writer below works for Obama. Moreover, from where I sit at least, Obama holds some odious views - although who knows, Mikhail Gorbachev didn't get to be General Secretary of the Communist Party by professing the views he later proved to hold. And I must admit that my main reason for favoring Obama over McCain is my conservative impulse: I know things can be worse and probably will be, and having adults in charge seems less rash than the Katrina boys for another four years, led by an increasingly senile and reckless old man who will probably give place to Sarah Palin as President.

But knowing on my hide how school districts flout the law to the ruin of kids, especially my own, the thought that a President Obama might actually enforce it sounds good to me! It looks like I'll soon have to bring my case to the US Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), and the Office of Civil Rights. So I care who will be in charge of the US Dept. of Education in January.

From Barack Obama's Chief Counsel and Friend:


by Mike Strautmanis

My son Jori has a disability. He is on the Autism Spectrum. Jori is
a daily gift to our family, but we face challenges. Fortunately,
Jori has a friend named Barack Obama. Literally. Barack has watched
Jori grow up. He stands by Jori, his mother, and me as we struggle
with the barriers society places in the way of people with
disabilities. Every American with a disability, or who has a loved
one with a disability, should be fortunate enough to have a friend ---
or even a President --- like Barack Obama.

I want our country to provide support to families like mine --- the
families who face the practical, financial, and emotional challenges
of a loved one with a disability. Jori has taught Barack about these
challenges. These days, I work on the Obama-Biden campaign after
serving on Barack's Senate staff as his Chief Counsel since he
arrived in Washington. But long before that, Barack and I were
friends. He and Michelle have been a big part of our family's life
and a great help to my wife and me. To them, Jori is not a
statistic; he's a kid they see around town or at the office. They see
how our family, which has more advantages than many, struggles to
help Jori to get the care he needs, which is sometimes more than a
loving family can provide, and the education he deserves, but few
public schools have the resources to deliver.

When Barack gives a friendly hello to Jori, he shows his kindness;
when he accommodates my schedule to enable me to be a fully engaged
parent, he shows that he understands what families like ours go
through. He understands that as a leader, he has an obligation to
help us to keep all of America's promises to our loved ones and give
us the tools we need as parents to ensure that our children won't be

As President, Barack will begin by creating a new White House post:
Assistant to the President for Disability Policy. He will press
Congress to pass the CLASS Act and the Community Choice Act to help
Americans with disabilities to choose to live independently in the
community and to help them pay for the direct care workers, assistive
technology and other tools that make independent, community-based
living possible. For our children, Barack will continue his fight
for full funding of IDEA so that students with disabilities are
assured of a free appropriate public education. Barack agrees that
funding IDEA at less than half its authorized level is a disgrace,
but he also understands that merely wringing more money out of
Congress is not enough. His Secretary of Education will fully
implement and enforce IDEA. Local school districts' foot-dragging
and resistance to IDEA, denying teachers what they need to serve kids
with disabilities in the most inclusive possible setting, will no
longer be tolerated.

It's easy for me to say that my friend Barack will do these things,
but this isn't just friendship talking. I know he will do the right
thing, for two reasons. First, there is his record: As an Illinois
state senator Barack Obama sponsored legislation that created an
autism spectrum diagnosis program, designed to implement evidence-
based best practices. Barack worked with Illinois families to build
the Easter Seals academic programs that prepare students for
independent living. Moreover, Barack helped pass Illinois' mental
health parity law as a State Senator. Barack understands that we
need universal screening, education and early intervention strategies
for all children, but especially children with disabilities. That's
why he intends to provide $10 billion per year in funding for
developmental programs serving children between birth and age five.
Barack has long supported the Family and Medical Leave Act; as
President, he will expand it and help the states create paid leave
systems to ease the tough choices that are faced every day by working
families providing support to a disabled member.

But there is a second reason that I have faith that a President Obama
will fight for people with disabilities, and one that I find more
compelling: I have seen Barack Obama with my son and other people
with disabilities. I have seen how he puts his arm on Jori's
shoulder, how he smiles at Jori and speaks to him as the person that
he is. I see his understanding that Jori and every other American
with a disability is a fellow child of God with potential worth
developing and dignity worth protecting. I see this and I know that
Barack understands why I would do anything to secure real opportunity
for that precious child, why any parent in my place would do the
same. I see that Barack Obama comprehends all of that, and he wants
to help us get there. And I know that if we can help Barack Obama to
get to the White House, he will do more than any President ever has
done to help those of us who love and care for loved ones with
disabilities to achieve everything they can achieve. I know this
man. So does Jori. And he gives us hope.


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