Palin's Pledge to Special Needs Community Raises Questions

At this year's Republican National Convention, vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, whose infant son has Down syndrome, promised families of children with special needs that they would "have a friend and advocate in the White House."

Palin's statement has raised questions about her sincerity, especially given her limited record on disability issues, and created a divide within the special needs community, according to a recent New York Times article.

"[T]he disabled have not been a centerpiece of Ms. Palin'™s 20-months in office or any of her campaigns for office," the article notes. Although as governor of Alaska Palin signed legislation that would increase funding of programs serving special needs children, she had no hand in developing the legislation. Alaska also is the subject of two lawsuits that allege inadequate services and financing for children with special needs, particularly those with autism. And, according to state documents, Palin cut the state'™s Special Olympics budget in half.

Palin's running mate at the top of the ticket, Sen. John McCain, does not support legislation that would commit federal money to help states move people with special needs out of institutions and into the community, nor does he support a slight reduction of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy in order to increase funds available for enforcement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA requires public schools to offer educational services to children with special needs or pay for services in nonpublic school settings. The Act has been woefully underfunded since its passage in 1975. McCain also has been a proponent of school vouchers, which many advocates for children with special needs have denounced as siphoning public money from special education programs.

The article points out that some advocates are willing to take Palin at her word that she would advocate for children with special needs, but others question what role, if any, she will be given in regards to special needs in a McCain administration. "[T]he governor offered no details, and Maria Comella, her spokeswoman, would not elaborate on what Ms. Palin would seek to accomplish for disabled children as vice president," the article states.

But the article makes clear that for many parents of children with special needs, even being mentioned by a major candidate at a convention represents a moment of enormous satisfaction. Former President George H.W. Bush was the last candidate to directly address individuals with special needs during a party nominating convention when he endorsed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1988.

To read the Times article, click here.

For a summary of where the candidates stand on issues affecting the special needs community, click here. Article Last Modified: 09/15/2008