WHAT BIDEN’S PRESIDENCY MEANS FOR THE DISABLED
When we decided to write for Middle Wisconsin, our intention was to represent a demographic that is often underrepresented: people with disabilities. As a woman with multiple sclerosis (MS) and a man who has been visually impaired since birth, we have experienced things that many able-bodied people haven’t. We also have a lot in common with many able-bodied people. Like any person, we want to live fulfilling lives.
The two of us have been together for nearly fifteen years. We love one another and wanted to get married years ago, but marriage isn’t really a possibility for people with disabilities who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. It doesn’t matter if both partners are low income, or even if both have disabilities, benefits still get reduced upon getting married.
Joe Biden is the first President-elect to take on the marriage penalty that prevents people with disabilities from getting married. He is the first to promise SSI beneficiaries that their income will be raised to at least 100% of the federal poverty rate. Under Biden’s leadership, SSI beneficiaries will be able to establish savings accounts without penalty, and there will be increased access to ABLE accounts (tax-advantaged savings accounts for people with disabilities).
The right to marry, to live where you want, to establish savings… these were rights that so many people with disabilities simply have not had. As people with disabilities, our rights, our needs, were generally ignored by those seeking public office. People with disabilities are too often out of sight and out of mind, but Joe Biden sees us. He is an empathetic man.
The Republicans may still wind up with the majority in the U.S. Senate, and President Biden likely will not be able to achieve all of his goals, but having a leader who sees the disabled, who prioritizes our plight, that is a victory for us.
Everyone should care about people with disabilities. The Social Security Administration (SSA) states that more than one in four Americans will become disabled before they reach retirement age. This figure is based on hard data.
So many people don’t want to consider that they could become disabled. Seeing people with disabilities forces them to consider this; it forces them to empathize. That is all the more reason why we should be seen and heard.
To know that a man who makes fun of people with disabilities will no longer be president gives us joy. To know that our country’s leadership will be in the hands of a man and a woman who understand that healthcare needs to be affordable and available to all Americans gives us peace of mind. To know that Social Security and Medicare will endure gives us reassurance. To know that our lives will not be valued less because we live with disabilities is everything.
During a pandemic where medical rationing had become the norm due to the inaction coming from this country’s leadership, people with disabilities faced the very real fear that if they got sick with COVID, they might not receive care if there was not enough medical equipment to treat everyone. Medical professionals were faced with determining who would be most likely to survive and whose lives mattered most, a position most would rather not be in, and something that is highly subjective.
Many of us who rely on treatment that compromises our immune systems, all while halting further progression of disability, have had to make difficult decisions. No one should have to make the decision between loss of mobility and loss of life, but that is a situation that our household has been faced with. We are hopeful that Biden’s victory marks a turning point, one where politicizing science becomes a thing of the past.
This nation has overcome all sorts of hardships. We overcame pandemics, economic recessions, wars, and the Great Depression through unification. We can overcome COVID, and until there is a vaccine, until there is life saving treatment available to everyone who gets sick with COVID, we can unite to stay safe and mitigate the spread of this deadly virus.
We must make common sense something we have in common again. We can achieve this through proper use of face masks, social distancing, good hand hygiene, and avoiding large gatherings. We should do this because we care about others and ourselves.