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"Does Mitt Romney Have a Disability Policy?"

Written By:

Mike Reynolds

When I was checking the news on a Sunday morning in early August, an item on the BBC News mobile site piqued my interest. Clint Eastwood had attended an event that raised $2 million for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. Several news sources remarked that the two were close friends. I thought it odd that Romney would embrace a person who is seen by many in the disability rights movement as the embodiment of opposition to disability rights, his face gracing the cover of Ragged Edge editor Mary Johnson's book, Make Them Go Away: Clint Eastwood, Christopher Reeve, and the Case Against Disability Rights. Why would Romney stand with someone who stands against that most bipartisan of laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), especially given that Romney's wife, Ann, has lived with multiple sclerosis (MS) for years?


In 1997, Eastwood was sued by a disabled woman in a high-profile case involving accessibility violations at his resort in California. In 2000, Eastwood was invited to Congress by Rep. 
Mark Foley (R-Fla.) to speak in favor of the ADA Notification Act. Unlike other civil rights legislation, which puts the burden on the discriminating party to comply with the law, the ADA Notification Act, introduced by Foley, put the burden of compliance on those seeking redress: The ADA Notification Act required that a business that violated the ADA receive notification by certified mail of exactly how it had violated the ADA and allowed the business a 90-day grace period to address the violation before the business could be sued. The ADA Notification Act never passed, Foley resigned amid a sex scandal, and Eastwood's next film, Million Dollar Baby, focused on the "mercy killing" of a disabled, non-terminally ill female boxer. The film received a litany of criticism from disability activists and many in the media but was a box-office smash and the darling of Hollywood critics, winning multiple Oscars, including Movie of the Year.


When Romney was governor of Massachusetts, Ann Romney was noted for her MS advocacy work. From 2004 to 2007, she served on the board of trustees of the greater New England chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Mrs. Romney is currently continuing her advocacy work (although she did not mention having MS in her speech at the Republican National Convention). Despite Mrs. Romney's efforts, and despite the fact that a first lady would be in an excellent position to advocate for MS patients, the National MS Society and other disability organizations do not support Romney's bid for president because of his promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or "Obamacare." Romney has promised to repeal the ACA although, as President Obama has stated on numerous occasions, it is based on a law Romney passed while governor of Massachusetts. Many of the provisions in the ACA are essential for people with MS; for example, the law would end lifetime limits on insurance coverage, which a person with MS could run through quickly.


The November election will not just decide the Presidency, and often candidates weigh in on the other issues of the day. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts – Romney's former stomping ground – is embroiled in a controversial referendum regarding assisted suicide, an issue of great importance for many PWDs. Romney has not come out against assisted suicide, although he identifies as pro-life. Most people who identify as pro-life are against assisted suicide. Then again, wasn't Romney pro-choice in his 1994 Senate race against Sen. Ted Kennedy?


Romney's problems for disabled voters were heavily compounded with his choice of Paul Ryan for vice president. Ryan is a conservative Republican whose deficit-cutting strategies would severely harm Medicare. Ryan's proposed Medicare plan relies on vouchers to care for the country's senior and disabled populations, potentially shifting more of the costs of care onto the patients.


Romney does not mention people with disabilities (except for a brief reference to veterans) on his official website, although he devotes a lot of space to his plans to repeal the ACA. When he details his plans to change Medicare and Social Security, he states that his proposed plan will affect neither senior citizens who are current beneficiaries of these programs nor future beneficiaries over 55. He makes no mention of how his plan will affect younger disabled people who receive Medicare and Social Security. He also does not touch on his plans to convert Medicaid into block grants to the states, which could reduce overall Medicaid funding and have serious consequences for both PWDs and senior citizens. 

Does Romney have an official disability policy? Perhaps not, but I believe his actions speak for themselves. It may just be people with disabilities – who cross every age, class and ethnic line to form the largest minority in the United States – who decide the election. Only time will tell.

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