People with disabilities make up almost a quarter of the U.S. population, but so far in the Democratic presidential debates, disability hasn’t been addressed — or even mentioned. On Wednesday, however, Andrew Yang became the first presidential candidate to bring up the topic in the debate arena, giving a shoutout to his autistic son, while highlighting the important “work” parents of kids on the spectrum do.
Yang’s mention of his autistic son was brief and it wasn’t in relation to his disability platform directly. When asked why he thinks polls showing Joe Biden has the best chance of beating Donald Trump during the presidential election are wrong, Yang gave a shout out to his wife’s role as a caretaker for their sons. He said, according to a transcript from the Washington Post:
The problem is that so many people feel like the economy has left them behind. What we have to do is we have to say look, there’s record high GDP in stock market prices, you know what else they’re at record high is? Suicides, drug overdoses, depression, anxiety. It’s gotten so bad that American life expectancy had declined for the last three years.
And I like to talk about my wife who is at home with our two boys right now, one of whom is autistic. What is her work count at in today’s economy. Zero and we know that’s the opposite of the truth. We know that her work is amongst the most challenging and vital.
The way we win this election as we redefine economic progress to include all the things that matter to the people in Michigan and all of us like our own heath, our well being, our mental health, our clean air and clean water, how are kids are doing.
— Andrew Yang (@AndrewYang) June 17, 2019
Yang includes advocacy for early autism intervention services as part of his platform, sharing on his website he wants to “destigmatize autism and related neurological profiles as commonplace and distinct.” This includes increasing funding to help autistic kids access the support they need sooner, though the actually autistic community has pointed out his campaign doesn’t include resources for autistic adults.
“One of my boys is on the autism spectrum — I know how invaluable resources and intervention can be, particularly if adopted early on,” Yang wrote on his website. “Families struggle with this in very personal ways. As a country, we should provide ample resources to parents to be able to intervene to support the development of children with autism or who are exceptional in other ways. These children have something unique to offer.”
Disability, health and mental health have come up for most 2020 presidential candidates in other areas of their campaigns. To celebrate the 29th anniversary of the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990 (ADA) on July 26, for example, many Democratic hopefuls tweeted their support for the landmark legislation.
“Growing up with a stutter, my parents taught me from a young age that being different is no barrier to success,” presidential candidate Biden tweeted. “Instead, the barrier is far too often our laws, our institutions, and our culture. The ADA began to change all of that.”
Growing up with a stutter, my parents taught me from a young age that being different is no barrier to success. Instead, the barrier is far too often our laws, our institutions, and our culture. The ADA began to change all of that.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) July 27, 2019
Others, including Yang, include disability- or health-related topics as part of their platform. Yet disability hasn’t come up in the Democratic debates, and Yang’s brief mention of autism, while welcome, is only one step toward a more inclusive political landscape.