On Wednesday night, Leslie Templeton, MCAS ‘19, gave a presentation to the College Democrats of Boston College advocating for people with disabilities at BC and under the Trump administration.
Templeton began her presentation by describing her own experience living with an “invisible” disability. She has dyslexia, a learning disability that makes processing written words difficult and affects various other skills.
“A lot of people always question why I have certain accommodations, and they think they know what the disorder is,” said Templeton. “But disabilities like dyslexia are so vast and have so many different symptoms, it's hard to know how to accommodate someone’s needs. I’ve seen people questioned because of accommodations and even screamed at, ‘you don’t deserve this; your accommodation is unfair to me!’”
Templeton discussed how microaggressions affect people with disabilities. Even though someone might have good intentions, a comment such as “you are too smart to have a disability,” or assuming that a person who uses a wheelchair needs assistance opening doors is hurtful because it implies that having a disability makes someone inferior or incapable of functioning independently.
Other microaggressions directed at people with disabilities such as down syndrome or autism often say they are “so cute,” talking to them with a “baby voice,” and treating them like children, even though they are adults who want to be taken seriously.
As a student with a learning disability in the Honors program at BC, Templeton has outright been told by classmates that her disability does not exist, or that her treatment does not work, even though she has a medical diagnosis.
According to Templeton, one of the major challenges affecting students with disabilities at BC is the Eagle Escort system that transports people with temporary or permanent mobility issues to classes or health services.
Although there are generally about 50 students who need these services at a given time, there are currently only two Eagle Escort vans in use, one of which is wheelchair accessible. As a result, students have had to wait hours to be picked up.
The UGBC Students with Disabilities Council is currently working with the administration to resolve this issue, but the cost of increasing the number of vans is slowing the process.
According to Templeton, even though the needs of students with disabilities are protected by federal law, many students at BC and schools across the country might go without accommodations because they do not have a support system to help them navigate the process of accessing such benefits.
Templeton also described the national hurdles facing people with disabilities, which she said threatens to substantially undo progress the disabled community has made in recent decades.
First, she described Trump’s history of offensive behavior toward people with disabilities and explained that his efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act will leave many of them without necessary health care coverage.
Furthermore, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is responsible for enforcing the law and protecting civil rights, has criticized the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
IDEA is the federal law that requires public schools to provide an education for students with disabilities designed to fit their particular needs.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ nomination was opposed by the American Association of People with Disabilities and other organizations advocating for the rights of people with disabilities due to her policy positions.
Under the voucher program DeVos supports, students with disabilities could lose key IDEA programs and protection. This includes access to Individual Education Programs (IEPs) developed in response to the students’ individual needs, by enrolling in non-public schools.
For Templeton, who was not able to read until 3rd grade, the IEP was crucial to her ability to learn and succeed academically.
During DeVos’ confirmation hearing, she suggested that the enforcement of IDEA should be decided by the states, and did not seem to be aware that IDEA is a federal law until she was corrected.
According to Templeton, advocates for disabilities are concerned that, if IDEA were left to the states to enforce, states with track records of IDEA violations might repeal the law that protects the right of students with disabilities to receive an adequate education.
“When you have charter schools, which are for-profit schools, they are less likely to give the rights under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the IDEA to students because they cost more,” explained Templeton.
Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, has a record of court rulings that concerns disabilities advocates, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned one of these rulings, in which Gorsuch had concluded that a school district had not violated the rights of an autistic student under the IDEA.
According to Templeton, the political left is also at fault of hurting people with disabilities. For example, many liberal, progressive journalists have attempted to discredit Donald Trump by suggesting he has a disability such as ADHD, autism or narcissistic personality disorder that disqualifies him from holding office.
“Even if he does have narcissistic personality disorder, this does not disqualify him,” said Templeton. “Millions of Americans suffer from this, and it does not make you a bad person. Usually it stems from self esteem issues.”
Templeton shared that she sent one writer from Mother Jones an email about how his article suggesting that Trump was not suitable to be president because of ADHD spread misinformation and was harmful to the disabled community.
“I asked him to put up an article talking about ableism, but he got mad. He sent a nasty reply to me saying, ‘why would I care?’” Templeton said. “The article shows he does not understand what ADHD is. The man has no background in psychology. ADHD does not disqualify someone from holding office.”
Templeton finished by sharing the following national statistics regarding disabilities.
Half of the people killed by the police are disabled, with the top disabilities including mental illness, autism, and developmental disorders such as down syndrome.
Schools suspend children with disabilities at twice the rate of students without disabilities.
High school graduation rates for students with disabilities was 64.6% in 2014-2015, which is below all other demographics.
“These are huge disparities, and there are more. There is discrimination against people with disabilities, and there needs to be more people speaking about it,” said Templeton.