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Is the Tea Party a Threat to Disabled Americans?

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"In 2002, 51.2 million people living in the United States had some level of disability... 32.5 million had a severe disability, (needing personal assistance) according to the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP)" --U.S. Census Bureau, Population Profile of the United States

If you or a loved one has a disability, you need to know how the Tea Party threatens you. Kentucky's Rand Paul, Nevada's Sharron Angle, and other Tea Party Republican candidates have pledged to cut off help for millions of disabled Americans -- by eliminating the Department of Education.

Why would this affect the disabled? Roughly 2/3 of the Education Department budget goes to help the disabled and impoverished. The following programs would be eliminated, along with all federal help to schools.

  1. A12 billion program called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which helps fund public school education for disabled K-12 students.
  2. Disability families living below the poverty line? Title One programs, (10 billion) which provide school funding for the poor, would also be gone.
  3. Want your baby in pre-school? The Head Start program (8 billion) -- wiped out.
  4. If your son or daughter wants to go to college, well, forget about government help if Tea Partiers prevail. Pell grants (roughly 11 billion) would also be eliminated.
Wait, it gets worse.

Not only would Tea Party Republicans deny care for those in need, they would also shut down the most promising approaches to cure. This affects me personally, because my son is paralyzed. Roman Reed broke his neck in a college football accident, September 10th, 1994. The doctors gave us no hope, saying he would never walk again, never close his fingers, and would live a shortened life. We did not accept that diagnosis then; we do not accept it now.

For the past 16 years, he and I have been working to raise funds for scientists, to help them find a cure for paralysis. California passed a law named after my son, Assembly Bill 750, the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act of 1999. "Roman's law" funded $14 million worth of research locally, as well as attracting $60 million in matching grants from the federal government.

On March 1, 2002, I held in my hand a rat which had been paralyzed, but which walked again. I felt the tiny muscles struggle, muscles that had been still and limp before. I set it down and watched it scamper, tail high, across the exercise area -- and this while my son watched from his wheelchair. It was the first state-funded embryonic stem cell research in America.For eight years, that experiment went through exhaustive replications, investigations, and safety tests, with an astonishing 22,000 pages of correspondence between the FDA and Geron Corporation; but now at last it has begun human trials; the first in the world.

Embryonic stem cell research offers hope not only to paralyzed people, but also to those who live in the darkness of the blind, or the silence of the deaf: to those who suffer cancer, or lose their minds to Alzheimer's, or die before the age of 2 from spinal muscle atrophy. Stem cell research is a light in darkness to all the families who care for loved ones -- who have been told, as was my son, that they will never get well.

Sharron Angle, Rand Paul and the Republican party they hope to dominate have pledged to end that research. (In 2008, the Republican party platform called for a ban on embryonic stem cell research, both public and private; this would turn cure into a crime.)

Plainly, they are not concerned about the suffering of millions of innocent people. But in economic terms alone -- aren't Tea Party folks worried about the national debt?

Last year, America spent 1.65 trillion on chronic (incurable) disease, equivalent to the national deficit ($1.6 trillion) for the year. No nation can afford such mountainous costs. $1.65 trillion? That is more than all federal income tax receipts ($1.2 trillion) -- personal and corporate combined.

Only cures lower such costs. We can argue forever about who pays the doctor bills -- public or private or a mix -- but the only real way to reduce medical costs is to heal people, instead of just maintaining them in their misery, year after year after year.

Think about polio. If America had not gone ahead with polio cure research, we would still be paying a fortune every year (estimated as high as $100 billion) on treatments for that disease -- as sufferers choked and gasped their lives away, dying slowly in iron lungs. Instead, we no longer have to pay for polio. Jonas Salk developed the Salk vaccine, and the once-dreaded condition is essentially gone. What if Tea Party leaders like Sharron Angle or Rand Paul had been in charge back then? Jonas Salk would not have been allowed to develop his life-saving vaccine.

Remember in November. Every voter with a disability, as well as all our families and friends, must participate: vote by mail if you wish, or find a way to get to the polls. Those who are able-bodied, look out for your disabled brother and sister. Get everybody to the polls. Register now, and vote in November, or earlier: either in the comfort of your own home, or in your districts firehouse, library, or schoolhouse, flying with the American flag.

As famed disability rights advocate Justin Dart once said: "Vote as if your life depended on it -- because it does."