Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made headlines recently when he mocked a disabled journalist. Major media reported it as politically incorrect entertainment, just as though it was another “Saturday Night Live (SNL)” episode. Like, Serge Kovaleski, I am a disabled journalist. I, too, have covered presidents and presidential candidates, but unlike Kovaleski, my disability is invisible. But every so often it rears its unpleasant self. I don’t leave home without my tiny purse dog, a toy poodle, trained to alert me to a very difficult and troubling disability. Like Kovaleski, I cannot leave home to cover a story without my disability. If I could, I certainly would.
My seizure disorder results from traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and complex post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The double disabilities are linked and manifest in a similar way leaving me in an uncontrollable, altered state with flailing arms and legs, twitching and shouting profanities. When I am in a public place and triggered, my disability is often misunderstood and mistaken as inappropriate behavior by those who witness it. Flight attendants, police officers and even emergency room personnel don’t always recognize or know how to treat the occurrence.
Like the journalist Trump refers to, neither of our disabilities is connected to shoddy journalism. The two should not be linked together. And although I’ve never met Mr. Kovaleski, I assume that he like me does not want to be identified by his disability. Trump’s behavior, as far as we know, is not the result of a medical disability, although perhaps a result of a presidential candidate with hubris, who prides himself on being candid, breaching socially appropriate protocol, and lacking sensitivity by drawing attention to a man’s disability in a misguided effort to attack his journalism. It doesn’t feel good when our disabilities are targeted and we are discriminated against. In the case of Kovaleski, more readers and listeners now know about his disability than about what really angered Trump.
One in five Americans– or 56 million of us according to the U.S. Census Bureau — has a disability. Some are more visible than others, but all of us deserve the same respect. Donald Trump likely recognizes that on some level, although he seems to be more concerned with appearances than reality.
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