Democrats pass, GOP fails litmus test of inclusiveness

Anastasia Somoza talks about disability rights during the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
Anastasia Somoza talks about disability rights during the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. The Associated Press

The Democratic National Convention has turned up the star power this week, dazzling voters with speeches from President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and, on Thursday, Hillary Clinton.

It’s a lineup as notable for its big names as for its diversity. Democrats want to be known as the party of inclusivity. But it took a speech on the first day of the convention from someone who is relatively unknown in national politics to drive that point home.

Anastasia Somoza is a disability rights advocate who graduated from Georgetown University, where I am a student. She was born with cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia, and uses a wheelchair. Her presence was a reminder that diversity and inclusion are about more than just skin color and sexual orientation.

Somoza opened her speech by showing the infamous video of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump mocking a New York Times reporter for his physical disability. In doing so, she couldn’t have painted a clearer distinction between the priorities of Democrats and Republicans.

Just look at the conventions themselves.

The Democratic National Committee says it is putting on the most accessible convention in history. There are American Sign Language interpreters and relief areas for guide dogs.

On Tuesday, the 26th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, several people with disabilities took the stage to speak about inclusion and equality. That night, former President Bill Clinton spoke about his wife’s efforts in 1974 to determine why children with disabilities weren’t attending school and to change it. Then, he pointed to a beaming Somoza in the crowd.

It was a different story at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. My colleague Erika D. Smith noticed barricades that made it tough for delegates with physical disabilities to navigate the streets surrounding the convention hall. Lines to attend after-hours events were long, and seats were hard to come by.

Often when politicians talk about inclusivity, people with disabilities get overlooked. There are 56 million Americans in that demographic, and many of them feel invisible and voiceless.

But Somoza says she has never felt invisible to Clinton, not since they met in 1993.

Somoza worked on Clinton’s U.S. Senate campaign in 2000 and, once Clinton was elected, became an intern. Clinton championed access in education and the workforce, pushing for laws and programs to help those with disabilities.

Trump, meanwhile, has a history of lawsuits against his properties for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Trump doesn’t see me. He doesn’t hear me. And he definitely doesn’t speak for me,” Somoza said.

Doug Elmets understands this. The former Reagan administration staff member has a niece with a disability, and he will be thinking of her when he takes the stage at the convention in Philadelphia on Thursday for what could be a blistering takedown of Trump. Elmets says he can’t bear to vote for a man who openly disparages people with disabilities.

“I think about my niece, who works harder every day than Donald Trump ever has, just to do the simplest things in life,” he said. “And she does them with more grace and humility than Donald Trump could possibly have.”

Disability rights should not be a partisan issue. Unfortunately, Trump has made it one.