“I don’t even have words.” Athan Miller has worked with developmentally disabled people for more than two decades. When asked what she thought of our soon-to-be president standing on a podium, mocking a person with a disability, she found herself at a loss.
Nicole McBride, who is herself intellectually challenged, has plenty to say. “What I don’t understand is how he can be president if he makes fun of disabled [people].” Nicole works hard for the money she earns — and she pays taxes. She, along with more than 70 other people with developmental disabilities, works at Jack’s & Steamers. It’s an Arvada restaurant, prep-kitchen, and specialty jam company co-owned by Athan.
Athan says she tries to match each job to the individual. “If you can find what a person is naturally good at, then have them do that, you get a higher production and happier workers. I once had a lady ask if we use a machine for our tomatoes. I told her, ‘No, we [employ] an autistic person — cuts them perfectly.’” Each job is also catered to a person’s ability. “I wash dishes on the weekends,” says Nicole, “but with Trump, I’m afraid I will lose my job.”
That’s because this program, like many others, is largely supported by federal tax dollars. People must be specially trained, supervised, and carefully watched. They are not capable of working full-time and living on their own. This is a way to help them earn a little money and participate as productive members of the community.
Trump has said little about his plans when it comes to people with disabilities. What he has said is that he plans to make cuts to Medicaid, the program that provides funding for people with developmental disabilities and the people who serve them. “I don’t want to pretend this is not a crisis,” Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility. She tells Disability Scoop, “the fact is that President Obama and Hillary Clinton had very strong ties with the disability community and had very clear plans for [them].” She says she is hopeful Mr. Trump will make this an important issue.
“Nobody knows what he’s going to do,” says Athan. “Can you imagine what will happen if they revamp Medicaid? Programs like ours that are innovative are going to be the first programs cut.” Given that both the House and the Senate are also Republican controlled, she fears for her business. “Looking at the future, it’s so unsteady and the ground we thought was stable is not anymore, especially involving the realm that I work in.”
Not everyone is afraid. Rudy Whiteman-Jones is also in supported services and has worked in Jack’s & Steamers’ prep-kitchen for the last three years. She says she voted for Trump. “I think he will be a good president. I think he can make the country great again. He’s gonna bring more jobs into our country. He’s gonna help people save money.” That, she says, will be better for the economy and therefore better for all businesses. She says she even knows caregivers who get paid with Medicaid dollars who voted for Trump as well.
Organizations that advocate for disabled people are more cautious. Specifically, they worry Trump’s proposal to convert Medicaid to a block-grand system will limit federal funding and transfer significant control to the states. “I just wanna keep my job,” says Nicole. “If he thinks we’re so bad and makes fun of us, why would he want to help us?”