Littleton, NH, Dec. 29 – Sen. Marco Rubio said he would use “the platform of the presidency” to talk about disabilities in order to reduce stigma around mental illness and other disabilities.
“There’s a real stigma about mental illness in America,” the presidential hopeful said in Littleton, N.H., last week. “There still remains some level of shame; there still remains some denial about it in many families.”
“You know, I don’t know any family that hasn’t been impacted by it, and I think we need to remove that. We need to explain to people that mental illness is a disease, not unlike any other disease. That in some cases can be cured and managed and in other cases it’s something we’ll have to live with chronically for the rest of your lives, and we should do things to help people deal with that.”
The presidential hopeful also stressed the importance of “closing that gap” for people with disabilities to become employable. He listed skills training, new technologies and competency-based learning as ways to close the gap.
Rubio said that competency-based learning “allows individuals to acquire the equivalent of a degree or a certificate program based on their ability to prove competency on a subject that they learned on their own, thereby lowering the entry to certain professions,” which would help people with and without disabilities achieve employment opportunities.
“One of the great things about the 21st century is that technology and innovation has allowed people who do suffer from significant physical disabilities to still be productive workers in the 21st century economy,” the senator from Florida said. “But we need to ensure that they have the ability to acquire those skills in a cost and time affective way and that’s where I think advances and competency-based learning can truly be really helpful.”
While Rubio talked about people who “suffer from significant physical disabilities,” it is important to note that not every person with a disability suffers, is a victim or is stricken. Rubio’s language carried the assumption that a person with a disability has a reduced quality of life, which is not necessarily the case.
However, not having the opportunity for full employment can impact an individual’s quality of life. A major issue for the disability community is the economy. More than 70 percent of people with disabilities are not employed, and earlier this month, Rubio promoted early intervention and education for children with disabilities in order to prepare them to enter the workforce as young adults. He repeated these statements again in Littleton.
During a conversation following the town hall, the presidential hopeful acknowledged the disability community’s growing population and the importance in addressing issues affecting not only children with disabilities but also all people with mental illness, veterans returning with disabilities, and the aging population acquiring new disabilities.