Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 22: Karen Gaffney

Yesterday while people around the globe were celebrating World Down Syndrome Day, the Republicans in Congress and the White House were making their proposed health care plan even WORSE for the poor and disabled by writing a new "manager's amendment" in a desperate appeal to conservative Republicans. The amendment makes Medicaid cuts even deeper, frees up governors to raid the program to plug other budget holes, and ends Medicaid expansion under Obamacare much sooner than Ryan’s original bill.

Trumpcare is devastating to the poor and benefits the rich, all studies show. For example, a family making less than $10,000 will lose $1,420, a cut that amounts to almost one-third of their income. Meanwhile, the average family making $200,000 or more would gain $5,640. But another less-talked-about effect is that it will be devastating to disabled Americans, forcing millions of them into poverty and possibly back into institutions. Add to that the programs being targeted and voucher programs being proposed at the Department of Education by Betsy DeVos and her ilk and the fact that the Web site about protecting students with disabilities was taken down, and it's clear that disabled people are facing huge threats to their livelihoods and ability to thrive.

So with all this in mind, I chose Oregonian Karen Gaffney today as my voice. In 2001 Gaffney was the first person with Down syndrome to complete a relay swim of the English channel. In 2007 she swam 9 miles across Lake Tahoe (in 59 degree water), in 2009 she swam 5 miles across the Boston Harbor, and she's completed 16 swims across the San Francisco Bay. She's also won two gold medals from the Special Olympics. She received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the University of Portland on May 5, 2013, for her work in raising awareness regarding the abilities of people who have Down syndrome (another first for someone with Down syndrome). She is the president of the Karen Gaffney Foundation, which is dedicated to championing the journey to full inclusion in families, schools, the workplace and the community for people with developmental disabilities.

Listen to Gaffney in her own voice in this incredible TED talk, with the unfortunate title of "All Lives Matter" (but it means something different entirely). She shares the story of her fifth grade teacher who called her from Germany to let her know she was expecting a baby with Down syndrome, and how that daughter is now a swimmer like Gaffney. She is inspiring and amazing!

Did you know that 92 percent of pregnancies diagnosed with Down syndrome are terminated? Although I'm passionately pro-choice, this statistic makes me sad.

Gaffney travels the country speaking to a wide range of audiences about overcoming limitations and about what can be accomplished with positive expectations. She tackles any challenge she faces with determination and commitment, knowing she has limits, but not allowing them to limit her drive to succeed.

Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

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