Does chronic illness or a disability make you unfit for office?

Recently Hillary Clinton excused herself from an event, after which pictures were circulated that seemed to show her fainting as she was being helped into a van by her agents. The picture made the rounds almost immediately people were discussing the possibility that she had an invisible illness or some invisible disability that she had not disclosed.

This isn’t the first time that Clinton’s health has been under discussion. Earlier this summer, pictures of what appeared to be some sort of injection medication like an epi pen or other similar meds was seen being carried by her agents. The rumour mill started circulating that she experienced seizures as well as other theories about her health.

The search for reasons why this particular candidate is unfit for presidency is likely motivated by a desperate desire by people who usually begrudgingly support the Democratic Party in other years, and those who don’t support the party at all, to find some reason other than her gender for why they don’t want her to be president. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of valid reasons not to like Clinton, but I can’t help but notice how the discourse has changed from past elections with equally questionable but male candidates. Regardless of the likely sexist motive underlying the reason why the question came up, does chronic illness or disability make you unfit to run for or to be President?

Short Answer: No. And the question itself is Ableist.

I’ve written a lot about the struggles I’ve faced dealing with my Crohn’s and arthritis, and assorted other ailments.  I’ve written about how a lack of accessibility makes it difficult for me to work, how pain and fatigue make it difficult sometimes to even get out of bed. I write about these issues, because they are a real part of my, and many other disabled peoples’, life. I write about these issues because it is important for society to address how for some people, traditional means of productivity are not feasible but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t as worthy of life, survival, and comfort as everyone else. I don’t write about these things in order to create the perception that disability should be used as a reason by others as to whether or not a person is capable of something.

The best judge of a disabled person’s abilities is that person themselves. They know better than anyone what they are capable of. Consider for example if someone was running who had all of the same disabilities I do, that would still not make me a valid judge of whether or not they were physically capable of being president.

Everyone’s experience of different disabilities and illnesses are different. Some people experience more and less severe symptoms. What they can handle or what they can do in the face of their symptoms is equally individual.

To make a judgement of a person’s abilities in opposition to what they themselves say they are capable of is condescending. It assumes you know their experiences better than they do, which is flatly false.

Even if all the symptoms were exactly the same, however, it still would not be a disqualification for disability. As I’ve discussed before, often times the biggest barrier towards being able to function in our society is a lack of accessibility. This includes, among other things, the imposed poverty that comes with being disabled and not already independently wealthy.

Having access to money can mean having access to assistive devices that can improve your ability to navigate society. For example, if I had the money I could arrange to have a motorized scooter or wheelchair, which in turn would make it easier for me to go out, to take the bus, and so forth. Having that tool would significantly increase my ability to navigate society.

Someone who is running for president has to have access to large amounts of money. While this in itself is problematic, this is our reality. Wealth, especially in the US, means access to better doctors, better medicine, and more accessibility. Once elected President, moreover, they could command an even greater level of access to accessibility.

But what if they are suddenly incapacitated during a national crisis?

Any President at any time can suffer from a cold, a flu, or any other contagion, they could have a heart attack, a stroke, or any other host of events that could incapacitate them during a national crisis. This is a risk with any human being.

A President is not an island, no more so than any other person. They have staff and they delegate. Some presidents work long hours and work themselves half to death. Others have more reasonable hours and delegate a huge portion of their work. How much is done depends in part on the person in that job. A disabled person like an abled person can make reasonable assumptions of their abilities and delegate accordingly.

Unless the condition means that they are unconscious or similar for long periods of time, most people can in times of emergency, work through a flare. They might pay for it later, but so do abled people who push themselves too far. FDR ran a war from his wheelchair while also having several other conditions. A disabled person is no more or less likely to be completely incapacitated during a national crisis than anyone else. A war can be run from a bed if need be, we have the technology!

The assumption that someone with a disability is unable to perform the duties of President is based on ableism. The automatic assumption that having a chronic illness makes you unfit is based on ableism.

We as a society are conditioned not to think of disabled people as whole people. It’s why we as a society tolerate even defend parents murdering their disabled children. It is why we as a society don’t get morally outraged over disabled people being sterilized without their consent. It’s why prominent speakers can advocate genocide against disabled people without experiencing social consequences.  It is why we assume that someone with a disability is unable to be president.

Does chronic illness or a disability make you unfit for office?

2 thoughts on “Does chronic illness or a disability make you unfit for office?

  1. 1

    So much YES! I can think of no disability that would allow a person to campaign for high public office (which is a really intense job) and yet prevent them from performing that office well. I know that ***I*** wouldn’t last five minutes on the campaign trail, but I’m not running, either!

    Unfortunately, as you so eloquently point out, money matters. A lot. People in that position get the best medical care available… and the best is pretty damn good these days. So I don’t worry about disabled people running for high public office. I worry about the notion that those of us who suffer from chronic conditions aren’t somehow as human as the rest of our species, and should be treated accordingly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *