Special Education

Children with Disabilities Get Mentions on Republican Stage

By Nirvi Shah — August 29, 2012 2 min read
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Tampa, Fla.

Along with the bashing of Democratic fiscal and education policy Tuesday, the first night of the Republican convention here put children with disabilities in the spotlight.

But the attention did not necessarily come from those I might have predicted to speak on the topic.

Sher Valenzuela, a relative newcomer to the national Republican stage, talked about raising her son, Simon, who has autism.

Simon just finished his first year at the University of Delaware, said Valenzuela, who is running for the lieutenant governor job in Delaware.

She spoke of Simon’s disability as the prompt for her and her husband to start an upholstery business.

“We quickly realized that the jobs we had wouldn’t pay for the professionals Simon needed to overcome the odds,” Valenzuela said.

Later, without going into any detail, she said that with Simon, “we didn’t listen to the experts either.” She noted that he just completed his first year at the University of Delaware in June.

“I can’t tell you how much this means to him—and how much it means to me, the mom of a special needs child.”

She didn’t talk education policy, but she finally tied together her business experience with being a mother.

“Raising our family and building our business have been the passions of our lives, and what struck me is how similar they are,” she said. “If you’ve ever raised a child or started a business, you know what I’m talking about.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a U.S. representative from Washington and a known advocate for students with disabilities, didn’t mention that issue when she took the stage. Her son has Down syndrome.

Later in the night, however, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum spoke at length about family and included a long tribute to his 4 1/2-year-old daughter Bella, who has Trisomy 18.

The message here was not about education, but about abortion, and the Republican party’s pro-life message.

“Four and a half years ago I stood over a hospital isolette staring at the tiny hands of our newborn daughter who we hoped was perfectly healthy. But Bella’s hands were just a little different—and I knew different wasn’t good news,” he said. “The doctors later told us Bella was incompatible with life and to prepare to let go. They said, even if she did survive, her disabilities would be so severe that Bella would not have a life worth living.

“We didn’t let go. Today Bella is full of life and she has made our lives and countless others much more worth living.”

Photo: Sher Valenzuela, candidate for Delaware Lt. Governor, addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.