The White House created an infographic displaying what it claims are historic precedents in President Barack Obama’s judicial nominations. The list includes a non-annotated list of firsts: Latina on the Supreme Court, openly gay man confirmed to a federal court, women judges of Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese descent, and Supreme Court Justice confirmed with a disability.
Most of these firsts are easy to attach to a person. Justice Sonia Sotomayer is the first Latina. J. Paul Oetken is the first openly gay man confirmed to a U.S. District Court, in this case for the Southern District of New York. Women judges of Asian descent include Vietnamese American Miranda Du, Chinese American Dolly M. Gee, and Korean American Lucy H. Koh.
But one of these firsts is tougher to figure out. Who is the first confirmed disabled Justice? Though the graphic came out three weeks ago, the answer to this question caused a hailstorm of discussion yesterday.
Obama has appointed Elena Kagan and Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. After checking around about Kagan, Mother Jones columnist Kevin Drum and some others came to the conclusion that Sotomayor’s Type I Diabetes was the basis for this historic attribution. As Daily Intel columnist Dan Amira pointed out, diabetes can be classified as a disability according to the Americans with Disabilities Act when the chronic illness becomes so severe that it impairs a person’s daily activities, such as feeding and taking care of oneself. Diabetics can also claim disability insurance when the disease is “severe enough to significantly limit one’s ability to perform basic work activities needed to do most jobs.”
Sotomayor’s diabetes isn’t “new” news. When she was appointed, there was open, public discussion about whether her diabetes would detrimentally affect her as a Justice. Doctors and specialists by and large said no, as long as Sotomayor stayed on top of her treatment plan. Last year, Sotomayor told an audience of Type I diabetics that diabetes should not stop them from achieving their goals, and that she was able to get her dream job by staying healthy.
Let me say this plainly: Sotomayor is not disabled.
If her health was so poor from diabetes that she could not perform daily or work activities, I am pretty sure that would have made the news during the recent trials over, coincidentally, health care.
Why couldn’t the White House claim Sotomayor for the firsts she actually is: the first Latina and the first Type I Diabetic. Period. Claiming a victory for disabled Americans by capitalizing on a woman who, based on health, is not disabled, is disrespectful to disabled Americans and to diabetics alike.
But it is more than that. I am a Type I diabetic, and to me, this is offensive.
Type I diabetics go through a constant regime to stay healthy. I don’t think about my diabetes daily; I do so hourly. My day is made up of calculating the right amount of insulin to take based on my blood sugar levels, my diet, my daily exercise, my stress level, and more. I am not asking for nor expecting pity. Diabetes has made me stronger, more independent, and more determined. I say this because the reason I go through all of this, and have done so for over 18 years, is because I want to be a healthy diabetic. I want to do everything I can to fight this disease and not let it get to the point where I would be classified as disabled.
This is my fight. And along with Sotomayor and 3 million other Americans, this is the fight we take up everyday against a disease we could not prevent and we cannot cure.
Disabled Americans and diabetics both deserve recognition for their respective achievements. And if President Obama’s campaign was hoping that this first would garner support from disabled Americans and diabetic Americans, then I suggest they chalk this up as a loss.