Palin Promotes Special Needs Agenda

At campaign rallies for Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, they have been a visible presence -- families with children who have disabilities.

You see small heads sticking out of baby slings or tiny faces peering up at the stage from a stroller. Many are children with Down syndrome.

Their parents feel a connection to the Alaska governor by virtue of her fifth child, infant son Trig, born with a disability.

"One of the most wonderful experiences in this campaign has been to see all the families of children with special needs who come out to rallies and events just like this," Palin said today in Pittsburgh. "We have a bond there. We know that children with special needs inspire a special love.

Palin Discusses Disabilities on Pa. Campaign Stop.
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"You bring your sons and daughters with you, because you are proud of them, as I am of my son," Palin continued. "My little fella sleeps during most of these rallies, even when they get pretty rowdy. He would be amazed to know how many folks come out to see him instead of me."

Palin has often said she will be an advocate for parents of children with special needs if she reaches Washington.

"I pledge to you that, if we're elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House," she said at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis last month.

Today, she finally outlined what that advocacy might look like, using her first major policy address of the campaign to talk about issues facing children with disabilities.

"Too often, even in our own day, children with special needs have been set apart and excluded," Palin said. "Too often, state and federal laws add to their challenges instead of removing barriers and opening new paths of opportunity. Too often, they are made to feel that there is no place for them in the life of our country, that they don't count or have nothing to contribute.

"This attitude is a grave disservice to these beautiful children, to their families, and to our country -- and I will work to change it," Palin said.

"I want to put a new face on this issue," Palin added. "And I pledge to you that if we're elected, you will have a friend and an advocate in the White House."

Proposals Draw Praise and Questions

Advocates for children with disabilities welcomed the speech.

"For the candidate for the vice president of the United States to give a 30-minute speech -- in a swing state -- 10 days before an election is historically very significant from our perspective," said Andrew Imparato, president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities.

Specifically, Palin proposed that parents of children with disabilities should be able to choose what school their children will attend.

"When our public school system fails to render help and equal opportunity, and even parents are prevented, sometimes, from seeking that help and those choices elsewhere, that to me is unacceptable," Palin said. "Under reforms that I will lead as vice president, the parents and caretakers of children with physical or mental disabilities will be able to send that boy or girl to the school of their choice -- public or private."

She also called for federal funding to follow the child, or be "portable," no matter what school is attended.

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