Less than a week after facing backlash from the disability community for stroking a disabled man’s face during a policy question, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is again facing criticism for saying stuttering is the only disability people still laugh about.
During part one of a two-part Democratic presidential candidate town hall on CNN on Wednesday, Biden was asked what advice he would give to a college student who lived with a stutter. In response, Biden shared he keeps in contact with several people who have a stutter and explained that it’s the only disability people still smile or laugh at, even if unintentionally.
“You know, stuttering, when you think about it, is the only handicap that people still laugh about,” Biden said. “If I said to you when I was a kid I had a cleft palate, no one would smile.”
— Joe Biden (Text Join to 30330) (@JoeBiden) February 6, 2020
Many others in the disability community disagreed. While Biden addressed the real ways his stutter impacted his life, many others in the disability community with visible and invisible disabilities took to social media to share that negative attitudes about disability are still alive and well.
Biden making this statement and Coons amplifying it sends a message to every voter with a disability. It shows they are blind to the every day experience of people with disabilities.
If you can’t even see people’s struggle, you can’t lead a movement to end it.
— Jess Scarane for Senate (@JessforDelaware) February 6, 2020
Biden says stuttering is “the only handicap people still laugh about.”
Sure Joe, no one EVER mocks something like my tremors. No one would ever laugh at me spasming because they think I look funny. No one finds any disability worthy of mocking unless it’s stuttering. https://t.co/IMKI2t6Ndi pic.twitter.com/sTZFJhKsMT
— Stephanie Tait (@StephTaitWrites) February 6, 2020
I seem to remember a certain president openly laughing at a reporter’s disability. And he’s not alone in this behavior I’m sorry people still make fun of your stutter, Joe, but you are very much not alone.
— Sarah Gioia (@sarah_gioia) February 6, 2020
Others, however, dismissed Biden’s unfortunate statement, and praised him for being open about his stutter on the national stage and showing compassion toward people with disabilities.
This is narrowly focused on his disability so it’s not about ableism, or disability in general. He’s wrong about people laughing about others (my own, for ex), but he understands disabilities are terrifying and painful. His story shows empathy.
— Rebecca “Piskele” Shapiro (@RebeccaJShapiro) February 6, 2020
This was really powerful! I used to stutter as a kid and my parents took me to a speech pathologist to correct it. Thanks @JoeBiden for always being real
— Jason (@KeltzJason) February 6, 2020
Biden also took time with 12-year-old Brayden Harrington, who was waiting for Biden at the rope line after the event. Harrington has a stutter, and Biden brought him backstage after seeing how overwhelming the rope line was for him. Once backstage, Biden showed Harrington how he marked up his speech for the night with places he could take breaks between words.
“He was basically showing him a strategy. He normalized it,” Brayden’s dad, Owen Harrington, told CNN. “That meant a lot for both of us.”
However, Biden also faced backlash after a recent video of disability advocate Samuel Habib asking Biden about his policy plans for inclusion in education showed Biden stroking Habib’s face during the interaction. Many in the community, including Habib, pointed out Biden’s gesture infantilized Habib, a 20-year-old college student.
“I hope Joe Biden and the other candidates treat people with disabilities better,” Habib told The Mighty in response. “They need to respect personal space and they shouldn’t talk down to people because they are in a wheelchair. They should assume everyone is smart and competent.”
While Biden is the only Democratic presidential candidate who has yet to release an official disability plan, disability issues are included in his formal education plan and justice plan, including inclusion in the classroom and access to care. Jamal Brown, Biden’s national press secretary, also told The Mighty in a statement that Biden has voted in favor of policies that benefit the disability community his entire career, and will continue to do so if elected president.
“Joe Biden has fought for the rights and opportunities of people with disabilities his entire career, Brown said. “He also knows this fight is about dignity and respect for those of us with disabilities and chronic illnesses. As president, he would lead an Administration that works with people with disabilities to put those values into policy.”
Article updated Feb. 8, 2020.