McCain can't use a computer because he's disabled

Hiya everyone! Remember me? I haven’t been blogging much in past months — just rather random posts at my own blog — but I’m hoping to get back to writing and participating here again. Starting with this latest, crossposted.

About a month ago ABC news’ correspondent Jake Tapper reported on John McCain’s choice to not use computers. Barack Obama’s campaign had just released an ad criticizing McCain for being out of touch in a number of ways, including his self-confessed computer “illiteracy.”

Tapper explains for us, though:

Assuredly McCain isn’t comfortable talking about this — and the McCain campaign discouraged me from writing about this — but the reason the aged Arizonan doesn’t use a computer or send e-mail is because of his war wounds.

I realize some of the nastier liberals in the blogosphere will see this as McCain once again “playing the POW card,” but it’s simply a fact: typing on a regular keyboard for any sustained period of time bothers McCain physically.

He can type, he occasionally does type, but in general, the injuries he sustained as a POW — ones that make it impossible for him to raise his arms high enough to comb his hair — mean that small tasks make his shoulders ache, so he tries to avoid any repetitive exercise.

Again, it’s not that he can’t type, he just by habit, avoids when he can, repetitive exercise involving his arms. He does if he has to, as with handshaking or autographs.

Now, I have no doubt it’s true that McCain’s injuries affect him enough that typing causes chronic pain that the man would rather avoid. And I’ve also no doubt he has minions who can and should do many of the computer-related tasks of a busy U.S. Senator and presidential candidate.

But Tapper explicitly claims McCains lack of computer use is not a choice and is because of physical impairment:

It’s certainly possible that the Obama campaign did not know this, since McCain makes it sound in interviews as if this is a matter of choice, not discomfort because of his war wounds.

So, McCain is not computer illiterate, though he did once say he was. (That’s okay. I know a few septuagenarians on a steep computer learning curve.) And he can type, he knows how and can physically do so, Tapper says. It’s just so uncomfortable that he chooses not– no, wait. It’s not a matter of choice. His discomfort means he cannot.

Except that is total crap.

Plenty of us on the intertubes manage to tap something out now and then without full use (or any use) of our fingers, hands or arms. There’s voice recognition software and even free software that allows the somewhat tedious-but-effective typing with a mouse instead of a QWERTY board. I used the latter for a while last year and didn’t even need to sell one of my many cars or houses to make it happen.

Here’s my point: October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. One of our presidential candidates has significant physical impairments that, according to Tapper, his own campaign claims are the reason he cannot readily use a computer. Of the 56 million Americans with disabilities, about 65% of disabled adults are unemployed.

Let me say that again. 65% of disabled Americans. Conservatively, that’s 6 out of 10 disabled adults without a job. Compare that to the national rate of unemployment, currently freaking everyone out at a whopping 6.1%.

The rate of unemployed disabled Americans has remained virtually unchanged since WWII, so you might say that it’s an issue needing knowledgeable and committed public officials addressing it. And McCain either does not know that physical disability is not an excuse for not using a computer, or he does not care if he is perpetuating the stereotype that disability makes a person incapable of a basic skill needed for employment in today’s workforce.

Here’s a one-minute YouTube video, with in-screen captioning and open audio description, on the topic:

Brief description of video: Karl Rove, McCain campaign advisor, states for a FOX News interview that McCain can’t use a computer because of his war injuries. His voice and the audio description continue as a number of disabled people, with prosthetic limbs, amputated stumps, and mouth pointers type at computer keyboards. A final collage of these computer users includes an image of FDR in his wheelchair, then fades into a photo of Obama and chants of “Yes, we can!”

This entry posted in Class, poverty, labor, & related issues, Disabled Rights & Issues, Economics and the like, Elections and politics. Bookmark the permalink. 

9 Responses to McCain can't use a computer because he's disabled

  1. 1
    Pat says:

    The mouthstick user shown writing the “Dear Tyler” letter is a friend of mine, and it made me so happy to see this little video when he sent it to me.

  2. 2
    Lexie says:

    Yeah, I remember my kids’ father, a C7 Quad, waiting and waiting for federal grant money to come through for Dragon Dictate, a program that was about $1200 at the time. Meanwhile, he used a pencil splint and the eraser end of a pencil to pound out his college assignments.

    Now, its successor, Dragon Naturally Speaking, works so much better and costs less than $100. I don’t see any reason why McCain couldn’t have used that.

    But even if McCain just doesn’t want to use something like voice recognition…whatever. That still is no excuse to come out and give some bullshit disability reason to cover up for his lack of computer literacy. Really. He just slapped the entire disabled community in the face. They work and work to prove they have the means to do something like use a computer, and then he lets the whole world believe that PWD cannot use computers.

    (Comment was written using JAWS (Job Access With Speech), a software program that reads the screen to those who cannot see the monitor and use a mouse.)

  3. 3
    DaisyDeadhead says:

    I used the latter for a while last year and didn’t even need to sell one of my many cars or houses to make it happen.

    Tee hee!

    Love seeing you here with your dry Midwestern wit, Kay! Excellent post. I don’t know any disabled people who DON’T have computers; but plenty who don’t own cars or houses. In fact, most don’t.

    McCain is hardly representative.

  4. 4
    Eva says:

    Kay: thanks so much for posting this. I’ve been wondering about McCain’s claim, especially since I know with certainty there are a range of technologies to assist differently abled computer users.

    Lexie: I’m happy to see a JAWS user here. My late mom, who was blind the last ten years of her life, used JAWS.

  5. 5
    PG says:

    In a slight fairness to McCain, note that he himself never has claimed that disability prevents him from using computers. It’s the conservative clown commentariat, obediently followed by the MSM, that has declared him too disabled to use a computer comfortably.

  6. 6
    Kay Olson says:

    PG: I enjoyed that link, especially in the way it referenced FDR, NY Gov. David Patterson and JFK as effective leaders with disabilities. Thanks.

    The media story on McCain’s computer use (or lack of it) goes back 8 years and has been supported and confirmed by McCain’s campaign, including advisor Karl Rove. I would personally agree that Rove qualifies as part of the “clown commentariat,” but he has supported and reiterated this story as a spokesperson for McCain.

  7. 7
    BananaDanna says:

    “He just slapped the entire disabled community in the face. They work and work to prove they have the means to do something like use a computer, and then he lets the whole world believe that PWD cannot use computers.”

    Not necessarily. There are different types of disabilities, that allow for a range of abilities to be expressed or limited — related and unrelated to work. Anyone who thinks that “PWD can’t use computers” because one person with disabilities can’t is pretty a)ignorant about PWD and/or b) just looking for an excuse to discriminate against them, both of which McCain — or any disabled person who makes claims about their individual disability and its extent — isn’t responsible for. Some disabled people already feel pressure to hide their disability — let’s not heap on additional pressure by making their individual actions responsible for perpetuating negative stereotypes about the group.

  8. 8
    PG says:


    No one here says McCain should hide his disability; on the contrary, the post I linked urges him to be open and honest about any disabilities he has, much like NY Gov. Paterson has been honest about being legally blind and has been willing to discuss how he manages (lots of information transmitted by audio, and a fantastic memory that allows him to deliver speeches from memory).

    Moreover, the statement that someone who has disabilities like McCain’s cannot use a computer is bad for PWD, because McCain’s physical limitations aren’t nearly as severe as those of a person who is a quadriplegic, for example. While every person’s disability is to some extent unique and individual, disabilities also are on somewhat of spectrum, which is how the federal government can define percentages of disability in making decisions. (McCain apparently is deemed 100% disabled for purposes of his Navy pension.)

    It would be quite reasonable for someone who is not well-informed about accessibility technology to think that someone whose mobility with her arms is much more limited than McCain’s — someone who can’t even shake hands, or sign books, or hug supporters — therefore would be even less able to use computers.

    Therefore, it would be far more honest for Rove et al to say that using conventional computer technology is difficult for McCain because of his disability, and that he does not have sufficient interest or need for computer use to justify using non-conventional technology.

    Incidentally, if you look at the “Americans with Disabilities” portion of McCain’s website, and his remarks to a conference of PWD, there is no mention that he himself has any disabilities whatsoever. When he praises what it takes to live with disabilities, he refers only to what he has seen among other people, and not to his own life.

  9. 9
    Lexie says:


    My issue here is not that McCain has to hide his disability or that he has to represent every disabled person on the planet. My issue here is that he (and/or his spokespeople) are LYING. Boldfaced lying.

    They are saying that because of his injuries, he cannot use a computer when it is obvious to those in the know about adaptive tech that he most certainly could. If there is another reason that he is not disclosing as to why he cannot use adaptive tech, then he should fess up all the way, instead of lying about his capacity to use a computer by basing it on disabilities.

    There are a lot of people that are ignorant about adaptive tech. I get asked ALL THE TIME about how can a blind person use the computer or why do web pages need to be made accessible to blind people when they can’t use a computer anyway. His lies promote the misconceptions about the abilities of disabled people either because a) he is using disability as an excuse as to why he does not know how to use a computer or b) he is lying by omission about the real reason he can’t use a computer (dementia? I don’t know. Why not just learn at least how to email.)

    The fact is that he is lying for self-preserving reasons, whatever they may be. At the expense of PWD.