What can we say that hasn’t already been said about Donald Trump’s treatment of Serge Kovaleski? There are countless stories, reports, and impassioned commentaries on the subject. This is a blog about inclusive technology, and the spirit behind digital accessibility is driven by a general understanding that everyone is different. Some people have disabilities you can see, others don’t, and still more people will just have a temporary disability that will go away with time.

A Great Journalist Should Be Known for His Writing

Kovaleski is an excellent investigative reporter and that’s why we should know his name. So before we get to the scandal part of this post, here are a few facts about him:

  • Did you know he won a Pulitzer Prize as part of the team that covered the Eliot Spitzer prostitution scandal?[1]
  • Did you know that he received a Polk Award for Military Reporting?[2]
  • Did you know he loves dogs?[3]
  • Did you know he went to the College of William & Mary where he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy?[4]

But a Scandal Gets in the Way…

Sadly, these awesome things about Kovaleski have been a bit overshadowed by Trump’s impersonation of him. If you type “Kovaleski” into Google, the first thing that pops up is “Kovaleski and Trump.” Don’t know the scandal we’re talking about? CNN does a pretty succinct job of explaining it.

So now that you’ve seen the video, you think an apology would be in order, right? That won’t be happening. Instead, this was Trump’s response, “’I didn’t know what he looked like. I didn’t know he was disabled. I didn’t know it, I didn’t know it at all. I had no idea. So I started imitating somebody — I didn’t speak to the guy — somebody that was groveling.’”[5]

It Gets Worse

Then, Trump followed up with this, “’Serge Kovaleski must think a lot of himself if he thinks I remember him from decades ago — if I ever met him at all, which I doubt I did,’ he said, CNN reported. ‘He should stop using his disability to grandstand and get back to reporting for a newspaper that is rapidly going down the tubes.’”[6] Trump has deflected from the issue using a few new attacks. One on the vanity of the reporter, one on him using his disability to “grandstand,” and another on the future of newspapers.

First, let’s talk a bit about whether or not Trump met Kovaleski. Here is a follow-up quote from the reporter himself, “’I’ve interviewed him in his office,’ he said. ‘I’ve talked to him at press conferences. All in all, I would say around a dozen times, I’ve interacted with him as a reporter while I was at the Daily News.’”[7] About a dozen times, so they have met.

Now, the part about grandstanding goes back to the post we shared about Perez Hilton’s website talking about using disability to get money. Why would an acclaimed journalist like Kovaleski want to do that? He’s not grandstanding. He’s taking a stand against someone who treated him badly. That’s it, and that’s something we applaud him for, he dealt with the negative press head-on.

A Brave Kid Defends Us All

Yet another interesting chapter to this story occurred when JJ Holmes, age 12, did something about the comments. JJ heard what Trump said, and wasn’t going to let it slide. Instead, he asked his mother to take him to a Trump rally so he could protest, “’I wanted to go because Donald J. Trump made fun of disabled people,’ JJ said.”[8]

A lot of the discussion about JJ is about the fact that he has cerebral palsy and uses a computer to speak. According to the Washington Post story, he put his anti-Trump statements into the device to vocalize his protests, which resulted in a pretty unpleasant situation, to put it mildly, “Trump supporters near them started pushing her son’s wheelchair, and calling her a ‘child abuser’ and telling others to ‘grab her p—y.’ The boy and his family were escorted from the arena, she said.”8

It’s true, that it’s worth mentioning that he’s disabled. However, not because it makes for a good human interest story. It’s worth mentioning that a 12-year-old had the insight and confidence to stand up for himself against a bully on a national scale. In doing that, JJ stood up for all of us who are impacted by disability, and who were outraged about the mocking incident.

Learn More About Trump’s Comments

There has been extensive coverage about this story, here are some of the best articles:

The Liberal Party Responds

As Trump’s opponent in the presidential race, Hilary Clinton’s supporters took the opportunity to respond to the scandal in the form of an ad called Grace. This ad was created by a group that describes themselves as, “Priorities USA supports Hillary Clinton for president because she will fight for everyday Americans and their families — so they get ahead and stay ahead.”[9] The Grace ad is being criticized as well, “The ad, however, also plays into stereotypes about disability, revealing tensions between disability-rights activists and mainstream politicians.”[10] Discussing disability can be a fine line between advocating for the inclusion of everyone no matter what and appearing to exploit other people’s struggles.

Turning Awareness into Action

Presidential nominees spend a lot of time trying to get the support of different groups. In this case, disability advocates have spoken out against Trump’s comments. You can read more about that in the NBC article. How people with disabilities are treated should be a national conversation. There are millions of people living with both chronic and short-term disabilities not just in America but around the world. Starting a national dialogue about why it’s important to focus on inclusivity is a great way to start bringing more awareness to the issue. Hopefully, this awareness will lead to action.


[3] https://twitter.com/sergenyt?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

[5] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2016/08/02/donald-trumps-revisionist-history-of-mocking-a-disabled-reporter/

[6] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/nov/27/donald-trump-nyt-reporter-serge-kovaleski-should-s/

[7] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/nov/27/donald-trump-nyt-reporter-serge-kovaleski-should-s/

[9] https://www.youtube.com/user/prioritiesUSAaction/about

[10] http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/06/grace-clinton-ad-disability-stereotypes/486710/