Lucas Holter

Approximately 20 Yalies attended a conversation about political issues including medical insurance and disability rights with state Sen. Ted Kennedy FES ’91, D-Branford, hosted by the Yale College Democrats on Wednesday evening.

After he was diagnosed with bone cancer at age 12, Kennedy had his right leg amputated. Since then, Kennedy — the nephew of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy — has made the rights of people with disabilities a large part of his advocacy work, campaigning against the use of the word “retarded” in schools and serving on the boards of Special Olympics International, Connecticut’s Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities and the American Association of People with Disabilities. At the event in WLH 120, Kennedy expressed opposition to what he described as President Donald Trump’s anti-disability policies and encouraged students to challenge candidates’ policies on the rights of those with disabilities.

“In the world, many elections are lost by very narrow margins,” Kennedy said. “When talking to presidential candidates and someone running for local office, say, ‘What are you going to do to expand the rights of people with disabilities?’ So what do we do? Number one is to make sure you register to vote. Two, make sure you go out and vote.”

Kennedy said one obstacle in the fight for the rights of those with disabilities is a lack of visibility for the everyday discrimination disabled people face.

Kennedy also expressed disdain for the lack of funding for nursing homes and green energy funds in Connecticut’s new state budget but said he recognizes the importance of bipartisanship and compromise. He also expressed concern about a lack of efficiency and action in Washington, D.C.

Kennedy’s visit was timely for the up-and-coming Yale club Disability Empowerment for Yale, which is dedicated to making Yale a more disability-friendly institution.

“Having [Kennedy] here is inspiring,” DEFY president Benjamin Nadolsky ’18 said. “To have someone here on campus who can raise awareness to a larger community is really great.”

Besides Kennedy, the Yale Dems have hosted an array of speakers with a wide range of political views and different levels under the Democratic umbrella. Trying to bring in two speakers a month, the Yale Dems have hosted political figures from U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, to Jake Sullivan to Susan Herman. They also organize activism around political issues.

“Every Monday in the fall, we focus on making calls to voters for campaigns, and in the spring, we take some action for legislative advocacy,” Yale Dems President Josh Hochman ’18 said. “In the past, for example, we have worked on issues relating to sexual consent, because, as college students, we felt like our voices should be heard.”

Kennedy was elected to the Connecticut State Senate in 2014.

Lauren Cueto |