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Tuesday, December 6, 2022
ArlingtonOpinionLetter: Initiative works to make politics more inclusive

Letter: Initiative works to make politics more inclusive

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Editor: The first time I was told that politics would not be a good fit for me was in a meeting with my academic adviser regarding political internships. It was during my sophomore year of college. She made it clear that I needed to find a different major.

I remember during that moment feeling frozen as she went through a grocery list of reasons.

As she listed her concerns, I began to agree with her. Multiple panic attacks a week? Can’t handle loud noises? Making eye contact with people is difficult? Too slow? Get overwhelmed by too much information? Need too many breaks? All these thoughts scurried through my head, as she expressed her concern that I would fall behind academically and professionally.

She then gave one last hard truth: My accommodations (which were no problem for the college to provide) would be viewed as “burdensome” in an internship setting.


It would be five years after that meeting until I was diagnosed as an individual with autism. It was amazing how a simple word could so quickly describe and explain the last twenty-odd years of my life.

For the first time, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. Years of thinking that I was slow or just not cut out for the very thing I loved disappeared. There was a renewal of hope that I could be a part of something bigger in my community. A belief that I thought had been extinguished in college.

What do I do with this regained fervor? How do I tell anyone that I’m autistic? Would a work environment be able to provide reasonable accommodations, or was my adviser right?

My questions were answered this summer. I was hired by the Progressive Turnout Project (PTP) to participate in its Fellows Program, and I started working as a “campaign fellow” for Del. Patrick Hope. The welcoming culture of the program mixed perfectly with Del. Hope’s campaign. Both environments connected me with individuals possessing a passion for and mastery in their field. The focus wasn’t just on the campaign, but also on how campaigns can and should form around people.

PTP works with Democratic campaigns to identify individuals who they then pay and train to support their candidates. Every person in PTP and Del. Hope’s campaign wanted to be there and showed a love for what they were doing. This in retrospect is why Del. Hope’s staff didn’t seem to bat an eye during our interview when I mentioned I was autistic. PTP responded with encouragement and excitement that I was willing to share with them my diagnosis and need for reasonable accommodations.

This system of training and mentorship that both Del. Hope’s campaign and PTP utilized enabled me to feel positive about my autism.

Many in the disabled community are not as fortunate in their work environment. Overall, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are underemployed and underutilized. According to the Arc of Northern Virginia, only 36 percent of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are employed, and on average, only work 26 hours per two-week period.

This staggeringly low number raises multiple questions and leads one to many negative and trying conclusions. This also can create a problem for individuals who have no political experience but want to get involved.

Joseph C. Albert, Arlington

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