- Yoh Lin New, a member of the New York House of Representatives, could go down in history as the first member of Congress to openly suffer from autism.
- He told New Insider that the representation of Americans with disabilities needs improvement.
- Neo also said that being open about autism helped remove the stigma of disability.
The halls of Congress haven’t yet seen an autistic lawmaker openly, but New York Rep. Yoh Line New could change that.
Neo, who was diagnosed with autism when she was 22, said she was “surprised” to learn she could be the first openly autistic member of Congress, but she also said it shows an underrepresentation of disability communities in policymaking.
“I think we hear a lot about the former and only occasionally,” Neo told Insider. “While it’s a great thing, I think it’s very important to have people who understand that it’s also a really aloof thing. And I think it’s really important to have representation because you need that lens to talk about anything in politics.”
Niu, the progressive Democrat and Taiwanese immigrant who represents District 65 in New York, announced her candidacy for Congress this year in a high-profile race against Bill de Blasio and Representative Monder Jones.
Neo’s diagnosis became known after Refinery published 29 articles about her in 2020. After reaching out to parents and children to connect with her, she became aware of how speaking openly about her autism helped “break the stigma.”
Americans with disabilities are underrepresented among full-time politicians. People with disabilities make up 6.3% of federal politicians, compared to 15.7% of all American adults with disabilities, according to Rutgers research.
“People with disabilities cannot achieve equality unless they are part of government decision making,” Lisa Shore said in the 2019 Rutgers Report.
The number of Americans with disabilities may have increased over the past two years. It is estimated that 1.2 million people may become disabled as a result of COVID-19.
Neo also said she knows what it feels like to be excluded from the government process. In 2016, New became the first Asian woman to serve as a member of the caucus in her borough, a major Asian neighborhood that includes New York’s Chinatown.
People with disabilities are “invisible by being excluded from the political decision-making process,” New said. Her disability status helps her shed light on a variety of laws from transportation to housing, and she wants to ensure that people of different nerves have a greater say in the legislative process.
“We don’t take into account all the different points of view, especially when we talk about neurological divergence [issues] Or when we talk about disability issues,” Niu said.
People with disabilities are more likely to be incarcerated, have a higher risk of homelessness and are more likely to experience poverty.
They are also more likely to need access to health care and also have difficulty accessing it. Congressional Republicans have repeatedly tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act during the administration of former President Donald Trump, even though repealing the ACA would limit access to health care for many disabled adults.
New said she hopes other politicians will take disability issues into account in their legislation, as disability issues may eventually affect all Americans.
“One of the things I really like to say is that if you put on a ramp, it’s very unlikely that we would all travel,” New said. “Think of each other, we all do better.”
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