By: Michael Rock
As the 2020 presidential campaign has begun, there are many questions about how the candidates will address issues specific to people with disabilities.
A recent Rutgers University study showed that in the 2018 midterm elections in which a record 53 percent of eligible voters came to the polls, voters with disabilities were one particularly noteworthy demographic, with 49.3% of them voting, an 8.5% increase from the 2014 midterms. An additional 10.2 million voters are believed to live with someone who has a disability, making at least 20% of the American electorate connected to the issue in some way.
The authors of the say that despite a lack of accessibility in many polling places, the disability community is very politically engaged and is likely to become more so in 2020.
Despite the study’s findings as well as statements from a number of the presidential candidates on the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, they have not done much to frame key policy issues through the lens of disability, such as the border crisis, lead contamination, and failing to include long-term supports and services as a key aspect of Medicare for all.
Though South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has vowed to include people with disabilities in his campaign ads and staff, and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has promised to have at least one person with a disability in her cabinet if elected, other efforts to reach out to this key demographic have been limited. Though Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has dedicated a page of his website to disability rights, his campaign materials are not all accessible to deaf or blind voters.
Though Hillary Clinton developed a comprehensive plan for people with autism and their families for her 2016 campaign, the 2020 candidates, except for Andrew Yang, whose son is on the spectrum, have not widely discussed it. They could better serve this crucial community by better understanding key issues such as discrimination in employment, the military, education, and care services. Understanding autism as both a disability and an identity is also important to develop a policy platform on the matter.
Still, the candidate that may set off the most red flags on matters of disability is Marianne Williamson, who made it clear in her in books that she is skeptical of traditional medication and advocates positive thinking to cure diseases. Not only is it unscientific, but the implications of such ideas place the burden of blame on disability or illness on the sufferer.
Though people with disabilities are clearly an important demographic that could help swing the 2020 elections, the candidates thus far have been limited in their outreach. Until at least one of them adequately and thoroughly works to address inequities they face and proposes policies that will better address their needs, the disability community should engage with all of them as much as possible to make disability affairs a cornerstone issue for anyone running for the nation’s highest office.
Michael Rock is a New York City-based reporter and self-advocate with autism. A graduate of Brandeis University, his work has appeared in Kings County Politics, Chelsea Now, Our Town, Queens County Politics, and WhoWhatWhy.