In last week’s Democratic presidential debate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren mentioned people with disabilities while rattling off a list of people who struggle to afford housing. Disability advocates say it’s one of the first times a politician has referenced the group since George H.W. Bush introduced the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.
Democratic candidates Julián Castro and Pete Buttigieg released disability proposals this month addressing subminimum wage, barriers to education and treatment of people with disabilities in the criminal justice system. And a handful of other candidates list disability policy platforms on their websites.
California advocates say these issues are getting an unprecedented amount of attention this election cycle, and it’s motivating voters with disabilities to get politically active.
Ali Ada of Sacramento said she got so accustomed to not hearing mentions of disabilities in political debates, she stopped listening for them.
“I didn’t realize I could ask for those things from a politician,” she said. “Now that it’s being talked about, it’s very disappointing that it hasn’t been talked about sooner.”
Ada lives with anxiety, depression and a bladder condition. She said her ideal candidate is someone who can guarantee affordable access to mental health care for all Californians.
“Everyone talks about Medicare for all and universal health care,” she said. “It’s a very difficult thing to get access to psychiatric care, especially when you’re in crisis. ... It would be nice if I didn’t have to wait six months to get treated.”
One in four Americans has a disability, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And a July study from Rutgers University suggests people with disabilities make up a growing chunk of the voter base. Nearly half of people with disabilities voted in 2018, up 8.5 percent from the 2014 midterms, according to the report.
And that’s despite the fact that the political system isn’t always set up for people with disabilities. A report from the U.S. Government and Accountability Office found that more than 60 percent of the polling places it assessed during the 2016 election had some sort of impediment that could make it more difficult for people with disabilities to vote.
And this June, a Florida organization wrote a report criticizing the 2020 presidential candidates for not making their campaign websites usable for people with disabilities.That means that visitors with visual, hearing, motor, or cognitive disabilities may be blocked from accessing the information they need from certain pages. Websites that are difficult to navigate using only the keyboard are also problematic. A few democratc candidates made improvements to their sites after the report came out.
“We’ve never seen this level of interest this early on in the primary process,” said Rebecca Cokley, director of the Disability Justice Initiative with the Center for American Progress.
She said it’s a big deal for candidates to be talking about people with disabilities, even in a broad way. But she’d like to see them offer more specific solutions to urgent problems facing the community, such as the lack of emergency planning for disabled people during natural disasters. This call follows a string of planned “public safety” power shut offs that put disabled Californians who rely on electricity for medications and medical devices at risk.
“The power outages are such a significant issue that I have yet to hear any candidate address,” Cokley said. “This is inexcusable, that disabled people’s deaths are expected.”
Last week, disability rights advocates across the country followed along with the Democratic debate and live-tweeted under the hashtag “#CriptheVote.””
Alice Wong of San Francisco helps run the Crip the Vote movement. She also founded the Disability Visibility Project, which aims to encourage disabled people to participate in politics.
“We created space for our community to connect and share their thoughts through the hashtag,” she wrote in an email. “If a campaign is smart, they would consider voters with disabilities as a community that they should reach and engage with.”
No Republican candidates have put out disability plans so far.
CapRadio provides a trusted source of news because of you. As a nonprofit organization, donations from people like you sustain the journalism that allows us to discover stories that are important to our audience. If you believe in what we do and support our mission, please donate today.