The Disability Vote: Why does it matter?

Posted by Reeve Foundation Staff in Daily Dose on January 13, 2020 # Advocacy and Policy

2020 is an exciting year for the Disability Community as we follow the Presidential race. While in years past many candidates have ignored the Disability Community, we have already seen changes in this race as the Democratic candidates have recognized the power of the Disability Community’s voting bloc and have begun to cater to us in their platforms. Furthermore, we have even seen President Trump take actions to appeal to the Disability Community, such as recently signing into law a bill that will protect manual complex wheelchairs from competitive bidding.

Of course, it is a smart move for the President and presidential hopefuls to try to appeal to the Disability Community for votes. After all, according to the CDC, 61 million Americans have a disability – that’s one in four people in our country. And it’s not just disabled people who care about disability issues, it’s our friends and families too. That makes the Disability Community’s voting bloc especially large and very strong. Furthermore, a July 2019 report from Rutgers University revealed that voter turnout among people with disabilities increased by 8.5 percentage points in 2018.

Because of our strong voting bloc and our increasing turnout at the polls, we’re exactly who candidates should be courting. Furthermore, the Disability Community tends to vote on both sides of the aisle, which means that both parties can work to earn our votes.

We’ve seen some of the democratic candidates recognize the value of the Disability Community early on in the 2020 Presidential race by thoughtfully answering disability specific questions from constituents on social media, such as Elizabeth Warren talking in a video about making her campaign accessible, her support for social security, Medicaid, and the IDEA, opposing subminimum wages for people with disabilities, and creating housing for people with disabilities.

Then we saw candidates build their campaigns to include disability policies and plans. Several candidates have disability specific platforms listed on their website, including Pete Buttigieg, who, on Nov. 2, 2019, released a comprehensive disability platform that covers everything from reducing wait times for Social Security Income appeals cases to the rights of parents with disabilities to the right to attendant care services. Two months later, on January 2, 2020, Elizabeth Warren published an equally holistic platform. While Julian Castro published his disability platform well before Warren’s comprehensive platform was published, he dropped out of the race the same day Warren dropped her disability platform. Bernie Sanders, who is still in the race, has a page dedicated to disability policies on his campaign website, albeit with less details than other candidates, as does Joe Biden. A search for “Amy Klobuchar disability platform” on Google only produced results for her controversial mental health plan, as well as Buttigieg’s. Lastly, a search for “Donald Trump disability platform” on Google also produced no results.

In addition to candidates discussing disability issues in their platforms, the Disability Community had the spotlight for a few minutes during the December 19, 2019 Democratic Debate. A question was posed to Presidential hopeful Tom Steyer about specific steps he would take to ensure an integrated workforce and community for adults with disabilities. Three candidates answered the question – Steyer, Yang, and Warren. Each gave it their best shot and the Disability Community celebrated that our issues have finally been brought to the national debate stage.

The Disability Community has gained great momentum in the 2020 Presidential race, and we still have 11 months until the election. This means we have 11 months to continue to influence Presidential campaigns by pushing candidates on the issues that mean the most to us. Is insurance restricting your access to the assistive technology you need to live your best life? Reach out to the candidates and see if anyone has a plan – or will create a plan – to address your needs. Have you been holding back on marrying the love of your life for fear of losing your benefits? Reach out to the candidates. Have you been stuck in an institutional setting since your spinal cord injury because you cannot find affordable, accessible housing? Reach out to the candidates.

Your stories can make a difference. Your votes can make a difference. You can make a difference.

Stephanie Woodward is an attorney who is passionate about seeking justice for marginalized communities - and has an arrest record to show for it. As a proud disabled woman and civil rights activist, Stephanie is committed to making the law work for all oppressed people. She recently launched her new website Disability Details where she talks about disability rights, access, and life.