The Disability Bubble

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on October 06, 2021 # Lifestyle

Man wearing a black hat reaching in his backpack on the ground. He is a wheelchair user. He is next to the open trunk of his car.Many of us in this broad, diverse thing called a disability community lives in a cultural and political bubble. Okay, let’s just say that I live in such a bubble. I’m white and male – there’s one layer of bubble skin. I live in West Los Angeles – there’s another. And I have a large address book of disability activists with whom I work and communicate constantly. They are mostly left-of-center in outlook and are bright, ambitious, and independent. George Packer, in his new book about the divisions in America entitled “The Last Best Hope,” would say most of them belong to a cultural faction he calls “Smart America,” the group of coastal or urban self-driven citizens who preach that if you work hard and get the right education, the information economy will welcome you. These are the people a big chunk of middle America hates.

Because the major media organs of disability –magazines, foundations, political groups, and celebrity spokespeople – also belong in Smart America, it’s easy to forget that most disabled Americans are poor – 25.9% live below the poverty line – or are working people from the Midwest and South struggling to get by. And two out of five over 65 are disabled, about 22 million. Few of these are information-age, hi-tech go-getters. As Packer points out, the educated “elite” has become like an aristocracy and often forget these other people exist. He sees them as smug and narcissistic.

Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, is at the moment the most powerful and effective wheelchair-using politician in America. He is smart but in no way conforms to the New York Times-reading Smart faction. He shatters the conventional wisdom about the disabled in America. He is a right-wing zealot who easily won the governorship twice. In his first election, he surrounded himself in ads with dozens of Texas Rangers to show how tough he was. He eschews the Texas disability community and hardly acknowledges that they exist. He hates the ADA and, as Texas attorney general, filed suit against it time and again.

He recently signed a voting rights bill that makes it harder for the disabled to vote. Among its provisions: to apply for a mail-in ballot -- something sent to every California voter without question – a disabled Texas voter must show proof of their disability via a physician, Veteran Affairs, or some other official source. If they need assistance in voting, that person has to explain their relationship, why assistance is needed, and swear an oath on penalty of perjury. As one of the bill authors put it, “We don’t trust people to assist people with disabilities.” The law also eliminates drive-through and 24-hour voting.

Greg Abbott and other disabled figures on the right (e.g., Madison Cawthorn, Rep NC) invite the question: who do disabled voters vote for and why? Also, do voters in general even consider a disability in voting for a candidate?

Compelling answers to both questions are in a Pew Research Report of 2016, the most comprehensive research I’ve seen on the subject. Surprisingly, in 2016, 46% voted for Trump and 49% for Clinton. That popping sound you hear is the Smart America bubble bursting.

Some things have changed. For instance, 1.7 million more disabled people voted in 2020, according to a Rutgers’ study, and 53% voted by mail (see new Texas law above).

The Pew people saw this split even before the election. Their question: does the presence or absence of the disabled in the voting booth have the potential to swing an election? The answer is no. “Americans with disabilities look similar to those without disabilities both in terms of party affiliation and their distribution across the ideological spectrum.”

Having a disability clearly doesn’t predict voting. There is no uniform “disability bloc.” To quote a recent Forbes analysis, “Age, education, race, and other demographic factors appear much more decisive, including among disabled voters themselves.”

But who did they vote for in 2020? According to a Respectability Report on data gathered by 11/16/20, Biden won the disability vote, 51% to 48%. There were more disabled voters, but the percentage over Trump was the same as in 2016. To quote, “Among voters with disabilities, COVID-19 (24%) and the economy and jobs (22%) were the most important issues in deciding for whom to vote.”

See, we are just like “normal people” or better, we are normal people. Disability seems to have little to do with it.

Allen Rucker was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, raised in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and has an MA in Communication from Stanford University, an MA in American Culture from the University of Michigan, and a BA in English from Washington University, St. Louis.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.