Disability Issues in Election? Why Not?

Trying to get disability rights on the political radar screen is like playing the Powerball lottery: it’s a fab fantasy that’s unlikely to become reality. For decades, that’s what it’s felt like to many of us to get what we know from our disability experience and history in front of the public.
That is until real estate developer Donald J. Trump burst onto the scene as a presidential candidate. Whether you love Trump or loathe Trump, you have to admit the guy doesn’t care about being sensitive, tactful, or politically correct. As someone once said: “Counting all the times when Trump says something bigoted is like eating potato chips! How can you stop!”
But, in a way that nothing else has, Trump’s apparent mimicry of disabled reported Kovaleski has gotten disability prejudice on the radar screen. Of course, it’s merely a starting point in a much- needed conversation. Most people without disabilities are clueless about employment discrimination, inaccessible public transportation, bullying in schools or stereotypical media portrayals of disability. But it’s a start.
Where do we go from here? It’s election season. The presidential campaign circus has come to town. What better way to give disability rights a shout out than to get those of us with disabilities out to vote? Or get potential candidates to recognize that, at 54 million people strong, the disability vote exists!
The disability community is far from a strong political constituency. Yet 25% of the men elected to the presidency of the United States would have a diagnosis today, might be targeted to receive special services, and would most likely experience stigma associated with the label ‘disabled’.
The most famous was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had polio. But Washington, Kennedy, Jefferson, Eisenhower, Wilson and others had learning disabilities. Lincoln experienced severe depression. Madison had epilepsy. Clinton and Reagan both had hearing loss and Theodore Roosevelt was visually impaired.
Candidates today don’t believe there is a disability vote. We need to get them to believe that we’ll vote for them if they have a good position on the ADA or other disability issues. And we can’t just get fired up for 2016. We need to start structures that will last beyond local and state elections this year.
Independent living centers are the grassroots in urban and rural areas. These centers have a major responsibility to help coordinate non-partisan, get out the vote efforts. One of the most promising efforts to get disability on the presidential campaign radar screen is being waged on social media. It would be great if we can create a sense of community among people with disabilities on Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat.
Check out #CripTheVote, which will live-tweet the Democratic and Republican conventions from a disability perspective. Let’s REVup the vote!
Register! Educate! Vote!