what is disability voters?
Disability Voters is an activist group that aims to improve election outcomes for people with disabilities and their families and supporters. It was started in 2016 based on concern about the possible election of Donald Trump and the risk that Republicans would win power to reverse or weaken Medicaid, Medicare, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and state and local protections that are vital for people with disabilities and their families, and in many cases for broader populations as well.
Disability Voters is organizing locally and nationally to help people with disabilities and their allies achieve the political representation that our numbers warrant. We will soon register a Political Action Committee with the Federal Election Commission so that we can raise money to support and oppose candidates. We don’t want to plead with hostile politicians except when absolutely necessary; rather, we want to be selecting and electing politicians who understand that disability is a natural part of the human condition and that we have rights in addition to needs. We don’t want to be bound by rules that keep charitable tax-exempt organizations from endorsing candidates. We don’t want to be a piece of some individual candidate’s campaign, at risk of disappearing when the election is over. We don’t want to be tied to a single party, since in the not so distant past, disability issues were bipartisan, and we hope that in the long term they will be once again.
Who is Involved in Disability Voters?
Disability Voters includes people who can vote, people who cannot yet vote but hope to at some point, and anyone who understands that, in our system, elections are vital. Sitting out elections with a plan to try to work with and/or protest against whoever wins is not enough. There is strength in numbers, enthusiasm, and geographic distribution. Membership in Disability Voters is free; it involves giving us your email address and agreeing to consider requests for action.
Please consider joining us if you are:
• A person with a disability
• Linked to someone with a disability as a family member, friend or professional
• Someone reasonable enough to see that you or someone you care about may eventually become a person with a disability
• A political ally of people with disabilities who realizes that the social safety net — providing food, shelter, health care, and a livable, safe environment even for people who can’t pay — matters for us all
Why does unity matter if we want to increase the political power of people with disabilities and their allies?
Not surprisingly, given frustration related to unmet needs, up to this point people with disabilities have been evenly distributed along the left-right political continuum based on longstanding family and personal loyalties. Politicians can reasonably assume that nothing they do for or to our community really affects election outcomes. Candidates and officeholders assume that, when it comes to our community, Democrats and Democratic leaning Independents will vote Democratic, and Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents will vote Republican. The 2016 election undoubtedly reinforced that perception: the disability vote broke down like the general population even though Trump had been sued for violating the rights of people with disabilities and insulted them on the campaign trail, while Clinton pointed to her history and plans relating to disability advocacy. We don’t want to be tied totally to one party, with nowhere to go if our interests are neglected, but it is even worse for us to be seen as immovable and inert. That is where the disability vote is now.
We need to change that.
How does Disability Voters define pro-disability positions?
The goal of Disability Voters is to turn the massive numbers of people affected by disability policy in the US into a coherent, somewhat unified voting bloc that politicians will need to pay attention to. We share these views:
• Early intervention services need to be based on efficacy research, not on conventional service levels or assumptions that infants and toddlers with disabilities need to be segregated from typically developing peers.
• Special education for students from age 3 to the age of transition (typically 21) needs to enable skill development and curricular access and it needs to be as inclusive as possible.
• Health care geared to physical and mental health needs must be a right, even for people with conditions that are expensive and/or “preexisting.”
• Genetic and prenatal counseling need to be fully voluntary, and if accessed need to be provided by professionals who understand the rights and opportunities available to people with disabilities. No one should terminate a pregnancy based on false or discriminatory stereotypes about the lives of people with disabilities, or because needed supports are not available for people with disabilities.
• Environmental protections, workplace safety and health standards, and substance abuse treatment need to be in place to minimize preventable disabilities.
• Family and direct support provider contributions need to be honored financially and otherwise.
• Employment needs to be fostered, workers’ rights need to be protected, and individualized entrepreneurial supports need to be available.
• Adults with disabilities need to be able to live with family or other companions and caregivers whom they choose, or independently to the extent feasible if that is their preference.
• Income maintenance and housing programs for individuals with disabilities should not assume that poverty and segregation are “natural” states.
• Technologies that make it possible for people with disabilities to communicate, plan and live in ways that were unimaginable a generation ago need to be funded and available, and training needs to be provided for all concerned.
• People with disabilities need to be empowered to save money, develop skills, and plan for their futures, without losing access to critical supports.
• Access to disability-related rights and services should be available in all parts of our country, including sparsely populated areas, and federal oversight needs to be meaningful and responsive.
These principles may seem basic, but so far none have been realized. Both major US political parties have fallen short. Disability Voters aims to improve our options in elections by pushing all parties and candidates to do better, and to help voters, volunteers and donors identify and elect those candidates who are most helpful, or least harmful, from a disability perspective.