There are many websites available these days, which offer how political candidates (both Republican and Democrat) approach the “important” issues. You can click to see comparisons about the economy, foreign policy, gun control, abortion, LGBT issues, environment, jobs, etc. Yet despite a long list, and candidate positions for each of those areas, guess what is missing? That’s right, Disability rights.
We are in the midst a presidential political campaign season which exemplifies ableism. The dominant group of persons with abilities and power have determined that the rights of persons with disabilities are not an important issue. I wonder why that might be, especially when some of those candidates talk about civil rights and the rights and freedoms of individuals. Consider, some of the following areas of concern:
Disabilities and Employment
While the ADA paved the way for accommodations in the workplace, issues still remain. It is still legal to hire persons with disabilities and pay less than minimum wage, such as a factory which hires persons with developmental disabilities for production, because they are offering a “service” to persons with disabilities who would otherwise not have jobs. If persons who are able-bodied were broadly paid less than minimum wage, it would be an important issue.
Additionally, In the year 2013, an estimated 34.5 percent (plus or minus 0.28 percentage points) of non-institutionalized, male or female, with a disability, ages 21-64, all races, regardless of ethnicity, with all education levels in the United States were employed. (Source: Cornell University https://www.disabilitystatistics.org/reports/acs.cfm?statistic=2 ) From an ableist perspective, look how positive it is that 34.5% of persons with disabilikties are employed, how much progress we have made. Of course, the reality is that it also means that 64.5% of persons with disabilities are unemployed! If the “general economy” were at 64.5% unemployment, that would be a political issue. Persons with disabilities are persons first, and should be entitled to wage equality and employment opportunity. How is this not an important issue?
Disabilities and Access to Health Care
Imagine, if you will, that you are involved in an accident, or have a stroke, or acquire a disability. Chances are that if you have insurance, your medical care and rehabilitation will be covered to some level. Now imagine you have a child who is born with an intellectual or developmental disability. The Affordable Care Act mandated Autism Screening, but in the passage of the final law, Autism coverage was left out. So once a diagnosis is made, coverage of needed supports and therapies are left to the individual insurance plan. As of 2015, only 29 states have enacted regulations that require autism coverage to be included on all plans sold through the exchange. (Source: https://www.healthinsurance.org/faqs/how-is-autism-covered-under-the-affordable-care-act/ ) Why is insurance discrimination around Autism not an important issue?
Disabilities and Voting Rights
There are roughly 56.7 million persons with disabilities in the U.S., many of whom are registered voters. In 2012, 15.6 million people with disabilities reported voting in the election. One survey by United Cerebal Palsy identified that 30% of persons with disabilities identify as Democratic voters, 23% Republican and 30% Independent. (Source: http://ucp.org/power-in-numbers/Disability%20Community%20Poll.pdf ) Yet here too is an issue. In that 2012 election cycle, 20% (1 in 5) of the voters with disabilities reported being kept from casting their ballot on their own, and more than half reported rude and condescending attitudes from election workers. Maybe the election workers were having a bad day, you say? Nearly 40 percent of voters with disabilities said their polling place was physically inaccessible (70% of polling places were inaccessible!) and almost half indicated that technology was problematic. The report also found that state laws are increasingly limiting the right to vote for people with disabilities under guardianships and in other circumstances. (Sources: http://smlr.rutgers.edu/disability-and-voting-survey-report-2012-elections and https://www.disabilityscoop.com/2013/11/04/voting-problems-widespread/18860/ ) Politicians will claim that every vote counts, unless you are a person with a disability apparently. Why is this not an important issue?
These are three issues. There are others. I encourage you to research and identify what they are.
When will these issues facing persons with disabilities become “important” issues for presidential (and legislative) candidates? When we all, persons with a spectrum of abilities, come together with a unified voice and demand that politicians consider all persons as having important issues. We can start by asking that candidates for president have as part of their campaigns a disability policy committee which includes persons with disabilities. And, as actions speak louder than words, that will tell us where they stand on important issues for persons with disabilities.