Harnessing the power of the disability vote

In the clamor of activity leading up to our presidential election this fall, it seems the loudest voices get the most attention. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to include people with disabilities.

You may think, “Why should I care about disability issues?” After all, there are many others issues that are detrimental to the majority of Americans. If you aren’t directly or indirectly affected by a disability, situations impacting us probably aren’t your radar.

I am aware people vote for candidates, bills and other issues based on what’s important to them. Although I am in the minority as a person with a disability, my rights as an American citizen are important to me – and I believe that’s something the majority can get behind.

People with disabilities make up 20 percent of the U.S. population. Statistically, that number represents an untapped resource with the potential to significantly boost a candidate’s viability.

According to Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania, if people with disabilities register and vote at the same rate as the rest of the nation, between five and 10 million more votes will be cast in the next presidential election.

That’s after we’ve made it to the polls – if we’re able to at all. There still are many physical obstacles to tackle, such as access to polling areas and voting machines that are voice activated and adjustable for people who use wheelchairs.

Tuning into the news and primary debates, I find the candidates aren’t giving me anything to go on as I, an American with a disability, tries to decipher how to vote. There are many issues that prevent people with disabilities from having full quality of life, such as marriage penalties, inclusion community living, accessible transportation, the stabilization of Medicaid and Medicare, and equal employment for all.

There is work being done throughout the state of Ohio to educate people with disabilities about their rights. Advocacy United All Together Now (of which I am a member and past chair) is a group made up of self-advocates and supported by disabilities policymakers who believe in self-sufficiency for people with disabilities.

One of AU’s goals is to teach other self-advocates about their voting rights. Still, even with the group’s self-empowerment work, it would nice to hear if candidates support the disability movement so self-advocates can make a decision about whom he or she would like to elect.

If candidates want to experience the power of the disability vote, they need to start addressing some of the issues we face. I bring this topic to light so disability-related issues will not get lost. Hopefully as time passes, perhaps candidates will set an agenda for America which will not only sustain the lives of people with disabilities but improve them, as well.

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Shari Cooper is one of our regular community contributors.

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