Washington, July 22 – Sunday will be the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). President Barack Obama hosted a celebration at the White House on July 20th with prominent disability rights activists. In addition, several Republican presidential candidates including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, have talked about addressing disability rights and disability employment on the stump.
In contrast, the Democratic presidential candidates have not talked much about the importance of employing people with disabilities or addressing disability rights in general. On Friday July 17th, the five Democratic Party Presidential candidates – Lincoln Chafee, Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders, and Jim Webb –attended the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame Dinner in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Each of the five candidates addressed the crowd and talked about issues that were important to them: raising the minimum wage, eliminating college debt, increasing human rights, et cetera. In spite of the upcoming 25th anniversary of the passage of the ADA, not a single candidate neither mentioned the word “disability” nor did they talk about the rights and/or employment of people with disabilities.
As a person with a disability who has worked off and on in Democratic Party politics, I was appalled that none of the candidates gave any mention to disability rights, especially in former Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-IA) home state. Harkin was heavily involved in ensuring the passage of ADA.
I had the opportunity to meet and speak with Sen. Harkin on Tuesday July 21st. I mentioned to him that none of the candidates had spoken on the issue. While he was not present at the Cedar Rapids event, he had heard what happened. He said he was going to emphasize the importance of these issues with the candidates. It’s important for all presidential candidates, on both sides of the aisle, to truly think about how they would, as president, ensure that people with disabilities have the opportunity of integrated employment.