Senate Candidates Have Yet to Complete #PwDsVote Disability Questionnaire
Washington, Oct. 13 – As voters get ready to head to the polls in Alaska, RespectAbility is releasing its Alaska Disability Voter Guide for the upcoming senate and presidential elections. Democrat Ray Metcalfe is challenging Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski for the senate seat. Unfortunately for the 79,255 Alaskans with a disability, neither have completed the #PwDsVote Disability Campaign Questionnaire for Senate and Gubernatorial Candidates for people with disabilities.
Twenty-three other candidates for Senate, as well as nine candidates for governor, from both sides of the aisle (19 Democrats, 13 Republicans) have responded so far, showing that disability rights is a nonpartisan issue. The responses also are geographically-diverse, coming from states all around the country, as politicians are paying more and more attention to the disability community. On the presidential level, Democrat Hillary Clinton has completed the questionnaire while Republican Donald Trump has yet to do so.
The #PwDsVote 2016 Campaign Questionnaires were designed by and for people with disabilities (PwDs) and those who love them to know where candidates stand on key issues. RespectAbility is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates. The questionnaires are purely for educational purposes as voters go to the polls.
According to a new report from Rutgers University, 35.4 million people with disabilities will be eligible to vote in the November 2016 elections, representing close to one-sixth of the total electorate. That’s an increase of nearly 11 percent since 2008.
The presidential questionnaire was created during the primary season and asked all of the presidential candidates to comment on 16 disability questions. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responded by addressing all of the questions. Despite numerous requests in person and by phone and email, the Trump campaign has not yet filled out the questionnaire. The American Association of People with Disabilities and the National Council on Independent Living also has a nonpartisan presidential questionnaire, which both Clinton and Trump have completed. Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein have not filled out either questionnaire.
The down-ballot survey was adapted from the presidential questionnaire to ask gubernatorial candidates 16 questions and senatorial candidates 17 questions. All answers are posted verbatim and in full on The RespectAbility Report, a publication that covers the intersection of disability and politics.
Alaska is ahead of many states in terms of expanding employment for people with disabilities. According to the most recent publicly available Census data, Alaska ranks 11th in the nation as measured by the employment rate of people with disabilities. However, Alaska is facing significant economic shifts currently. The challenges of the energy sector may be creating significant obstacles at the moment, but the career pathways that need building could be determined by the upcoming elections.
Alaska Needs to Improve Outcomes for Citizens with Disabilities
There are 44,674 Alaskans with disabilities who are between the ages of 18-64. Additionally, there are 3,300 Alaskans ages 16-20 with disabilities. More than 15,000 Alaska students have individual education plans (IEPs). However, many Alaskans with disabilities have not yet received a disability diagnosis they need, and thus are not yet receiving the school accommodations and supports that they need to succeed. Many students who might need support to succeed academically instead find themselves trapped into a lifetime of poverty or flowing down the school to prison pipeline.
Today Alaska has the opportunity to work hard to improve outcomes in terms of competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities. Currently 40.8 percent of working-age Alaskans with disabilities are employed compared to 76.1 percent of those without disabilities. View the rankings of all 50 states and compare.
Alaska’s Changing Economy Could Benefit People with Disabilities
RespectAbility, founded in 2013, is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to end stigmas and advance opportunities for people with disabilities. It has submitted comments for all 50 state’s drafts of the Unified Plan as required under Section 102 of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). As it stands, Alaska’s written state plan makes commitments to serving youth with disabilities. There is a lot of innovative and dedicated work being done on workforce developments, which will significantly improve Alaska’s workforce system and its ability to serve people with barriers to employment.
One of the most important facets of WIOA is that it raises expectations for youth with disabilities and assists states to provide them with the supports they need to ensure success. Indeed, as Alaska’s Baby Boomers retire and the state’s economy evolves, employers are starting to experience increasing talent shortage. Alaskans with disabilities are an untapped resource that can be trained to bridge that gap. Indeed, a recent detailed study by the Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire shows the 70 percent of working age people with disabilities are striving for work.
Evidence shows that people with disabilities can provide a wonderful solution to companies and other employers that want to succeed. The diverse skills, greater loyalty and higher retention rates of people with disabilities are already starting to meet employer talent needs in increasing numbers around America. With WIOA, Alaska can benefit from that progress if it truly breaks down silos within government agencies and partners, and lets innovation, based on evidence-based practices, take place.
However, the gap in the labor force participation between people with and without disabilities is still too large around the entire country. This lack of employment for people with disabilities creates poverty, powerlessness, and poor health. Polls and studies show that people with disabilities want the opportunity to have the dignity and independence that jobs provide.
America has 1.2 million youth with disabilities, between the ages of 16 and 20. Each year 300,000 of them age into what should be the workforce, but stigmas and lack of knowledge about the capabilities of people with disabilities means that most do not find employers willing to hire them. Young adults with disabilities in all of these states are hoping to find work. They have high expectations and deserve the opportunity to achieve the American dream. Young people with disabilities may simply need some thoughtful help to transition into the workforce. See data on all 50 states here: State Data.
Fully one-out-of-five people have a disability, and 52 percent of likely voters have a loved one with a disability. Only 34 percent of working-age Americans with disabilities have jobs, despite the fact that the vast majority want to work. More than 11 million working age people with disabilities are now living on government benefits in our country.
RespectAbility President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi said, “Our community is looking for jobs so we can achieve the American dream, just like anyone else. It is vital for us to know where the candidates stand on economic, stigma, education, safety, transportation, housing, healthcare, foreign affairs and other issues. The candidates have hugely different ideas about how to deal with the issues. Thus, it’s extremely important to read their full answers so you can understand their vast differences.”
Remember to Vote
Alaska residents can vote for the candidates of their choice either on the standard voting schedule or through early voting. Alaskans had until Oct. 9, 2016, to register to vote for the presidential general election. Registered voters can cast an early vote or use an absentee ballot to vote from Oct. 24, 2016 through Nov. 7, 2016. More information regarding early voting and absentee ballots in Alaska can be found at: Early and Absentee Voting Information.