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Candidates Talk Accessibility for People with Disabilities

Washington, Nov. 3 – In theory, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) opened the door to employment for many people with physical disabilities by requiring that buildings be physically accessible. In practice, however, workplace accessibility for many people with disabilities is far from universal.

Many employers have offices in buildings that predate the ADA and therefore don’t have elevators, accessible bathrooms or necessary assistive technology for people of all abilities to be able to work there. In addition, the ADA exempts companies with fewer than 15 employees from having to abide by ADA standards, so many miss out on a chance to work for a smaller organization.

Therefore, as part of the #PwDsVote Disability Questionnaire, the nonpartisan, nonprofit disability organization RespectAbility asked candidates running for president, senate or governor about their plans to address this issue. Every candidate was given an equal opportunity to respond and if they are not listed, it is because they declined to answer.

Many campaigns lack basic accessibility – from websites being accessible for people using screen readers to videos lacking captions for the 37.5 million American adults who are deaf or hard of hearing. In addition, not all campaign events are ADA accessible, including parking, entrances and bathrooms. Many lacked ASL interpreters and live captioning services.

The quotes in this article are the candidates’ answers to questions 1 and 2 in the gubernatorial/senate questionnaire: “Do you have designated advisors and clear processes for making decisions on disability issues? Is your campaign accessible and inclusive to people with disabilities?” These were adapted from similar questions, numbers 1 and 11, in the presidential questionnaire.

In Delaware, both candidates for the open gubernatorial seat have worked to ensure they have accessible campaigns by seeking input from both family members and constituents with disabilities. Whomever wins will have big shoes to fill as current Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, who is term limited, is a hero to the disability community. Markell was awarded recognition by RespectAbility this summer for his leadership nationally in creating more job opportunities for people with disabilities.

“I have learned about disability issues from constituent calls seeking assistance as well as disability community meetings as a member of the legislature,” Republican State Sen. Colin Bonini replied. “We hold meet and greets at various locations including restaurants. We ask the locations if their events are accessible prior to setting an event up and it is our goal to hold events at locations that are accessible.”

“I have strong relationships with members of Delaware’s disabilities community, and I rely on them for advice and guidance on how to best serve the needs of those with disabilities,” Democrat Rep. John Carney replied. “My campaign welcomes all Delawareans to share their thoughts and concerns about the future of our state. We ensure that our offices and community events are always accessible for anyone who wishes to participate in the election process.”

Check out all of the candidates’ full responses below:

Presidential Candidates
NOTE: Donald Trump declined to respond to the survey.

Former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton (D)
“My campaign receives advice from a number of advisors on disability issues, many of whom have been active on these issues for decades and can draw not only on their policy expertise but their own experiences with disability. I have studied and worked on these issues for years and am proud that my campaign has the support of distinguished individuals like former Sen. Tom Harkin and former Rep. Tony Coelho, who have done so much to advocate for people with disabilities, including playing leading roles in the effort to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. My campaign repeatedly turns to leaders in the disability community for advice on these issues as we develop our policy plans. And of course, I learn so much from the people I meet in my travels every day. I know that in order to develop the best policies on these issues and advocate for them effectively, I will need the input of people from the disability community who are living these issues every day. I have set up my campaign to do just that.

I am proud to be running a campaign that is open to people with disabilities. Our campaign is working to make our website and documents accessible for people who are blind and use screen readers and have made meaningful progress toward Level AA in compliance under WCAG 2.0 standards. We also endeavor to provide captions for all of our videos for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

For our events, we work to make sure that the location is accessible for people with disabilities, including seating areas for people with disabilities that have a clear line of sight to the stage, accessible entry and exit points to the location and seating area as well as accessible restrooms, and signs that point people with disabilities in the right direction. We work to have an ASL interpreter who is clearly visible to audience members in the designated seating area for those with disabilities at all large-group events, and also aim to do so at smaller-group events whenever we receive a request to do so. Our staff on-site works to accommodate any further requests that we receive.

Our policy and political outreach teams have also focused on disability issues. I am particularly proud of the outreach we have developed over the course of the campaign. We are in close contact with some of the great reformers and key players on these issues, who help make sure the campaign is apprised of the most pressing issues Americans with disabilities face. And from the standpoint of the campaign itself, our policy is that every campaign office that we open should be accessible for people with disabilities, including the rest rooms. Our handbook notes our “commitment to inclusion and equal treatment for all team members,” and our HR & Diversity team works to recruit people from all backgrounds and address any outstanding issues for all people with disabilities who are coming onboard.”

Gubernatorial Candidates

State Sen. Colin Bonini (DE-R)
“I have learned about disability issues from constituent calls seeking assistance as well as disability community meetings as a member of the legislature. While I do not have a designated advisor on disability issues as my staff is quite small and we lack resources to research many issues as we would like, I would very much like to learn more and appreciate input from advocated both nationally and in state.

We hold meet and greets at various locations including restaurants. We ask the locations if their events are accessible prior to setting an event up and it is our goal to hold events at locations that are accessible.

Going forward, we will ask if any accommodations are needed on registration forms. In addition, we have begun the process of learning about adding captions to videos for people who are deaf or hearing impaired and alt text to images on our website for individuals using screen readers.”

Rep. John Carney (DE-D)
“I have strong relationships with members of Delaware’s disabilities community, and I rely on them for advice and guidance on how to best serve the needs of those with disabilities.

I have also learned a lot about the challenges impacting those with disabilities from experiences within my family. My niece was born with severe autism. I have seen my sister and brother-in-law struggle to find the care she needs, and have tried to help them overcome challenges with education, housing, and support in the community.

My campaign welcomes all Delawareans to share their thoughts and concerns about the future of our state. We ensure that our offices and community events are always accessible for anyone who wishes to participate in the election process.”

Ms. Linda Coleman (NC-D) – running for Lt. Gov.
“As a former HR Director in state government for over 30 years, I was responsible for ensuring compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and provided training and interpretation of the ADA. As Director of HR for the Department of Administration, I worked very closely with the Director of the Governor’s Advocacy Council for Persons with Disabilities (GACPD), because this agency fell under the leadership of the Department of Administration. I know many people who work on behalf of PwDs including Julia Leggett who is a lobbyist. As with every issue, I rely on those with first­hand experience and expertise for input and advice in my campaign and will continue to include diverse, trusted sources in office.

Our office is equipped with ADA designated parking spaces, on-­ramps, wide doors, functioning elevator, as well as wide bathroom stalls and accessible countertops and sinks. We encourage people with disabilities (PwDs) to get involved and volunteer on our campaign.”

Atty. Gen. Chris Koster (MO-D)
“I am honored to be able to share my thoughts on how Missouri can continue to improve and accommodate its citizens living with disabilities. I believe Missouri is at its strongest when it is inclusive and accessible to everyone.

As Attorney General, I have always fought against discrimination of any kind, including against citizens with disabilities. In 2010, I created the Attorney General’s Disability Advocacy Roundtable to listen to stakeholders in the disability rights community and learn firsthand about the challenges these individuals face on a daily basis. I served on the Missouri Housing Development Commission (MHDC), where I supported the adoption of a rule requiring new rental construction built through MHDC funding be designed to accommodate people with disabilities. My office recently rebuilt its public website with additional accessibility features. For example, the new website includes alternative text throughout to assist users who employ screen readers in understanding the content and function of images on the site.”

Mr. Mike Weinholtz (UT-D)
“In regards to disability related issues, our campaign is working with Dylan McDonnell, who sits on the Governor’s Committee for Employment of People with Disabilities and Program Manager at Columbus Community Center, which employs people with disabilities and contracts with the state. Furthermore, I have reached out to the Disability Caucus of the Utah Democratic Party on issues related to items such as Medicaid expansion in Utah. I have also reached out and received information on issues such as schools for the deaf and blind.

As the former CEO of CHG Healthcare Services, the nation’s largest staffing company of doctors and nurses, I am aware of the importance of ensuring that these individuals have quality health care providers. Also, as owner, I ensured that people with disabilities could advance and grow within the company.

As part of our web hosting and publishing process, we worked to ensure that all of our documents are accessible to those that use screen readers. For example, though we rarely rely on just graphics to convey a point (say, an infographic), when we do, we ensure that the information is also available in print form so that the information is easily accessible to the blind and those who use screen readers. Our videos provide a closed captioned option and are reviewed for accuracy when publishing.

Our campaign has committed to only hold events in ADA accessible venues. we have a dedicated events coordinator who, as part of her duties, ensures that events are accessible to all members of the public. We have not received specific requests for ASL interpreters or alternative formats for materials, however, we are prepared to provide them upon request.”

Sec. Sue Minter (VT-D)

“Having served six years in the state legislature and five years in the governor’s cabinet, I developed a network of advisors on disability issues. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee in 2008 and 2009, I had special responsibility for the budget of Vermont’s Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living. I worked with government managers, advocacy organizations, individuals with disabilities and their families. I continue to draw on their experiences and expertise as I work to expand my commitment, and Vermont’s commitment, to guaranteeing that all citizens have lives with opportunities, security and dignity.

Our offices are accessible to those with disabilities, and we strive to ensure that events and activities are accessible.”

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott (VT-R)
“Disability issues are very personal for me, and are critical to address. As a Vermonter, I will always support the rights of all people to live with dignity and independence. Being self-­sufficient is both a source of personal pride and the key to economic prosperity. My father fought in World War II and lost both of his legs in combat. I lost him when I was 11 years old, but when I think of him, I don’t remember him as a man with a disability. I remember him for all the things he did for me, my mother and my brothers, how involved he was in our lives, and how he never let anything stand in his way.

In my 16 years of public service, I’ve supported the right of individuals to live as my father did, and his experience, along with regular discussions with the disability advocacy community, has guided my decision-­‐making and leadership in this area For example, as Chair of the Senate Institutions Committee, I supported the continuation of and increase in appropriations for ADA improvements to historic buildings and community gathering spaces, the Austine School for the Deaf and the Vermont State Hospital, as well as transitional, supportive, and affordable housing for persons with disabilities. I have a long relationship with those in the disability advocacy community, and will of course look to them for guidance when I am elected Governor.

Much of our website and video content is accessible, but we’d like to be 100 percent accessible, and aren’t quite there yet. We are continuing to make improvements every day and understand how critical online accessibility is. We try to make all of our events as ADA compliant as possible, given the limitations posed by the outdated structure of many Vermont buildings.”

Senate Candidates

Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris (CA-D)
“As on all issues, Kamala Harris solicits and receives advice on issues from a variety of experts in their fields. On disability issues, she can draw on both their policy knowledge and their own experiences with disability. As California Attorney General and San Francisco District Attorney, Kamala has also gained a deep understanding of the issues impacting persons with disabilities.

The campaign works to make sure that our event locations are accessible for people with disabilities, including accessible seating areas for people with disabilities, accessible entry and exit points, and accessible restrooms.”

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (CA-D)
“I have dedicated staff in Washington D.C., and in my home district of Orange County, California that handle disability issues. This staff keeps me regularly briefed on current national and local issues facing the disabled community.

My campaign is committed to being accessible and inclusive to people with disabilities. My offices are ADA accessible and disability issues are addressed by my staff, many of whom can draw from their own personal experience with disability, to ensure the campaign is as inclusive as possible and fully utilizes everyone’s talents.”

Mr. John Carroll (HI-R)
“I believe that every voter deserves the opportunity to take part in the election process. Our campaign has yet to come across a specific situation that would require us to think about and implement targeted strategies for those with disabilities yet. However, should the opportunity arise we will most certainly do our best to include and encourage dialogue from our friends with disabilities.”

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (IL-D)
“My entire staff, both on my campaign and official side, is committed to making decisions on disability issues thoughtfully and we are uniquely focused on disability rights in both policy and practice, particularly because I have a disability. For example, my campaign only holds events in locations that are fully wheelchair accessible, with no exceptions. Disability issues are a top priority for my campaign.

My campaign is accessible and inclusive to all people with disabilities. We have ensured that all campaign and field offices are fully ADA compliant. My campaign is also committed to hiring and accommodating a diverse staff.”

Mr. Patrick Wiesner (KS-D)
“I don’t have advisors. My experience dealing with disabilities comes from my sister who had spina bifida. She was never able to walk. She had 16 operations on her spine, brain, and legs. After one surgery, she lost much of her memory due to an extremely high fever.  We took care of her in our home until she was 12. She died of seizures at age 14. My sister’s difficulties have given me family level insight on coping with disabilities. I rely on my own situational awareness.

I attend specific political forums where people with disabilities are able to ask questions of me.”

Mr. Foster Campbell (LA-D)
“I am a candidate who faces challenges and opportunities based on my own disabilities. I lost my sight in one eye many years ago. Our campaign receives advice from disability advocates that draw not only on their personal experiences with disability, but who have extensive policy experience. Bambi Polotzola in the Governor’s Office as Director of Disability affairs advises us and helps us connect with advocacy leaders across the state. As a former school teacher, I have seen how effective community-based advocacy for disability rights has been in Louisiana. On the campaign trail, I learn more and more about what is working and how we are failing citizens with disabilities first hand.

My team has worked hard to incorporate technology that makes our campaign more accessible, such as closed captioning on our campaign audio/visual materials and we’ll soon be launching more information on my positions so that it is accessible in writing for members of the deaf community, too. I’m excited to work with RespectAbility to communicate with members of the disability rights community to make our campaign even more inclusive.”

Ms. Caroline Fayard (LA-D)
“We have designated advisors and processes when consulting on disability issues. Our policy director is in direct contact with Louisiana Assistive Technology Access Network (LATAN) and will be ready to reach out to RespectAbility for any disability issues and concerns.

Our headquarters has been outfitted with a wheelchair accessible ramp and we will be providing a ground level, wheelchair and disability accessible office in downtown New Orleans for volunteers.”

Mr. Abhay Patel (LA-R)
“As a person and candidate with a disability, disability issues are always at the forefront of my mind. Having lived and succeeded with a disability since my teens, I filter every issue through the framework of living with a disability.

Given my experience with low vision, I strive to ensure all aspects of my campaign are accessible to and inclusive of the disabled community.”

Del. Kathy Szeliga (MD-R)

“I have some trusted friends who are disabled who advise me on the issues important to them.

People of all walks of life are welcome to help with my campaign.”

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (MD-D)
“I consider these issues a priority and have primarily designated two staffers in my policy office, my Legislative Director and Legislative Assistant for health care, to work on disability issues, consulting with a wide range of leaders and policy experts in the disability community, including persons with disabilities. I also meet regularly myself with constituents with disabilities and leaders of local, state, and national groups committed to advancing the rights of persons with disabilities. I also have a dedicated team of caseworkers who provide assistance to individuals and families who may be having a difficult time working with their school or a public agency to obtain the services they need.

I am proud to have the support of many within the disability and mental health community in Maryland, and have worked to organize these groups as part of my campaign into a Disability Community Supporters for Van Hollen effort.

I also greatly appreciate the supporters with disabilities who take time to volunteer for my campaign and make every effort to provide necessary accommodations and engaging tasks that match and build on each volunteer’s skills and talents.

My campaign is also working to improve the accessibility of our website, and includes a section to share my positions on disability issues. We also work to caption videos on our Facebook page to expand access for the deaf and hard of hearing.”

Sec. of State Jason Kander (MO-D)
“As Missouri’s Secretary of State, I am the state’s chief election official and it is my job to make sure everyone who is eligible to vote has the ability to do so. I have made it a personal policy to oppose extreme voter ID laws, which if enacted would disproportionately disenfranchise disabled voters. My staff and I are committed to preventing the disenfranchisement of the disabled and making voting easier for every eligible voter, particularly those with disabilities.

In the case of our campaign, I have worked hard to create an environment that is open to everyone, particularly in our hiring policies. Our communications director, Chris Hayden was born with a significant physical disability and is a critical and highly visible member of the campaign’s senior staff as my chief spokesperson. It is of personal importance to me that our campaign is accessible and inclusive of all people, including those with disabilities.”

Rep. Joe Heck (NV-R)
“My Washington, D.C., office employs a legislative assistant who is specifically assigned to track disability issues and issues that may affect individuals with disabilities. When those issues arise, this individual is tasked with analyzing the legislation and, when necessary, engaging with local stakeholders and thought leaders on the bill and then producing recommendations based on that research.

In addition, my local Nevada office stays engaged with the disability community through relationships built during my time in office. Those relationships allow me to meet with individuals with disabilities and their advocates when I am working in Nevada so I can understand the unique challenges facing individuals with disabilities.

We are running a campaign aimed at including and reaching out to all Nevadans. When we are out in the state campaigning, we make it a point to engage with voters of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicity, and capabilities. I am running to represent all Nevadans and be their voice in the Senate. My real world experience and time in the House of Representatives taught me to identify challenges faced by Nevadans and provide bipartisan solutions. That is the approach I will bring to the United States Senate.”

Atty. Gen. Catherine Cortez Masto (NV-D)
“As Nevada’s Attorney General and chief law enforcement officer, I have been an advocate for the disabled for years. In both my elected capacity and as a candidate for U.S. Senate, I seek advice from a wide array of people on a variety of issues. I take great pride in my time spent talking to Nevadans and community leaders who are working at the grassroots level to understand the challenges the disability community faces. As a U.S. Senator, I will continue this work in advocating for the disability community, and it is paramount that policy experts and people living with disabilities are a big part of that work.

I take pride in ensuring that my campaign is accessible and inclusive of all people, including people with disabilities.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (NH-R)
“In regular meetings with New Hampshire advocacy groups and individuals with disabilities from our state, I’ve learned a great deal about issues of importance to the disability rights community. I have a dedicated member of my staff who handles disability rights issues and we are regularly exploring, listening, and learning about what we can do to better assist Granite Staters with disabilities.

We post our videos on YouTube, which has an automatic closed caption feature. We are in the process of updating and improving our campaign website to ensure all features are fully accessible to people with disabilities, and we strive to always ensure that our events are accessible and accommodating to those with disabilities.”

Gov. Maggie Hassan (NH-D)
“I have been working on behalf of people with disabilities for decades, and I consult with a wide range of advisors on these issues, including the Governor’s Commission on Disability.

I was drawn to public service as an advocate fighting to ensure that children like my son Ben, who experiences severe disabilities, would be fully included in their communities and have the same opportunities that all parents want for their children. This advocacy has been central to why I got involved in public service, from my appointment by then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen to the Advisory Committee to the Adequacy in Education and Finance Commission to my time in the State Senate and as Governor, and now my candidacy for the United States Senate.

I strive to ensure that all organizations I am associated with are accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities, including my campaign.”

Sen. Richard Burr (NC-R)
“I have a senior advisor who is dedicated specifically to developing policy proposals on disability issues. He also advises me on how various policy changes will impact people with disabilities, and he is particularly focused on legislation that is pending in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), which is the principal committee in the United States Senate for disability policy.

In addition, each of my policy advisors understand the importance of these issues to me and to the people of North Carolina, and they understand the imperative of considering how a change in any policy can uniquely impact people with disabilities.

Moreover, my Legislative Director was one of the key staffers in Congress who worked on the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, and she has been recognized as being instrumental to the passage of the ABLE Act.

Since the passage of the ABLE Act in 2014, my staff has continued working with the disability advocacy community and with other congressional staff to oversee the implementation of the ABLE Act. My staff have also developed new legislative proposals to expand the benefits of the ABLE Act, which I have recently introduced in the Senate.

My campaign office is fully accessible to people with disabilities, and I welcome the support of all North Carolinians who want to join me in making our nation’s laws more inclusive and supportive of people with disabilities. This is one of the key messages of my campaign.

I have fought hard to change our laws in order to expand opportunities for people with disabilities. This is a passion of mine, and I will continue fighting to tear down the barriers that currently stand in the way of people with disabilities who are striving to achieve the American Dream.”

State Rep. Deborah Ross (NC-D)
“I have a team of people who advise me on policy, including disability issues.

We work to be inclusive to people with disabilities. We caption many of our videos, and we are working to make sure that all of our videos are captioned. We also make every effort to hold our events at ADA accessible buildings.”

Mr. Joe DeMare (OH-G)
“We have an all volunteer campaign. We do not have a ‘formal’ disability advisory group, but I have several disabled friends and family members that I call on for advice on disability issues.

Our volunteers include several people with disabilities. We have begun the task of captioning our YouTube videos. Our main limitation is, being an all volunteer campaign, finding people willing to put in the volunteer hours necessary. ASL interpreting is available upon request. We will make sure our events are accessible.”

Mr. Mark Callahan (OR-R)
“My campaign manager Narlina Duke is permanently disabled herself and has long been an advocate for rights for the disabled and has worked with multiple different organizations. Upon my election, I intend on hiring additional advisers who will be able to assist Narlina to ensure all the rights of the disabled are honored, as well to assist in legislation that will continue to ensure this.

All of my events have been in ADA compliant locations. I have not produced video that are able to accommodate closed captioning. Narlina has a family member who can assist with sign language if the need occurs. Narlina ensures that if the need were to arise, we have the ability to accommodate an individual with disabilities. However, I have not made a campaign brochure that can be read by the blind and my website is unable to accommodate that.”

Mrs. Katie McGinty (PA-D)
“My campaign has a group of advisors who are able to consult on a variety of issues, ensuring that we are putting the best policies forward for all Pennsylvanians, including the over 1.6 million with disabilities.

My campaign works hard to ensure we are putting forth policies that are beneficial to all Pennsylvanians, including people with disabilities. We welcome all Pennsylvanians, including people with disabilities, to join with us in our campaign and to have a voice in how we can make Pennsylvania and our country a better place with greater opportunities for working families.”

Mr. Jay Williams (SD-D)
“Although I do not have a designated advisor on disability issues, I am committed to ensuring people with disabilities are not subject to unfair discrimination. Because I have direct experience with disabled family members, I am sensitive to the issues people with disabilities face on a daily basis.

I strive to ensure campaign events are accessible to people with disabilities but I do not have mechanisms in place on my online presence to ensure people with disabilities can access them. My campaign has very limited resources, but if elected I will ensure all of my official online information will be accessible to people with disabilities.”

Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (WI-D)
“My most important advisors are the people of Wisconsin, and over the course of my campaign, I’ve heard from many Wisconsinites with disabilities about the issues they face. And as I’ve listened to Wisconsinites with disabilities, I hear over and over about the importance of affordable health care, of accessible housing, and of equal access to educational and professional opportunities. Over the course of traveling to each of Wisconsin’s 72 counties twice, I’ve also heard about the unique challenges that people with disabilities living in rural areas face, particularly access to health care.

My campaign is an equal opportunity employer, and we welcome staff and volunteers with disabilities. Our campaign office is ADA accessible, and we are always open to hearing additional ways that we can be more accessible and inclusive.”


RespectAbility has asked all the candidates for Governor and Senator on both sides of the aisle to complete the same questionnaire. We will share responses from additional campaigns as we receive them.

The RespectAbility Report is a nonpartisan political commentary on the 2016 U.S. elections with a focus on disability issues. The RespectAbility Report has covered all of the Democratic and Republican candidates for president, senate and governor. Coverage can be found at http://therespectabilityreport.org/. The RespectAbility Report is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates.

Published in#PwDsVote 2016 QuestionnaireCongressGovernorsSenateVoting Accessibility

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