Philadelphia, July 27 – With 400 delegates self-disclosing a disability, the Disability Council is growing. Along with Disability Action for Hillary, the Council is energizing Americans with disabilities during the Democratic National Convention.
“Our goal is to get as many people all over the country involved with the campaign,” former California Rep. Tony Coelho said at the first meeting on Monday. “It is important for our community that everyone knows that we are committed, we are involved and we can make a difference in this election.”
According to word searches compiled by The New York Times, the word disability did not even register on the word clouds during the 2012 conventions by either party. But that has changed with the 2016 cycle.
In addition, 400 delegates with disabilities are attending the DNC, which is a 35-percent growth since 2012.
Coelho, who is a board member for RespectAbility, also touted the convention’s accessibility, saying it is “the most accessible convention we have ever had.”
“That’s exciting for our community that the campaign and the DNC are so willing to address our needs and our concerns so we can participate in the convention just like everybody else,” Coelho added.
Former Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin delivered remarks before moderating a panel discussion from disability activists focusing on issues from employment to social media.
“We have found over the years, whenever we do things for more inclusion, when we do things to break down barriers, it’s not only good just for people with disabilities, it’s good for everyone in our society,” Harkin said.
In a preview of the speech he delivered Tuesday, Harkin said we still have ways to go 26 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. He called for competitive integrated employment and the support services necessary to do so.
He also called for an end to subminimum wage and the passage of the Disability Integration Act “so that people can live where they want, with whom they want,” both of which Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton supports.
At a follow-up meeting on Wednesday, Coelho said his goal is for disability leaders to be at the table for a potential Clinton transition team. With much conversation focused on next steps, Coelho encouraged all states to create their own disability caucuses to help get out the vote.
According to disability activist Ariella Barker, only nine states have confirmed they have disability caucuses: Arizona, California, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Utah and Virginia.
Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey and Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth also visited the meeting, delivering remarks and offering support for the disability community.
“We want people with disabilities in the workplace not just to do well but to make more than the subminimum wage,” Casey said to applause. “We’ve got to make sure that as we are fighting to raise the minimum wage itself that people with disabilities at least, at least make the minimum wage.”
Duckworth said voter turnout of people with disabilities was lower than the national average in 2012, in part due to the fact that just 27 percent of polling places as of 2008 are accessible.
“We’ve never been a focus and we are this year, with the campaign aggressively pursuing our community and telling our community that they’re with us,” Coelho said following the Monday meeting.
“As individuals with disabilities, we no longer want to take a paternalistic approach to our issues. And we want to get involved, we want to be engaged, and what is happening is that we’ve gotten more progressively involved year by year.”