Senate Candidates Have Yet to Complete #PwDsVote Disability Questionnaire
Washington, Oct. 13 – As voters get ready to head to the polls in Arkansas, RespectAbility has released its Arkansas Disability Voter Guide for the upcoming senate and presidential elections. Democrat Connor Eldridge is challenging Republican incumbent Sen. John Boozman for the senate seat. Unfortunately for the 496,002 civilians with a disability living in Arkansas, 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.
Arkansas faces significant barriers in terms of empowering more people with disabilities to pursue employment. The state’s employment rate for people without disabilities lies at 73.8 percent. Meanwhile, only 29.2 percent of working-age Arkansans with disabilities statewide are employed. Greater precision is needed for the workforce system to evolve to tap into the labor resource that the disability community represents. This election cycle brings with it an opportunity to improve this aspect, as well as to increase opportunities for competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities. Voters are looking to know where the candidates stand on important disability issues so that they can help improve these efforts.
Arkansas Needs to Improve Outcomes for Citizens with Disabilities
There are 264,465 Arkansans with disabilities who are between the ages of 18-64. More than 51,000 Arkansas students have individual education plans (IEPs). However, many Arkansans 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.
Arkansas has the opportunity to work hard to improve outcomes in terms of competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities with the upcoming election. Currently only 29.2 percent of working-age Arkansans with disabilities are employed compared to 73.8 percent of those without disabilities. View the rankings of all 50 states and compare.
Employment rates alone do not tell the whole story of disability employment in Arkansas. There are more than 15,800 youth with disabilities between age 16 and 20 in Arkansas. Each year a quarter of them will age out of school into an uncertain future. Thanks to the upcoming elections and the implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), Arkansas has the chance to invest resources in successful models and implement best practices to expand job opportunities for people with disabilities.
Arkansas Legislation Inclusive of 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 WIOA. Evident in the current draft of Arkansas’s state plan, Arkansas takes employment for people with disabilities seriously, including them in almost every section. Arkansas’ emphasis on collaboration and cooperation among state agencies also is very encouraging and should be commended.
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. Arkansans 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, Arkansas 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 Americans 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
Residents of Arkansas can vote for the candidates of their choice either on the standard voting schedule or through early voting. Arkansans had until Oct. 10, 2016, to register to vote for the presidential general election. Registered voters can cast an early vote from Oct. 24, 2016 through Nov. 7, 2016 at their local county clerk’s office. More information regarding early voting can be found at: Voting In Arkansas. If voters are unable to partake in early or standard voting, a registered Arkansas voter can submit a vote through absentee ballots as well if they qualify. Voters can apply for an absentee ballot through the mail by sending an absentee ballot request to the county clerk. More information regarding absentee voting can be found at: Absentee Voting.