Senate Candidates Have Yet to Complete #PwDsVote Disability Questionnaire
Washington, Oct. 13 – As voters get ready to head to the polls in Oklahoma, Respectability is releasing its Oklahoma Disability Voter Guide. Democrat candidate Mike Workman is challenging Republican incumbent James Lankford for the senate seat. Unfortunately for the 594,417 people with disabilities in Oklahoma, neither Workman nor Lankford 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.
While Oklahoma has made strides with the leadership of Gov. Mary Fallin, the Sooner state can do even better in terms of competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities. Oklahoma varies greatly when it comes to the employment of people with and without disabilities. The state’s employment rate for people without disabilities lies at 75.6 percent. Meanwhile, only 39.2 percent of working-age Oklahomans with disabilities statewide are employed. This election cycle brings with it an opportunity to improve and increase opportunities for competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities. Voters are looking to know where the candidates stand on important disability issues this coming election cycle so they can help look improve these efforts.
Oklahoma Needs to Improve Outcomes for Citizens with Disabilities
There are 331,028 Oklahomans with disabilities who are between the ages of 18-64. Additionally, there are 17,700 Oklahomans ages 16-20 with disabilities. More than 92,000 Oklahoma students have individual education plans (IEPs). However, many Oklahomans 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.
Oklahoma can greatly improve competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities. Currently only 36.4 percent of working-age Oklahomans with disabilities are employed compared to 75.6 percent of those without disabilities. View the rankings of all 50 states and compare.
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). According to the current draft of Oklahoma’s state plan, there are more than 331,000 Oklahomans between the ages of 18 to 64 and only 36.4 percent of them are employed. WIOA offers Oklahoma an opportunity to effectively employ and integrate people with disabilities into Oklahoma’s workforce, but greater precision is needed for the workforce system to evolve to tap into the labor resource that the disability community represents.
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 Oklahoma’s Baby Boomers retire and your state’s economy evolves, employers are starting to experience increasing talent shortage. Oklahomans 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, Oklahoma 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 nationally 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
Oklahoma residents can vote for the candidates of their choice either on Election Day or through early voting. Oklahomans have until Oct. 14, 2016, to register to vote for the general election. Register to vote by filling out a voter registration form and mailing it to the state election board. More information regarding voter registration can be found at: Voter Registration in Oklahoma. Registered Oklahomans who are unable to go to their polling place on Election Day may vote early on Nov. 3 or 4 at the county election board. More information regarding early voting can be found at: Early Voting. If unable to vote early or on election day, and registered Oklahoman can vote by absentee ballot as well. To apply for an absentee ballot, visit: Oklahoma Online Absentee Ballot Application. In order for an absentee ballot to count, it must be received by the county elections board by 7:00 p.m. on Election Day. More information regarding absentee voting is available at: Absentee Voting in Oklahoma.