Gubernatorial Candidates Have Yet to Complete #PwDsVote Disability Questionnaire
Washington, Oct. 16 – As voters get ready to head to the polls in West Virginia, RespectAbility is releasing its West Virginia Disability Voter Guide for the upcoming presidential and gubernatorial elections. 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.
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.
Democrat Jim Justice and Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Cole are competing to become West Virginia’s next governor. Unfortunately for the 362,447 West Virginians with a disability, neither have completed the #PwDsVote Disability Campaign Questionnaire for Senate and Gubernatorial Candidates for people with disabilities.
Nine other candidates for governor, as well as 24 candidates for Senate, from both sides of the aisle (20 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.
West Virginia Needs to Improve Outcomes for Citizens with Disabilities
There are 199,707 West Virginians with disabilities who are between the ages of 18-64. Additionally, there are 7,000 West Virginians ages 16-20 with disabilities. More than 39,000 West Virginia students have individual education plans (IEPs). However, many West Virginians 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 West Virginia has the opportunity to work hard to improve outcomes in terms of competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities. Currently 25.6 percent of working-age West Virginians with disabilities are employed compared to 70.5 percent of those without disabilities. View the rankings of all 50 states and compare.
West Virginia can and must do better in terms of expanding employment for people with disabilities. According to the most recent publicly available Census data, West Virginia ranks 50th in the nation as measured by the employment rate of people with disabilities. West Virginia has a lot of ground to cover and faces significant barriers in terms of encouraging more people with disabilities to pursue employment. The mountain state also faces significant economic challenges as manufacturing, mining and farming decline.
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, West Virginia’s written state plan makes commitments to serving people with disabilities. The West Virginia state plan does much to emphasize the critical importance of apprenticeship programs. In particular, that emphasis directly references training opportunities for West Virginians with disabilities. The West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services reports that it is already providing services that will allow individuals with disabilities to avail themselves of work-based learning. Further, the state plan commits to promote the development of registered apprenticeship programs with a focus on non-traditional industries and occupations. Both of these notions are encouraging, as many people with disabilities can find apprenticeships as their doorway into 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 West Virginia’s Baby Boomers retire and the state’s economy evolves, employers are starting to experience increasing talent shortage. West Virginians 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, West Virginia 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.”
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.
Remember to Vote
West Virginia residents can vote for the candidates of their choice either on the standard voting schedule or through early voting. West Virginians have until Oct. 19, 2016, to register to vote for the presidential general election. Register to vote online at: Online Voter Registration. Voters also can cast an early vote or use an absentee ballot to vote. Voters have from Oct. 26 to Nov. 5 to cast an early vote. More information regarding voting times and locations can be found at: Early Voting. West Virginians who wish to vote by absentee ballot have from Aug. 16 to Nov. 2 to cast a vote. More information regarding early voting and absentee ballots in Alaska can be found at: Regular Absentee by Mail.