Washington, Oct. 17 – As voters get ready to head to the polls in Pennsylvania, RespectAbility has released its Pennsylvania Disability Voter Guide for the upcoming senate and presidential races. Democrat Katie McGinty, who is challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, as well as presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, has completed the #PwDsVote Disability Campaign Questionnaire for people with disabilities. Toomey has not yet responded to the questionnaire.
Twenty-six candidates for Senate, as well as eleven candidates for governor, from both sides of the aisle (22 Democrats, 14 Republicans, 1 Green Party) have responded with answers to the questionnaire so far, showing that disability rights is a nonpartisan issue. An additional nine candidates responded that they are not completing any questionnaires during this campaign season. 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.
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.
Pennsylvania’s 1,733,512 citizens with disabilities now have a chance to read McGinty’s responses and understand where she lies on certain issues. RespectAbility is still awaiting responses from Sen. Pat Toomey and will publish them verbatim if and when they are received.
Pennsylvania ranks 31st in the nation for employment of people with disabilities as 34.5 percent of the working-age people with disabilities in Pennsylvania have a job. Indeed, while Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has made important steps forward, there is still much work to be done to improve outcomes for people with disabilities. The upcoming election and the implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) will continue to increase opportunities and employment for people with disabilities, and voters need to know where candidates stand on the issues.
In her response, McGinty spoke about how people with disabilities deserve the same rights as other Americans without disabilities.
“Every American should have equal rights and the ability to live freely without stigma – regardless of sex, race, disability or any other factor,” she stated. “People with disabilities are the same as every other all Americans – looking for a fair shot at success.”
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.
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.
RespectAbility President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi said, “It is vital for us to know where the candidates stand on the disability aspects of economic, stigma, education, safety, transportation, housing, healthcare, foreign affairs, criminal justice and other issues. 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. We also are disappointed that Mr. Trump and Sen. Toomey have yet to complete the questionnaire and hope they will do so soon. We will send out any updates that arrive.”
Pennsylvania Legislation Beneficial Towards People with Disabilities
There are 876,854 Pennsylvanians with disabilities who are between the ages of 18-64. Additionally, there are 59,000 Pennsylvanians ages 16-20 with disabilities. More than 262,000 Pennsylvania students have individual education plans (IEPs). However, some Pennsylvania children with disabilities may not yet have received a disability diagnosis they need, and thus are not yet receiving the school accommodations and supports that they need to succeed. This can lead to a lifetime of poverty or flowing down the school to prison pipeline.
Pennsylvania has some ground to cover when it comes to the employment of people with disabilities. There are over 876,000 people with disabilities between the ages of 18 to 64 in Pennsylvania and only 34.5 percent of them are employed. With Pennsylvania number thirty-one amongst states, there is still a 42-point gap between people with and without disabilities when you consider the 76.5 percent of people without disabilities in Pennsylvania are working. Additionally, each year a quarter of the youth ages 16-20 in Pennsylvania will age out of school and because of your state’s hard work, they have increasing chances to find success in the working world.
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. Pennsylvania’s WIOA draft has a commitment to Employment First principles. Competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities is an essential goal for the state. When looking at the numbers of people in Pennsylvania with a disability, their employment rates and their dependence on entitlement programs, it is easy to see why this work is so important. The WIOA draft plan does well in focusing on certain key elements for improving employment for people with disabilities from beginning training for people with disabilities at an early age, focusing on ages 14 and older to including people with disabilities on Citizen Advisory Committees and focusing on Industry Partnerships and Sector Strategies.
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 Pennsylvania’s Baby Boomers retire and the state’s economy evolves, employers are starting to experience increasing talent shortage. Pennsylvanians 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, Pennsylvania 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.
Remember to Vote
Pennsylvania residents can vote for the candidates of their choice either on the standard voting schedule or through absentee ballots. Pennsylvanians had until Oct. 11, 2016, to register to vote for the presidential general election. More information regarding voting can be found at: Voter Services. If you are unable to partake in standard voting, any registered Pennsylvania voter can submit their vote through absentee ballots. Voters have until Nov. 1 to submit their absentee ballot application and until Nov. 4 to submit their ballot. More information regarding absentee ballots can be found at: Voting by Absentee Ballot.