Washington, Oct. 18 – As voters get ready to head to the polls in Mississippi, RespectAbility is releasing its Mississippi Disability Voter Guide for the upcoming presidential election. Democrat Hillary Clinton has completed the #PwDsVote Disability Campaign Questionnaire, but Republican Donald Trump has yet to do so.
The #PwDsVote 2016 Campaign Questionnaire was 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 questionnaire is 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 RespectAbility 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.
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) also completed the down ballot questionnaire, 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.
Mississippi Needs to Improve Outcomes for Citizens with Disabilities
Mississippi can and must do better in terms of competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities. Only 27.4 percent of the 267,593 working-age Mississippians with disabilities are employed. Further, there are more than 13,800 youth with disabilities and each year a quarter of them will age out of school into an uncertain future. Mississippi’s voters are looking to know where the candidates stand on important disability issues in order to increase opportunities for competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities and foster a more inclusive society. As such, RespectAbility has actively encouraged politicians to include issues facing people with disabilities in their policy agendas. Founded in 2013, RespectAbility is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to end stigmas and advance opportunities for people with disabilities.
Under Gov. Phil Bryant, Mississippi has taken several initial steps to reorient policies and resources to prioritize employment opportunities for people with disabilities. In 2014, he issued an executive order committing Mississippi to become an Employment First state. However, these efforts alone have not been enough to move the needle forward for disability employment. When you look at the gap between the employment rate of people with disabilities and those without disabilities, Mississippi comes 47th in the country. Only 27.4 percent of people with disabilities in Mississippi are employed while 70.5 percent of those without disabilities are employed, which results in a 23.1-point gap.
Government action alone – through executive orders, legislative decisions, and regulatory oversight – is insufficient. The necessary condition for achieving greater competitive, integrated employment for individuals with disabilities is engaging employers, meeting their talent needs and addressing stigmas that are barriers to work.
In order to promote best practices and the inclusion of people with disabilities in state workforce systems, RespectAbility has submitted comments for all 50 state’s drafts of the Unified Plan, which is required under Section 102 of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). This new law represents the intersection of hope and history for people with disabilities.
The fact that Mississippi has worked hard to be the first state to submit their WIOA State Plan to the Department of Labor is a testament to the state’s commitment to the issue of workforce development. However, Mississippi still remains segmented and there is a lack of solutions viewed through the disability lens. Solutions to the common challenges of disabilities need to be integrated throughout the state plan and not just be limited to the sections concerning Mississippi’s VR system. Lastly, there is a fundamental need to ensure that the right data points around disability and labor force participation rates are included not only in the text of the State Plan but also inform the design of Mississippi’s performance metrics.
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.
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, “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.”
Remember to Vote
Mississippi residents can vote for the candidates of their choice either through the standard voting schedule or through absentee ballots. Mississippi voters had until Oct. 8, 2016 to register for the general election. While Mississippi does not have Early Voting in the sense of having certain polling places open on designated days prior to Election Day, Mississippi does have Absentee Voting both by mail and in person. To vote Absentee by mail, request a ballot and submit it by 5:00 p.m. on Nov. 7, 2016. Vote in person, using an absentee ballot at the municipal clerk’s office as soon as absentee ballots are available, or submit it through the mail. For more information regarding Absentee Voting, visit: General Election UOCAVA Absentee Voting.