Washington, Oct. 18 – As voters get ready to head to the polls in Washington, RespectAbility has released its Washington Disability Voter Guide for the upcoming senate, gubernatorial, and presidential races. Republican Bill Bryant is challenging incumbent Democrat Gov. Jay Inslee while Republican Chris Vance is challenging incumbent Sen. Patty Murray for the Senate seat. Bryant, as well as presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, has completed the #PwDsVote Disability Campaign Questionnaire for people with disabilities. Inslee, Murray and Vance have not completed the questionnaire.
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 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.
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.
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) 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.
Washington’s 907,417 citizens with disabilities now have a chance to read Bryant’s responses and understand where he lies on certain issues. RespectAbility is still awaiting responses from Jay Inslee, Chris Vance, and Patty Murray and will publish them verbatim if and when they are received.
Washington ranks 21st in the nation for employment of people with disabilities as 37.7 percent of working age people with disabilities in Washington have a job. However, there is still 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 his response, Bryant talked about how early intervention helped his nephew who has autism, and inspired him to want to help people with disabilities succeed.
“Early intervention enabled him to master reading and math skills above grade level,” he responded. “His journey, and the joy and challenges experienced by his parents and our family, have given me a unique perspective into the needs of both those with disabilities and their families. It’s because of this perspective that I want to work with advocates of those with disabilities.”
Fully one-out-of-five voters 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, “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, Gov. Inslee, Sen. Murray and Mr. Vance have yet to complete the questionnaire and hope they will do so soon. We will send out any updates that arrive.”
Washington Prioritizes People with Disabilities
There are 488,620 Washingtonians with disabilities who are between the ages of 18-64. Additionally, there are 25,000 Washingtonians ages 16-20 with disabilities. More than 116,000 Washington students have individual education plans (IEPs). However, some Washingtonian 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.
Washington is 21st among states when it comes to the employment of people with disabilities. There are 488,620 people with disabilities between the ages of 18 to 64 in Washington and 37.7 percent of them are employed. While this makes Washington sit among the top 25 states, there is still a 38.3-point gap when you consider the 76 percent of people without disabilities in Washington who are working. There are over 25,000 youth between the ages of 16-20 with disabilities in Washington. Each year a quarter of them 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. Washington’s State Plan contains some of the best efforts around accessibility and the state’s One-Stop Centers. However, at the same time, it complete omits any discussion of the Project Search model of school to work transitions, omits any references to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, and it neglects the need to address disability issues among ex-offenders.
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 Washington’s Baby Boomers retire and the state’s economy evolves, employers are starting to experience increasing talent shortage. Washingtonians 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, Washington 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
Washington residents can vote for the candidates of their choice either on the standard voting schedule or through mail. Washingtonians have until Oct. 31, 2016, to register to vote for the presidential general election. You must register in person at your local County of Elections Department. More information regarding voting can be found at: Elections and Voting. If you are unable to partake in standard voting, any registered Washington voter can submit their vote through the mail. Your ballot is mailed to you at least 18 days before the election. To receive your ballot, your voter registration mailing address must be current. In order for your ballot to count, it must be postmarked no later than Election Day, returned to a designated ballot drop box by 8:00 p.m. on Election Day, or returned in person to your county elections department by 8:00 p.m. on Election Day. More information on vote by mail can be found at: Vote by Mail.