Washington, D.C., May 19 – Massachusetts Sen. and Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has made her mark in the field by releasing major new policy proposals on a weekly basis. But how does she fare on disability issues?
When analyzing polls, it is integral to identify the participants’ demographics and determine where the candidate stands with swing voters. One important group of swing voters are people with disabilities, who comprise 20 percent of our country’s population (and 25 percent of adults in America). Further, more than half of Americans have a loved one with a disability. A recent survey shows that fully three-quarters of likely voters either have a disability themselves or have a family member or a close friend with disabilities. Thus, if Warren hopes to continue climbing in the polls, she must represent all Americans, especially those with disabilities.
Sen. Warren Answered 2018 Disability Issues Questionnaire and Co-Sponsored Legislation Important to the Disability Community
While running for re-election to the U.S. Senate in 2018, Warren completed RespectAbility’s disability issues questionnaire. In her responses, she laid out her positions on issues like health care, education and employment.
Warren repeatedly has called for an end to the sub-minimum wage that people with disabilities can legally be paid in sheltered workshops. She has tweeted about the issue and spoken about it in the Senate. In her response to the questionnaire, Warren stated that paying people below the minimum wage “enforces harmful and inaccurate stigmas, and we should phase it out in a responsible way.”
Warren is a co-sponsor of the Disability Integration Act (DIA). The DIA, a bill introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), would require private health insurance to cover long-term care, such as in-home nursing care and personal care attendants for people with disabilities. Many people with disabilities require assistance with activities of daily living such as showering, toileting and dressing. Long-term care coverage permits them to live independently in their own communities.
Warren also co-sponsored the ABLE Act. The ABLE act established new tax advantaged savings accounts, called ABLE Accounts, to allow people with disabilities and their families to save for their futures and help cover important expenses like education, housing and wellness, without losing their disability benefits. Any individual who is blind or diagnosed with a disability before the age of 26 and getting benefits through the Social Security disability program automatically is eligible. ABLE Accounts allow individuals and families to save, tax-free, $14,000 per year, up to $100,000, and to take money out without extra tax penalties. Warren has “pushed to expand the ABLE Act to benefit older individuals and allow for higher contribution limits, and to raise the outdated asset and income limits for Americans who receive benefits like Social Security Income, which prevent some individuals with disabilities from earning and saving money for no good reason.”
With regards to healthcare, Warren wrote about crafting and passing “bipartisan legislation guaranteeing affordable, over-the-counter hearing aids for those with mild to moderate hearing loss” and introducing the “Audiology Patient Choice Act, a bipartisan bill that ensures that people with disabilities on Medicare have access to a full range of hearing and balance health care services provided by licensed audiologists.”
Warren also discussed the importance of accessible public transportation in her questionnaire responses. She noted she “helped to secure over $9 million in federal grants to make vital improvements to the dock at the Hingham Ferry Terminal in Massachusetts, bringing the dock into full ADA compliance and ensuring that it is accessible to all riders.”
Accessibility can be a hurdle for college students with disabilities. Warren addressed this with her AIM HIGH Act, which created “guidelines for accessible instructional materials on college campuses.”
“I recognize that many students face special obstacles to their education, and I will always stand up for programs that help to level the playing field,” Warren added.
Warren also wrote about the importance of accessibility for her offices and events. She said, “we will not sign a lease if a space is not accessible, and we do the same when we identify venues for our public events. It’s not negotiable.”
Campaign Launch Has Mixed Results on Disability Inclusion
For a presidential campaign to be fully inclusive of people with disabilities, it needs to meet the following requirements: (1) offer captioning with every video it shares or produces, (2) mention people with disabilities and their issues, (3) depict people with visible disabilities in its media, (4) reach out to the disability community, and (5) provide accessible campaign events and website. Warren has met some of these requirements, but there is much room for improvement.
Many of Warren’s videos have captions, but there are plenty of exceptions. Videos of Warren meeting voters in Iowa and Warren calling a supporter on the phone do not have captions at all. Additionally, some videos rely on YouTube’s auto-captioning, which often contains errors. Without captions on all video content, people who are deaf or hard of hearing are being left out of the campaign.
Additionally, photos on the campaign’s Facebook page rely on alt-text that is generated by Facebook, which is not descriptive enough. For example, this photo has the alt text “Image may contain: 1 person.” This leaves out people with vision impairments who use screen readers to access content.
Warren briefly mentioned people with disabilities along with other minority groups in her campaign announcement speech, saying that “We can’t be blind to the fact that the rules in our country have been rigged against other people for a long time — women, LGBTQ Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, immigrants, people with disabilities — and we need to call it out.”
Voter research conducted by RespectAbility shows how disability issues connect to all aspects of American life. It is in the best interest of every presidential candidate and the citizens of this country for candidates to recognize disability issues during their campaigns.
“Candidates for office ignore the disability community at their peril,” said former U.S. Representative and Dallas Mayor Steve Bartlett. Bartlett, who was a primary author of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, is the board chair of RespectAbility. “People with disabilities are politically active swing voters, and candidates should take note of the important issues they care about.”