Washington, D.C., July 30 – “The ADA is a landmark law—but recently, it has been under attack,” Beto O’Rourke tweeted in commemoration of the 29th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) on Friday. “29 years after its passage, let’s build a country where Americans with disabilities have full access to education, opportunity, and the workforce, are treated with dignity, and can live to their full potential.”
Disability is personal to O’Rourke. His 38-year-old younger sister, Erin, has intellectual and developmental disabilities. She grew up in public special education classrooms in and around El Paso, TX and currently lives in a community for intellectually disabled adults. He is close to his sister and instructs his aides that “unless he’s in an interview,” he will stop everything to take her frequent calls.
“Some longtime El Pasoans credit O’Rourke’s family with always proudly including Erin in all activities,” the Dallas News reported. What’s more, O’Rourke regularly mentions Erin on the campaign trail when discussing disability issues, particularly when it comes to education. And in doing so, he demonstrates he can relate to and empathize with more than half of the American population that has a loved one with a disability.
His devotion to inclusive education leads the conversation whenever O’Rourke is asked about disability, his instinct is to immediately discuss the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) and disability education. He supports fully federally funding the IDEA in our public school systems. He believes that capping the number of students who can receive special education within a classroom is unconstitutional and arbitrary. He strongly supports integrated classrooms, where students of all and various abilities learn together to cultivate a culture of acceptance. And he believes parents and families of those with disabilities should be writing our federal legislation on disability education, rather than those who are untouched by disability.
O’Rourke was one of 12 of the 20 Democratic candidates debating this week to make any mention of the ADA anniversary on Friday. According to the Census Bureau, more than 56 million Americans live with some form of disability. This can include visible conditions such as spinal cord injuries, visual impairments or hearing loss to people living with invisible disabilities such as learning disabilities, mental health or Autism.
Fully three-quarters of likely voters either have a disability themselves or have a family member, or a close friend with disabilities. Therefore, as the 2020 candidates take to the debate stage, it is in the best interest of every presidential candidate and the citizens of this country for candidates to recognize disability issues at this time.
“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.”
RespectAbility is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities so that people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of their communities. RespectAbility does not rate or endorse candidates. View more coverage of 2020 presidential candidates.