Washington, D.C., July 7, 2020 – In a video message played at POWER: the Disability Vote, a national, non-partisan Disability & Election Virtual Summit hosted by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), the Trump reelection campaign finally broke its long silence on disability issues. The President’s daughter-in-law and campaign adviser Lara Trump spoke in a direct message with subtitles about creating “real and meaningful change for the disabilities community” and how “every American should have the utmost chance to pursue his or her American dream.”
The video is the first statement of any kind released by the President’s reelection campaign that touches on the issues impacting more than 60 million Americans living with disabilities. That number includes people with visual impairments or hearing loss, people with visible conditions such as spinal cord injuries, and the wide range of non-visible disabilities such as learning disabilities, mental health disabilities, or autism.
As an example of the actions taken, Lara Trump spoke about how the Administration had “placed a ban on using electric shock devices on autistic children.” This action by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) came as the direct result of years of direct action and advocacy against the horrific abuses committed by the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton, Massachusetts.
The Trump campaign video also put a strong emphasis on the need to “to ensure the American dream is accessible to all.” This included highlighting the economic progress being made by people with disabilities before the coronavirus hit the United States. In the video, Lara Trump spoke about how we had seen a “strong economy where Americans with Disabilities had experienced lowest unemployment rate in history” before COVID-19 cost millions of people with and without disabilities their jobs. The President took office just as over 340,000 people with disabilities joined the workforce in 2017. At the time, once the Trump Administration was in place, the White House Council of Economic Advisors publicly noted that “no group has felt the benefits of accelerated economic growth more than Americans with a disability.”
However, all of that has changed because of COVID-19. At the end of May, over 40 million Americans were out of work and over 120,000 Americans have died because of the coronavirus. An April report published by Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability (UNH-IOD), shows that nearly one million working-age people with disabilities lost their jobs. That represents a 20 percent reduction of the number of workers with disabilities in the nation’s economy.
The Trump video includes statements about the need for everyone to work together to “ensure that disabled Americans are empowered and uplifted.” However, no further details have been offered yet about how to ensure that workers with disabilities can safely get back to work or find new jobs.
The video also addressed other ways that the United States continues to grapple with the pandemic. Lara Trump in the video talked about how the Administration “has worked tirelessly to ensure that hospitals never discriminate against people with disabilities when testing and treating for the coronavirus.” This action took the form of anti-discrimination guidance released back in March by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Such guidance was critical to ensuring the more states did not actively ration healthcare away from people with disabilities uniquely vulnerable to the deadly consequences of COVID-19.
The Trump video also includes a strong statement about the President’s commitment “to preparing youth with disabilities for success in the labor market by providing a strong educational foundation.” It also showcased the multi-billion-dollar commitment to expanding vocational rehabilitation under the President’s proposed budget for FY2021.
In closing the video offered the message that: “From education to workforce opportunities, to support for patients and caregivers, President Trump is committed to uplifting and celebrating Americans with disabilities.”
There are many more issues for the Trump campaign to address when it comes to people with disabilities. However, this is the first time that anyone connected with the Trump campaign has made a public statement addressing disability issues and the disability community hopes for more. As such AAPD’s event reiterated one of the most important lessons of the 2020 election: disability rights and voters with disability connections will be critical to deciding who occupies the White House for the next four years.
Indeed, courting the disability vote is a key part of the Biden campaign’s strategy for the November election. On the same May day that the Biden disability policy plan was publicly released, the former Vice President appeared via Zoom for a 600+ person audience of disability community members. Later, the Biden campaign hosted a virtual reception to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community, is nonpartisan and neither rates nor endorses candidates. Read The RespectAbility Report: https://therespectabilityreport.org.