Washington, D.C., Oct. 1 – Former Vice President and current Democratic nominee for President Joe Biden (D-DE) and his campaign have been very active in courting voters with disabilities for the 2020 presidential election. A new report by the Rutgers Program for Disability Research estimates 38.3 million people with disabilities will be eligible to vote in November. That’s a nearly 20 percent jump since 2008. Therefore, presidential candidates should fully and intentionally include voters with disabilities in all outreach efforts; ensuring accessibility for voters with a variety of disabilities plays a large part in that as well.
While the campaign was criticized during the primary for not devoting enough attention to voters with disabilities, the Biden campaign since has evolved, making voters with a disability a priority. Part of that has been hiring Molly Doris-Pierce, a young woman with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) as their National Disability Engagement Director. Ms. Doris-Pierce previously served on Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)’s presidential campaign as both their National Women’s Outreach Director and National Disability Engagement Director. While working for Sen. Warren’s presidential campaign, she built a coalition of disability advocates on behalf of the campaign to complete their well-known “Protecting the Rights and Equality of Persons with Disabilities” plan. Prior to her work on the Warren campaign, she received her bachelor’s degree from Hobart and William Smith Colleges and worked in nonprofit development programming, political fundraising and church leadership.
Since coming onboard the Biden campaign in June, Ms. Doris-Pierce has hosted monthly roundtables on disability issues, including housing, employment and academic accommodations. In July, the Biden campaign marked the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with a roundtable discussion featuring many prominent Americans with disabilities, including former U.S. Rep. Tony Coelho (D-CA), comedian Maysoon Zayid, and disability activist Vilissa Thompson.
In August, the campaign hosted former Gov. of and current US Sen. from New Hampshire Maggie Hassan, who discussed the importance of assuring that all children with disabilities receive equal access to education. For her, accessibility for people with disabilities was and is a personal connection. Her son Ben has cerebral palsy, and she mentioned the challenges she and her family faced in ensuring that those accommodations could be made on his behalf throughout his life, both in childhood and adulthood.
Following the debate earlier this week, the Biden campaign is hosting a week of disability-focused events. Yesterday, during an event featuring Hollywood actor Michael J Fox (who has Parkinson’s Disease), the campaign pushed out their “FriendBank” Voter App in an event for voters with disabilities. This app will make accessibility for people with disabilities easier, in terms of organizing and registering people with disabilities to vote.
Later today, the Biden campaign will hold a joint event with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Disability Council. The event will feature actress Melissa Gilbert (best known for her role as Laura Ingalls on the iconic 1970s TV show “Little House on the Prairie”) as emcee, as well as Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), herself a person with a disability, and Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). Other celebrity guest will include Tony Bennett, Chris Cross, Yitzhak Perlman, the O’Jays, Ali Stroker, and Jose Andres Montono.
Tomorrow (October 2), Dr. Jill Biden is teaming up with the Biden Disability Coalition for “Crips and Conversation,” a virtual event featuring a conversation about the popular disability documentary “Crip Camp.” The Biden campaign also has instituted a Voter Protection team, consisting of legal professionals, law students, and supporters to ensure that all eligible votes are able to do so and that every vote counts.
In addition to events, the Biden campaign has made several strides in accommodating persons with disabilities. These have included ensuring accurate captions on YouTube videos and including American Sign Language (ASL) on every live-streamed event.
A dedicated website, https://joebiden.com/disabilitycoalition, provides people a platform to read up on the Biden disability plan as well as sign up for events and making calls. The Biden campaign is pulling out all stops to ensure that people with disabilities are not only invited to the table but also are able to fully participate in the campaign.