Washington, D.C., Oct. 15 – Elected officials have the opportunity to demonstrate a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, full community participation and celebrating the contributions and accomplishments of people with disabilities. They can issue press releases, give speeches and celebrate events such as National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
As part of its commitment to fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can participate fully in all aspects of community, RespectAbility has invited all candidates in the Presidential as well as key Senate and Governor races on both sides of the aisle to submit their answers to a 2020 Disability Voter Candidate Questionnaire.
Question 5 of the Questionnaire was: There are significant stigmas that create attitudinal barriers that limit options and perpetuates low expectations for people with disabilities. What measures will you take to combat these stigmas and promote opportunities for people with disabilities?
Below, read the answers from the candidates who responded. These responses are listed alphabetically by state:
Democratic Presidential Candidate and Former Vice President Joe Biden:
I believe that everyone should be treated with dignity and have a fair shot at getting ahead. This year, on July 26, we marked the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Thanks to the leadership of people with disabilities, disability advocates, and their allies, we have made progress towards the goals of this law—“equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency” for people with disabilities. But, there is much more work to do in order to ensure that all people with disabilities are able to participate fully in our communities and enjoy the same kinds of choices and opportunities that many Americans take for granted. In June, I released a comprehensive plan to achieve full participation and equality for people with disabilities, which you can read at https://joebiden.com/disabilities/.
I recognize that we need to view all policies—ranging from climate change and the economy to education and housing—through an inclusive lens. I will work with the disability community to build a stronger, more expansive middle class so that everyone—regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or disability— can find a place. That means amending our laws, policies, and culture to ensure full inclusion of the 61 million individuals with disabilities in the United States in all parts of our society. I will prioritize enacting and implementing policies that break down the barriers to access for people with disabilities living and succeeding in their chosen communities, which means good jobs in competitive, integrated employment; affordable, accessible, and integrated housing; accessible and affordable transportation; inclusive voting processes; and any needed long-term services and supports. I will aggressively enforce existing civil rights laws for people with disabilities, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Fair Housing Act, the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Help America Vote Act, and the Air Carrier Access Act. I also will expand competitive, integrated employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
Incumbent Democratic Senator Doug Jones of Alabama:
Too often, accomplished individuals with disabilities are seen solely as “inspiration,” rather than citizens who are valued for their important contributions to our country.
Though it may be uncomfortable for the non-disabled community, we need to better educate the nation on how people with disabilities have been mistreated and marginalized by our society.
We need to better enforce policies to end sometimes-unintentional practices that result in discrimination against people with disabilities. For example, inaccessible neighborhoods often result in de-facto redlining of housing for the disabled. The more people with disabilities are fully included in our neighborhoods, economy and schools, the more likely we are to have meaningful discussions that lead to greater understanding.
Better access to quality affordable housing, transportation, education, healthcare and tougher enforcement of anti-discrimination employment laws are also critical.
Democratic Senate candidate and former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper:
Hickenlooper has advocated for people with disabilities throughout his career. As Governor, Hickenlooper declared October Disability Employment Awareness Month for the state of Colorado to promote the hiring of people with disabilities. In the Senate, Hickenlooper will continue to demonstrate his strong commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Incumbent Democratic Governor John Carney of Delaware:
One of the best parts of my job is celebrating the great work happening up and down our state – and shining a spotlight on the Delawareans and community organizations who are leading that work. We can raise awareness with simple proclamation signings or tribute events. Most years, we hold events for Down Syndrome awareness and Autism awareness at Legislative Hall in Dover, for example. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has canceled most of our in-person events. We should look for opportunities virtually to raise awareness of important work happening across Delaware, and new ways to get involved.
Incumbent Republican Governor Eric Holcomb of Indiana:
Gov. Holcomb answered RespectAbility’s questionnaire with a letter focused on his Administration past disability efforts. He did not specifically answer the question about combating stigmas.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dr. Woody Myers of Indiana:
To begin, we will review of all the state-led disability programs, committees, councils, and task forces to ensure they are properly represented with people with disabilities and stakeholders. We’ll lead in removing barriers for the disability community. We’ll highlight the incredible contributions people with disabilities are making in state government and we’ll work to recruit more to work in our government, sit on state boards and have a voice in the rooms making decisions about how we build a more inclusive state. We will also ensure that the state sets the standard by paying state employees with disabilities equitable wages.
Democratic Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield of Iowa:
As a U.S. Senator, I will continue to speak out about the importance of fully funding IDEA and will participate in events and make statements to acknowledge the importance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
Incumbent Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine:
Sen. Collins answered RespectAbility’s questionnaire with a letter focused on her legislative accomplishments and career. She did not specifically answer the question about combating stigmas.
Democratic Senate candidate and Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives Sara Gideon:
Every person deserves to have their lived experiences acknowledged and celebrated. As Senator, I will ensure that every event we do explicitly provides for full community participation, no matter ability or status. I will also honor National Disability Employment Awareness Month and other important dates of awareness. People with disabilities are valued, honored members of our communities–and they deserve proper recognition and support. I am deeply committed to combating stigmas–and I’ll bring that commitment to the practices of my office and the priorities of my policymaking.
Democratic Senate candidate and current Montana Governor Steve Bullock:
During my time as Governor, I declared October as National Disability Employment Awareness Monthin Montana, highlighting the importance of awareness about employment for people with disabilities. As Senator, I will continue to use the opportunities available to me to highlight the contributions that Montanans with disabilities make to our economy, workplaces, and communities.
Incumbent Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana:
All Montanans and Americans should be treated with kindness and fairness without any form of discrimination. We must all stand together in supporting those with disabilities. I’ve long supported programs such as the Special Olympics, giving those with disabilities the opportunity to compete in athletics and represent Montana at the national level. Every year, it’s an honor to visit with Montana’s Special Olympians, and I’ll continue supporting them every step of the way.
Democratic candidate for Governor and current Montana Lieutenant Governor Mike Cooney:
As governor, I am committed to raising the visibility of folks with disabilities, and I will seek every opportunity to promote opportunities for disabled Montanans. As one of Montana’s most visible politicians, the governor sets the tone for how we treat and respect others, and I will lead by example when it comes to fighting stigmas and changing attitudes.
Libertarian Senate candidate Bob Walsh of New Mexico:
As an elected Senator, I expect to be too busy studying submitted bills and proposed legislation to have any opportunity to demonstrate anything publicly.
Democratic Senate candidate Cal Cunningham of North Carolina:
As Senator, my job is going to be to represent all North Carolinians and be their voice in Congress. I will fight for the interests of the disability community in the Senate through legislation and federal policy, but also by lifting up the stories of North Carolinians with disabilities and fighting and speaking out publicly against harmful stereotypes or stigmas that create barriers or challenges for the disability community.
Incumbent Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina:
As I mentioned in response to a previous question, I believe that a lack of education and exposure to individuals with disabilities presents one of the biggest barriers to hiring individuals with disabilities. The associated stigmas are very real and, unfortunately, can result in fewer opportunities for individuals with disabilities who are seeking employment. Some of the most gifted individuals I have ever had the pleasure to meet are living with a disability, and it is incumbent upon those of us who do have a public platform to highlight the incredible work that these individuals are capable of and, indeed, are already doing every day.
One example I will highlight is a heartwarming and paradigm shattering North Carolina business: Bitty & Beau’s Coffee Shop. Any time I find myself in Wilmington, NC, I make a point to visit Bitty & Beau’s for a cup of coffee, and I always leave with a smile. This business provides an opportunity for individuals with disabilities to find gainful employment, but more importantly, it serves as a platform to showcase what their employees are capable of. Their mission, and their impact, reaches far beyond the walls of their store. It helps shape the thinking of each and every customer, so that they too may reconsider their preconceived notions – their next hire might just be someone like Bitty or Beau. We must share these good news stories, shatter the stigmas, and open our hearts.
Incumbent Democratic Governor Roy Cooper of North Carolina:
I honored and celebrated the many contributions and accomplishments by honoring National Disability Employment Awareness Month. There are significant stigmas that create attitudinal barriers that limit options and perpetuate low expectations for people with disabilities.
In my proposed budget for 2019-21, I directed the allocation of $1 million for state-of-the-art adaptive equipment and assistive technologies that can help North Carolinians who have disabilities live, work and learn more effectively in their communities.
Democratic congressional candidate Moe Davis of North Carolina:
My father was a 100 percent disabled veteran of World War II. Despite his physical limitations, he served as commander of the American Legion Post and was actively engaged in state and local politics.
I will encourage folks with disabilities to run for public office. We need people with disabilities in every aspect of every industry across America. We need to fund programs
in community and four-year colleges that support students with disabilities in public policy careers and all careers. We need to fully fund occupational therapy programs in every district regardless of that district’s revenue. We must expand Medicaid in every state to remove concerns employers may have about the cost of medical benefits to potential applicants with disabilities.
Democratic Lieutenant Governor and candidate for Vermont Governor David Zuckerman:
Elevating the voices of diverse individuals including those with disabilities is one of the primary goals of my administration. I believe that we must have the on-the-ground individuals, stakeholders and organizations at the table when discussing how we move forward as a state. By elevating these voices we can begin to remove some of the stigma around people with disabilities. Supporting and incentivizing hiring practices that include more people with disabilities will also ensure that more individuals throughout the state will be working hand-in-hand with folks with disabilities: one of the first steps to breaking down stigma is to encourage communication and conversation.
Democratic Governor candidate and Kanawha County commissioner Ben Salango of West Virginia:
As a lawyer for over twenty years, I have fought for justice and held the powerful accountable. I’ve fought and won discrimination cases on behalf of West Virginians. As governor, I will make equality a priority and will:
- Make West Virginia a state welcoming to all people.
- Work with community and minority leaders to root out discrimination in state government.
- Increase accountability and transparency.
- Protect West Virginians from all forms of discrimination.
- Increase education and public awareness to prevent discrimination and hate.
RespectAbility is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of their communities. RespectAbility does not rate or endorse candidates. View more coverage of 2020 candidates.