Washington, D.C., Nov. 12 – Despite there being more than 1.2 million Georgians with some form of disability, all four Senate candidates in the most hotly contested Senate races in America have thus far failed to reach out to voters with disabilities. Indeed, none of the four candidates even mention the word disability on their campaign websites, and none of their websites are fully accessible to voters who are blind or deaf.
The failure of Georgia Senate campaigns to reach out to voters with disabilities is in stark contrast to President-elect Joe Biden who made outreach to the disability community a key part of his winning strategy. A poll conducted by Democracy Corps on behalf of RespectAbility in the major battleground states in the days leading up to Election Day found that 60 percent of voters with disabilities say they have or were planning to vote for Joe Biden, compared to 35 percent of voters with disabilities supporting President Trump. This showed a shift from 2016, when a poll conducted by Lake Research Partners and The Tarrance Group found that voters with disabilities split their votes between President Trump (46 percent) and Secretary Hillary Clinton (49 percent).
Outreach to the more than 38.3 million voters with disabilities who were eligible to vote in this year’s election has been a part of winning strategies by candidates for public office down-ballot as well. In competitive Senate races in Maine, North Carolina, Colorado and Montana, the winning candidates ensured both website accessibility and completed nonpartisan candidate questionnaires that directly address the issues most important to voters with disabilities.
In a Senate pickup for the Democratic party, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper won a hotly contested race for the Colorado Senate seat, beating Republican incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner. Meanwhile, incumbent Republican Sen. Steve Daines will continue to represent Montana in the U.S. Senate, beating Democratic challenger Gov. Steve Bullock. In Maine, incumbent Republican Sen. Susan Collins has won a hotly contested race to continue serving in the U.S. Senate, beating Democratic challenger Sara Gideon. And in North Carolina, incumbent Republican Sen. Thom Tillis defeated Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham and will serve another term in the U.S. Senate. All these campaigns reached out to voters with disabilities by participating in the nonpartisan RespectAbility candidate questionnaire on key issues that impact people with disabilities.
Additionally, three incumbent Governors who showed their support of people with disabilities by completing the RespectAbility disability questionnaire won re-election. Democratic incumbent Roy Cooper won a second term as Governor of North Carolina, beating Republican challenger Dan Forest. Democratic incumbent John Carney has won a second term as Delaware’s Governor, beating Republican challenger Julianne Murray. And Republican incumbent Eric Holcomb was re-elected as Governor of Indiana, beating Democratic challenger Dr. Woodrow Myers.
With the presidential election finished and the fate of the U.S. Senate in the balance, voters in Georgia must once again go to the polls. This time, they must make their final choice between Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock or Republican incumbent Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. Unfortunately, none of these candidates include disability in their campaign issue sections.
“As a Georgian who is blind and cares passionately about who represents my state, I am deeply disappointed that none of the candidates on the ballot this coming January have made much of an effort to connect with the disability community,” said Janet LaBreck, a blind advocate and Vice Chair of the national, nonpartisan disability inclusion organization RespectAbility.
According to a review of the accessibility features of the candidates’ websites, incumbent Sen. David Perdue’s website is missing alternative text on many images, which leaves out people who are blind or low vision and use screen readers. For example, a voter who uses a screen reader would have no way of knowing the list of brands Perdue says he has helped. Perdue has transcripts available for some videos but not all of them. This is especially shocking given the fact that Sen. Perdue’s wife is a special educator and he himself has completed site visits to inclusive employment programs that support transitional-age youth with disabilities.
Perdue’s opponent Jon Ossoff’s website has the same problem of lacking alternative text on images, and the video that the campaign is promoting most heavily on the homepage has no captions or transcript.
Likewise, Rev. Raphael Warnock’s website has more of the same issues. His most promoted video has no captions or transcript, and this video has YouTube automatic captions in Russian despite the video being in English. The logos of endorsing organizations are missing alt text, so voters who use screen readers would have no way of knowing who is supporting his campaign.
Warnock’s opponent, Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, has the most accessible website of the four, but it still is far from perfect. Some alternative text is not very descriptive; for example, the collage on the “get involved” page just says “Kelly Leoffler images” and does not describe anything further. Other images, including all of the images representing the issues on the issues page, are missing alt text altogether.
“In such a competitive senate race, all candidates have an opportunity to engage with voters with disabilities,” added LaBreck. “These voters could well decide the final margin of victory.”
According to the 2019 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium, the total number of Georgians with disabilities is 1,246,077, making up 12.1 percent of the total state population. 2018 employment data show that there are 658,811 working-age people with disabilities in Georgia. In the economic expansion prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, only 238,875 (or 36.3 percent) of those Georgians had a job.
“The vote of the disability community is not monolithic but attention to disability issues will gather votes for candidates,” added LaBreck.
Learn more about how political candidates and campaign staff are reaching out to voters with disabilities on The RespectAbility Report, nonpartisan political commentary on U.S. elections with a focus on disability issues: https://therespectabilityreport.org.
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 and The RespectAbility Report do not rate or endorse candidates.