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2020 Candidates on Campaign Accessibility for Voters with Disabilities

Washington, D.C., Oct. 15 – Have you ever heard the expression “Nothing about us without us”? Within the disability rights community, it means that if there is something affecting people with disabilities that is being discussed or debated, the voices and lived experiences of people with disabilities need to inform that debate. The COVID-19 pandemic has cast a clear light on many of most important inequities that define American life. As such, the people most directly affected by issues such as education, jobs, prejudice, homelessness, criminal justice, poverty and other issues deserves to have their voice, insights and experiences respected and utilized in finding and implementing solutions.

Oftentimes, the solutions that the disability community brings forward can have a broad impact on the community. For instance, adding closed captioning to videos does not just help people with specific disabilities. It can also help people who speak English as a second language or senior with hearing issues. This example illustrates that America will be better off when people with disabilities can fully participate in the political process, just like anyone else. 

Therefore, RespectAbility, a nonpartisan national nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can participate fully in all aspects of community, has been tracking campaign accessibility issues throughout this year. This includes back during the Democratic Presidential Primary as well as during the 2018 and 2016 election cycles. You can find a full archive of campaign accessibility specific posts on The RespectAbility Report here.

Many campaigns lack basic accessibility – from websites being accessible for people using screen readers to videos lacking captions for the 37.5 million American adults who are deaf or hard of hearing. In addition, not all campaign events are ADA accessible, including parking, entrances and bathrooms. Many lacked ASL interpreters and live captioning services.

However, as disability issues have gained more attention than in past election cycles, RespectAbility has highlighted campaign accessibility in the 2020 Disability Voter Questionnaire distributed to all candidates in key Senate and gubernatorial races on both sides of the aisle. Every candidate was given an equal opportunity to respond and if they are not listed, it is because they declined to answer.

Question 3 of the Questionnaire was: What specific measures have you taken to make your campaign accessible for, and inclusive of, people with disabilities, as every issue impacts our lives? 

Below, read the answers from the candidates who responded. These responses are listed alphabetically by state:

Examining Presidential Hopeful Michael Bloomberg’s Campaign Accessibility

Washington, D.C., Dec. 19 – Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has officially announced that he is running for president in the democratic primary. But how is his campaign doing on including people with disabilities?

Michael Bloomberg

For a presidential campaign to be fully inclusive of people with disabilities, it needs to meet the following requirements, at a minimum: (1) offer captioning with every video it shares or produces, (2) mention people with disabilities and their issues, (3) depict people with visible disabilities in its media, (4) reach out to and fully include the disability community, and (5) provide accessible campaign events, social media, documents and website. Bloomberg’s campaign has room for improvement, but there are some positive signs that the campaign is trying to be inclusive.

Seven Democratic Campaigns Prioritize Disability Issues in Accessibility for All Forum

Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Nov. 24 – Earlier this month, seven presidential campaigns made history together as they participated in a Democratic Party forum, Accessibility for All, focused on issues affecting people with disabilities. This is the first time this campaign season that a forum was held specifically on this topic.…

Yang Pledges Increased Accessibility for People with Variety of Disabilities to Become More Engaged in Campaign

Washington, D.C., June 16 – Disability is personal to presidential hopeful Andrew Yang, who has a son on the Autism spectrum. In response to a question posed to all of the viable 2020 presidential candidates by RespectAbility, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities for people with…

Sanders Campaign “Committed to Ensuring Accessibility is at Forefront of Everything we Build”

Washington, D.C., June 13 – The Sanders campaign, which is the only one to have a dedicated page on its website for disability rights, has pledged continued accessibility in response to a question posed to all of the viable 2020 presidential candidates by RespectAbility, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that fights stigmas…

Biden Campaign Evolves, Makes Voters with Disabilities a Priority

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.  

Presidential Candidates & Including People with Disabilities in their Campaigns

Washington, D.C., Jan 30 – As a nonpartisan national nonprofit organization 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 race on both sides of the aisle to submit their answers to a 2020 Disability Voter Candidate Questionnaire. Question 15 in the Questionnaire was: “Are your office, website and events accessible to people with disabilities? Have you identified a process for including people with disabilities in your staff and policy advisors? If yes, please describe.

Below, read the answers from the five candidates who responded:

Presidential Candidates’ Website Accessibility Improves but More Work Still Needed

Four Candidates – Biden, Booker, Castro and Yang – Have “Mostly Accessible” Websites

Washington, D.C., Dec. 19 – Nearly six months after a report by the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired found that all of the presidential candidates’ websites block democratic access to voters who are blind or have low vision, an update finds that still none of these websites – Democrat or Republican – are fully accessible. However, the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind found that many of the candidates’ websites do show improvements in accessibility.

The organization issued a challenge for the candidates in June: “ensure their websites are fully ADA compliant and immediately put an accessibility statement on their page.” Since then, both Entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Vice President Joe Biden’s have been deemed “mostly accessible” and are the only candidates who have qualified for the December debate to have scored higher than a 3.00 out of 4.00. 

8 Democratic Campaigns Participate in Forum Focused on People with Disabilities and Health Care

Washington, D.C., Nov. 1 – Tomorrow in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, eight campaigns are set to participate in a history-making Accessibility, Inclusion, and Outreach Conference focused specifically on issues that affect people with disabilities. This is important, as while recent polling suggests that voters with disabilities themselves are more enthusiastic about participating in the 2020 elections than the nation at large, none of the campaigns are yet fully accessible to the disability community.

“It is vital for the democratic process to be open to all people and all means all – including people with disabilities,” said Lauren Appelbaum, vice president, communications of RespectAbility. “The majority of voters have a friend or family member with a disability or have a disability themselves. It is truly exciting that eight campaigns will be focusing their attention on addressing the 1-in-5 people living in America with a disability.”

Seven of the Democratic candidates will participate themselves. They are:

  • Sen. Cory Booker 
  • Mayor Pete Buttigieg
  • Rep. John Delaney
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar
  • Rep. Beto O’Rourke
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders
  • Mr. Andrew Yang 

Additionally, former Sen. Chris Dodd will speak on behalf of Vice President Joe Biden.

According to “Accessibility For All Now,” the organizers of the Forum, candidates will answer questions posed by people with disabilities and members of the Linn County Medical Society, which is co-hosting the forum. 

Will Voters with Disabilities Determine Campaign 2020?

Washington, D.C., June 25 – Two separate bipartisan polls following the last presidential election showed that voters with disabilities and their family and friends voted in big numbers for President Donald Trump. 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 campaign heats up, it is in the best interest of every presidential candidate and the citizens of this country for candidates to recognize disability issues during their campaigns.

“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, a Washington-based nonpartisan nonprofit that fights stigmas and advances opportunities so people with disabilities can participate in all aspects of community. “People with disabilities are politically active swing voters, and candidates should take note of the important issues they care about.”

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.

Warren: “Non-negotiable” For Campaign to Be Fully Inclusive of People with Disabilities

Washington, D.C., June 17 – Since she began working as a special education teacher, Sen. Elizabeth Warren says she understood “how important it is to live a life of independence and dignity.” Responding to a question posed to all of the viable 2020 presidential candidates by RespectAbility, a nonprofit, nonpartisan…

1,156 New Jobs for People with Disabilities in Washington State as Gov. Jay Inslee Launches 2020 Campaign

Washington, D.C., April 12th – While nationally 111,804 jobs were gained by people with disabilities, 1,156 went to people with disabilities living in Washington State. The newly published 2018 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium shows there are 480,828 working-age (18-64) people with disabilities living in Washington State. Out of that number, only 194,948 have jobs.…

2,240 New Jobs for Louisianans with Disabilities as Gov. Edwards Launches Reelection Campaign

Washington, D.C., April 2 – While 111,804 jobs were gained by people with disabilities, 2,240 went to Louisianans with disabilities. The newly published 2018 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium shows there are 361,642 working-age (18-64) people with disabilities living in Louisiana. Out of that number, only 122,683 have jobs. That means…

Burr Promotes Work on ABLE Act in Campaign, Wins Re-Election

Washington, Nov 8 – North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard M. Burr, a 20-year Republican veteran of Congress, won a tough re-election against Deborah Ross, a Democratic former state director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Burr completed the #PwDsVote Disability Questionnaire for presidential, senate and gubernatorial candidates put out by RespectAbility, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to end stigmas and advance opportunities for people with disabilities. Ross also responded to the questionnaire.

“As a senior member of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, I worked closely with my colleagues to pass the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014,” Burr responded in the questionnaire. “This means people with disabilities will have a greater opportunity to achieve self-sufficiency and competitive integrated employment, which will ultimately enhance their life opportunities. For this, I was pleased to support WIOA.”

Throughout the campaign, Burr promoted his work on the bipartisan Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) act and how this law empowers people with disabilities and their families to save money without fearing the loss of essential benefits.

statewide political ad featured a North Carolina family with two children on the Autism Spectrum discussing how the entire family benefits from these new 529 savings accounts. The YouTube version of the ad, which is the version embedded on the campaign’s website, and the Facebook upload, both include captions, which is important for the 37.5 million American adults aged 18 and over who report some trouble hearing.

The campaign’s website also included two pages on the topic – a press release about the ad and a page devoted to “Working Across the Aisle for People with Disabilities.” Both pages contain facts and figures about the ABLE Act emphasizing Burr’s continuing, bipartisan work on the ABLE to Work Act, the ABLE Age Adjustment Act and the ABLE Financial Planning Act.

As Burr wrote in an op-ed in May 2016: “In my view, ABLE accounts are a milestone in a larger movement to create opportunity and independence for those impacted by disability.”

Burr also made a campaign stop to bring attention to the critical challenges facing people with disabilities living in North Carolina. In August, he visited Bitty and Beau’s Coffee Shop in Wilmington, North Carolina, which is “run by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.” This coffee shop provides a current team of 40 employees the opportunity to live and work as a fixture of their local community.

While Burr advertised his work on the ABLE Act during the campaign, many people with disabilities in North Carolina struggle to find work. North Carolina has 1,330,804 citizens with disabilities. Currently, only 30 percent of the 715,508 working-age North Carolinians with disabilities have a job. Each year, one quarter of North Carolina’s 36,600 youth with disabilities will leave the school system and face an uncertain future. Despite solid job growth, the Tar Heel state currently ranks 39th in the nation in terms of the employment rate for people with disabilities.

There are 56 million people with disabilities (one in five Americans), more than 35 million of whom are eligible voters (one-sixth of the electorate). A new poll showed that half of voters either have a disability or a loved one with a disability. The poll also showed that voters were more likely to support candidates who prioritize ensuring that children with disabilities get the education and training they need to succeed as well expanding job and career opportunities for people with disabilities.

RespectAbility reached out to candidates for president, governor and U.S. Senate – requesting them to complete the #PwDsVote disability questionnaire on multiple disability topics ranging from employment, education, violence and abuse, criminal justice, healthcare and more.

On the presidential level, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton filled out the full questionnaire. Despite numerous requests in person and by phone and email, Mr. Trump did not.

Forty down ballot candidates, including 26 for Senate and 11 for governor, from both sides of the aisle (25 Democrats, 14 Republicans, 1 Green Party) responded, showing that disability rights is a nonpartisan issue. The responses also were geographically diverse, coming from states all around the country as politicians are paying more and more attention to the disability community.

View Burr’s response to the questionnaire below:

Rhode Island’s Jim Langevin Completes #PwDsVote Campaign Questionnaire

headshot of Jim Langevin
Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI)

Washington, Nov. 7 – RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization working to empower people with disabilities to achieve the American dream, has asked Senate and gubernatorial candidates on both sides of the aisle to fill out a questionnaire on disability issues. Other down ballot candidates who requested a copy of the questionnaire also were invited to complete it. Democrat Rep. Jim Langevin, who is running for reelection for Rhode Island’s 2nd congressional district, completed the questionnaire. His opponent, Republican Rhue Reis, also was sent a copy but has not responded yet.

RespectAbility is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates. The questionnaire is purely for educational purposes.

Langevin, who acquired a disability prior to the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), has spoken often about the importance of inclusion of people with disabilities.

“To so many of us, I have to say the ADA has probably altered the paradigm, providing new opportunities and fundamentally changing the way society views and treats us,” he said at an event on the sidelines of the DNC in July. “We are much, much closer to realizing the goal and the dream of equality, our full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency of people with disabilities everywhere. In so doing, I know that then we will fully, truly realize the full potential of the ADA for generations to come.”

Currently, Rhode Island ranks 32nd in the country in terms of the state’s employment rate of people with disabilities. Only 33.9 percent of Rhode Island’s 63,400 working-age people with disabilities are employed. Further, as of 2013, there are 5,000 youth with disabilities between the ages of 16 and 20. Each year, one quarter of them will transition out of the school system and into an uncertain future.

Rhode Island’s voters are looking to know where the candidates stand on important disability issues in order to increase opportunities for competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities and foster a more inclusive society.

We are presenting Langevin’s answers in full below.

Candidates Talk Accessibility for People with Disabilities

Washington, Nov. 3 – In theory, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) opened the door to employment for many people with physical disabilities by requiring that buildings be physically accessible. In practice, however, workplace accessibility for many people with disabilities is far from universal.

Many employers have offices in buildings that predate the ADA and therefore don’t have elevators, accessible bathrooms or necessary assistive technology for people of all abilities to be able to work there. In addition, the ADA exempts companies with fewer than 15 employees from having to abide by ADA standards, so many miss out on a chance to work for a smaller organization.

Therefore, as part of the #PwDsVote Disability Questionnaire, the nonpartisan, nonprofit disability organization RespectAbility asked candidates running for president, senate or governor about their plans to address this issue. Every candidate was given an equal opportunity to respond and if they are not listed, it is because they declined to answer.

Many campaigns lack basic accessibility – from websites being accessible for people using screen readers to videos lacking captions for the 37.5 million American adults who are deaf or hard of hearing. In addition, not all campaign events are ADA accessible, including parking, entrances and bathrooms. Many lacked ASL interpreters and live captioning services.

The quotes in this article are the candidates’ answers to questions 1 and 2 in the gubernatorial/senate questionnaire: “Do you have designated advisors and clear processes for making decisions on disability issues? Is your campaign accessible and inclusive to people with disabilities?” These were adapted from similar questions, numbers 1 and 11, in the presidential questionnaire.

In Delaware, both candidates for the open gubernatorial seat have worked to ensure they have accessible campaigns by seeking input from both family members and constituents with disabilities. Whomever wins will have big shoes to fill as current Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, who is term limited, is a hero to the disability community. Markell was awarded recognition by RespectAbility this summer for his leadership nationally in creating more job opportunities for people with disabilities.

“I have learned about disability issues from constituent calls seeking assistance as well as disability community meetings as a member of the legislature,” Republican State Sen. Colin Bonini replied. “We hold meet and greets at various locations including restaurants. We ask the locations if their events are accessible prior to setting an event up and it is our goal to hold events at locations that are accessible.”

“I have strong relationships with members of Delaware’s disabilities community, and I rely on them for advice and guidance on how to best serve the needs of those with disabilities,” Democrat Rep. John Carney replied. “My campaign welcomes all Delawareans to share their thoughts and concerns about the future of our state. We ensure that our offices and community events are always accessible for anyone who wishes to participate in the election process.”

Check out all of the candidates’ full responses below:

Delaware’s John Carney Completes #PwDsVote Gubernatorial Campaign Questionnaire

Washington, Oct. 17 – RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization working to empower people with disabilities to achieve the American dream, has asked gubernatorial candidates on both sides of the aisle to fill out a questionnaire on disability issues. Democrat Rep. John Carney, who is seeking the open governorship in Delaware, completed the #PwDsVote Disability…

Illinois’ Tammy Duckworth Completes #PwDsVote Senate Campaign Questionnaire

Washington, Oct. 14 – RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization working to empower people with disabilities to achieve the American dream, has asked senate candidates on both sides of the aisle to fill out a questionnaire on disability issues. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, who is challenging incumbent Sen. Mark Kirk for the U.S. Senate in Illinois, responded to…

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