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Author: James Trout

President Biden and the State of the Union: What it Means for the Disability Community

Washington, D.C., March 2 – Last night, President Joe Biden gave his State of the Union Address at the US Capitol Building, as tradition and the US Constitution dictate. Given recent world events, President Biden talked extensively about the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. But the speech also contained multiple mentions of issues with direct implications for the 61 million Americans already living with disabilities and the 1.2 million Americans who are newly disabled thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Capping the Cost of Insulin

One of the guests seated in the gallery with First Lady Jill Biden was 13-year-old Joshua Davis of Midlothian, Virginia, who lives with Type 1 diabetes. President Biden told his story and called for capping the price of insulin. The President said, “for Joshua, and for the 200,000 other young people with Type 1 diabetes, let’s cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month so everyone can afford it.”

Diabetes is a disability that affects over 34 million Americans and has major intersectional implications. The CDC reports that new diagnoses of diabetes were highest among Black and Hispanic/Latinx adults, and that fully 16.3 percent of adults with a disability have diabetes, compared to only 7.2 percent of their non-disabled peers.

Maryland Democratic Party Gubernatorial Candidates Fail To Address Disability Issues At Education Forum

Annapolis, MD, January 18 – Earlier this month, seven of the Democratic candidates for Governor of Maryland gathered online for a forum on education issues affecting Marylanders. The event, which was hosted by Maryland Democratic Party Chairwoman Yvette Lewis, was an opportunity where the candidates could have addressed issues for the 98,188 students with disabilities enrolled in Maryland’s K-12 school system. However, disability issues were not specifically discussed and none of the candidates mentioned the word disability during the forum.

Said Philip Kahn-Pauli, who leads candidate outreach for the disability nonprofit RespectAbility, “Sadly, all of the Maryland Democratic candidates for Governor earned an “F” today due to their failure to address the issues that impact students with disabilities.” Of the students with disabilities enrolled in Maryland’s K-12 school system, there are 257 American Indian or Alaska Native students with disabilities, 2,991 Asian students with disabilities, 40,262 Black or African American students with disabilities, 16,203 Hispanic/Latino students with disabilities, 103 Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander students with disabilities, 4,372 Biracial students with disabilities, and 34,000 White students with disabilities. Continued Kahn-Pauli, “Recognizing the barriers and complexities that impact these students is a crucial responsibility for the next governor.”

While the candidates at the Forum did not directly address the disability community, many of the issues discussed have a direct impact on people with disabilities. Former nonprofit executive and federal official Baron called for vaccine requirements for Maryland’s teachers. Former Attorney General Doug Gansler also called for mandatory vaccinations for teachers, but keeping schools open as much as possible. He claimed it was “unfair” for students from poor environments to rely on technology and online school. Former US Secretary of Labor and Former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee Tom Perez specifically talked about supporting mental health professionals. Other issues discussed at the forum included broadband access, financial literacy, discrimination, and career readiness programs.

Candidates in Race for Governor of Virginia Spar on Vaccines, Omit Speaking Directly to People with Disabilities

Richmond, VA, September 29 – Last night, the second debate for Governor of Virginia was held at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) in Alexandria, Virginia between former Governor Terry McAuliffe (D-VA) and businessman Glenn Youngkin (R-VA). Just as with the first debate, neither candidate directly mentioned the disability community. The…

Georgia Disability Vote Partnership Shines the Spotlight on the Disability Vote in the Senate Candidate Disability Forum

Washington, D.C., Dec. 29 – Control of the U.S. Senate depends on two runoff elections in the state of Georgia. While a lot of money is being spent by the candidates and other organizations to get out the vote, Georgia’s disability community has not been getting enough attention in these races. That started to change on Monday evening when the Georgia Disability Vote Partnership hosted a live streamed voting forum featuring all four of Georgia’s Senate runoff candidates. The forum showed answers from all candidates to the same questions: 1) Why is it so important for the disability community to be involved in the political process? 2) How do you plan to engage the disability community to be more involved and active in the laws, decisions and policies that affect our lives?

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.  

Disabled Veteran Being Vetted for VP Nomination

Washington, D.C., July 11 – Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) has been receiving much attention in recent weeks in the press as a potential running mate for presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden. Duckworth being on the ticket would be notable for several reasons. If Biden were to choose her as Vice President and win the 2020 Presidential election, Duckworth would be the first woman to serve as Vice President, the first Asian American to be elected as either Vice President or President, and the first person with a visible disability since Franklin Delano Roosevelt to be elected either as President or Vice President. Like many of the 57 million Americans with disabilities, Duckworth was not born with a disability but acquired one later in life.

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:

What Do Candidates Say About People with Disabilities Regarding Transportation Issues?

Washington, Nov. 3 – While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has enabled many people with disabilities to have physical access and more rights, numerous challenges still remain. Fully 70 percent of working-age people with disabilities do not have a job, the same rate it was when the ADA was passed…

Blind Singer Marlana VanHoose Blows Away Republican Convention with National Anthem

Cleveland, July 18 – The first night of the Republican National Convention opened with a moving performance of the Star Spangled Banner by Marlana VanHoose, a young woman who has been blind from birth and diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of two. “I love this country. It is…

How Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Made Addressing Disability Issues a Priority

Concord, N.H., Feb. 6 – When Hillary Clinton declared her candidacy for president on April 12, 2015, her campaign did not make a point of taking people with disabilities into account. She came under scrutiny for not including people with disabilities in her announcement video, and her famed van momentarily…

O’Malley: Identify Best Practices to Increase Employment of People with Disabilities

Manchester, NH, Dec. 22 – Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley called for identifying best practices when asked to address the large unemployment numbers for people with disabilities. “We need to lift up the best practices state by state and do a better job as a nation in seeding, feeding and supporting…

Debbie Wasserman Schultz: Democratic Party “Champion” of Diversity

Cleveland, August 6 – At a Democratic National Committee (DNC) press conference on the sidelines of the first Republican primary debate, DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said the Democratic party is a “champion” of diversity. The Florida congresswoman claimed that Democrats “ensured that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became…