Maine Ranks 49th in the Country on Jobs for People with Disabilities
by Philip Kahn-Pauli
In the run up to the 2020 Maine Democratic primary, the nonpartisan disability rights nonprofit RespectAbility has released its latest Maine State Voter Guide. According to the Annual Disability Statistics Compendium, there are 219,649 people with disabilities in Maine, and they make up 16.6 percent of the state’s total population.
Research conducted in the 2018 election shows that 74 percent of likely voters either have a disability themselves or have a family member or a close friend with disabilities. The upcoming elections and their results will have an impact on people with disabilities, so it is important to become familiar with the candidates’ positions on certain issues.
“Candidates for office ignore the disability community at their peril,” said former U.S. Rep. and Dallas Mayor Steve Bartlett. Bartlett, who was one of the coauthors of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, is the chairman of RespectAbility.
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 to submit their answers to a 2020 Disability Voter Candidate Questionnaire. This questionnaire covers some of the most important issues impacting people with disabilities including employment, education, immigration, criminal justice and accessibility.
Five high-profile candidates submitted their completed questionnaires earlier this year and you can find their responses below:
All responses to the candidate questionnaire will be posted in full on The RespectAbility Report as they come in and will be used to produce and update nonpartisan voter guides in all 50 states. It is the hope of RespectAbility that the remaining candidates will send their responses in soon.
Accessing the Ballot Box in Maine
The Maine’s Bureau of Corporations, Elections, and Commissions offers a range of resources to ensure that voters with disabilities can exercise their right to vote. Any registered voter may cast an absentee ballot instead of voting in person at a voting place on Election Day. Absentee ballots may be requested beginning 3 months before Election Day, and until the 3rd business day prior to the election (February 27, 2020 for the March 3, 2020 primary), unless special circumstances exist. To be counted, voted absentee ballots must be received by the municipal clerk by 8:00 p.m. on Election Day.
The ExpressVote universal voting system replaced the vote-by-phone ballot-marking system in 2016 as Maine’s accessible voting system. This system allows individuals with disabilities to vote with privacy and independence by using a tabletop unit to navigate their ballot with a touchscreen or keypad and audio interface. The ExpressVote generates a printed ballot with the voter’s choices. Ballot scanners, which are in use in most of Maine’s voting places, can then count the ExpressVote ballot along with the other ballots, which helps to improve voter privacy.
A Focus on Employment
According to the 2020 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium, there are 114,014 working-age (ages 18-64) people with disabilities living in Maine. Out of that number, only 42,411 have jobs. That means Maine has a disability employment rate of 37.2 percent. The Pine Tree State ranks 49th among the 50 states in terms of the gap in employment rates between people with and without disabilities.
“The unfortunate fact is that stigma is still a driving factor in why almost two-thirds of working age people with disabilities are unemployed,” said RespectAbility’s Vice President, Communications, Lauren Appelbaum, who also serves as the managing editor of The RespectAbility Report, an online publication at the intersection of disability and politics. “However, there is good news this election cycle, as many of the candidates for the highest office in the land have made their campaigns accessible to people with disabilities. They are including us in their campaigns as staffers and consultants and ensuring that they have well thought-out disability policy plans.”
“The disability community is unique,” added Philip Kahn-Pauli, associate editor of The RespectAbility Report. “It is the only minority group that anyone can join at any time due to illness, injury, or aging. What that means is that there are people with disabilities in every state, and that the community’s interests intersect with so many issues, including race, gender, poverty, criminal justice and inequality.”
According to a Rutgers University study, 14.3 million citizens with disabilities voted in 2018. Those voters will be crucial as candidates vie for the presidency, as well as state-wide and local elections.
RespectAbility is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities so that people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of their communities. RespectAbility does not rate or endorse candidates. The questionnaire is purely for educational purposes as voters go to the polls. RespectAbility has reached out to all of the presidential campaigns and will be posting all responses on The RespectAbility Report. Learn more about all of the candidates, including those who did not respond to the questionnaire: https://therespectabilityreport.org/2020-presidential-candidates-disability.