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Voter Guide for 628,520 Oklahomans with Disabilities

Oklahoma Ranks 19th in the Country on Jobs for People with Disabilities

by Natalie Dunaway

In the run up to the 2020 Oklahoma Democratic primary, the nonpartisan disability rights nonprofit RespectAbility has released its latest Oklahoma State Voter Guide. According to the 2020 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium, there are more than 628,520 people with disabilities in Oklahoma and they make up 16.3 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 Oklahoma

The Oklahoma State Election Board offers a range of resources to ensure that voters with disabilities can exercise their right to vote. These include voting absentee, as any registered voter may request absentee ballots. Voters with disabilities also can allow an election judge or a person of their choice to vote in-person on their behalf, if that person is not the individual’s employer, union representative or a candidate running for office.

Oklahoma’s new Hart InterCivic eScan A/T voting device is equipped with an audio tactile interface (ATI) that enables a voter to listen to instructions for using the ATI controllers and an audio version of the ballot, to make selections for each race or question on the ballot, to review all selections and make changes if necessary, and finally to cast the ballot privately and independently. The voter’s ballot selections are recorded electronically in the device’s memory and included in the results for the precinct. No record will exist to tie an individual voter to a specific ATI ballot. Voters who use “sip and puff” or tactile input switches may plug their own assistive devices into the ATI controller and use them to operate it.

A Focus on Employment

According to the 2020 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium, there are 327,111 working-age (ages 18-64) people with disabilities living in Oklahoma. Out of that number, 129,170 have jobs. That means Oklahoma has a disability employment rate of 39.5 percent. The Sooner State now ranks 19th among the 50 states in terms of the gap in employment rate 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: