Skip to content

Voter Guide for 146,857 Rhode Islanders with Disabilities

Rhode Island Ranks 34th in the Country on Jobs for People with Disabilities

by Chris-Mike Agbelie

In the run up to the 2020 Rhode Island Democratic primary, the nonpartisan disability rights nonprofit RespectAbility has released its latest Rhode Island State Voter Guide. According to the recently released 2019 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium, the total number of Rhode Islanders with disabilities is 146,857 and they make up 14.1% of the 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

Rhode Island permits no-excuse absentee voting. Absentee voting is therefore permitted for all citizens including people with disabilities. 

Every polling place is equipped with a device called the AutoMARK, designed to assist voters with disabilities to independently mark their ballot. It can be especially beneficial to voters who are blind or have motor disabilities which make it difficult to mark a ballot with a marking pen. If the AutoMARK is unavailable due to technical difficulties, the voter may wait for the device to be repaired or request assistance from a bipartisan pair of Supervisors or a person of his/her choice, as long as that person is not the individual’s employer, union representative or a candidate running for office. 

A Focus on Employment

Data from the recently released 2019 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium indicates that there are 80,903 working-age (ages 18-64) people with disabilities living in Rhode Island. Of this number, only 30,478 are employed. This results in an employment rate of 37.7 percent among working-age people with disabilities across the state. The Ocean State now ranks 30th relative to the 50 states in terms of the gap in the employment rate between working-age 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: