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Voter Guide for 717,104 South Carolinians with Disabilities

South Carolina Ranks 43rd in the Country on Jobs for People with Disabilities

by Chris-Mike Agbelie

In the run up to the 2020 South Carolina Democratic primary, the nonpartisan disability inclusion organization RespectAbility has released its South Carolina State Voter Guide. 

According to the recently released 2019 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium, 717,104 people with disabilities live in South Carolina, comprising 14.4 percent  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. Representative 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 – both Democrats and Republicans – 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. 

Voting Access Options

South Carolina does not permit no-excuse early voting in its presidential primaries. However, absentee voting is permitted for some citizens including people with physical disabilities. An absentee vote request must be received no later than 5:00 p.m. on the fourth day  prior to the election (February 24, 2020) and the ballot must then be returned by 7:00 p.m. on election day (February 29, 2020). People also may vote absentee in person up until 5:00 p.m. on the day before the election (February 28, 2020). 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. 

A Focus on Employment

Data from the recently released 2019 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium indicates that there are 366,373 working-age (ages 18-64) people with disabilities living in South Carolina. Only 122,332 of the working-age people with disabilities in South Carolina are employed. This results in a disability employment rate of just 33.4 percent among working-age people with disabilities across the state. The Palmetto State now ranks 43rd relative to the 50 states in terms of the employment rate gap 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: