PERSPECTIVES | Disability in the 2020 Presidential Election

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February 2019

“As people with disabilities, we know too well what is like to be used as props by those who wish to profit from our lives.”
- Héctor M. Ramírez, lifelong disability rights advocate

#CriptheVote was a nonpartisan campaign founded on Twitter during the last presidential election. “No one was mentioning us. Even in relation to issues that had a major impact on our lives,” said co-founder Gregg Baratan. Whether it’s responding to the State of the Union or considering 2020 candidates, #CriptheVote remains a strong online community.

Although candidates can start with greater acknowledgement of the disability community, there’s more work that needs to be done: “...merely mentioning disabled people is not enough to earn the disability vote in 2020,” said Colleen Flanagan, co-founder of Disability Rights for America. “Politicians and public figures can give shout-outs to all kinds of communities, but they also have to work with us and have us on their agenda,” said Alice Wong, another co-founder of #CriptheVote.

In her blog Crutches & Spice, Imani Barbarin observes, “Nearly every ‘ally’ makes the exact same gestures and repeats the same key phrases, but it requires not merely parroting back at disabled people the things we want to hear. It calls for making changes in which their campaign approaches disabled people and in the ways they hold their peers responsible for how they interact with our community.”

In Who Should Speak for the Disability Community?, disability advocate and editor of the Rooted in Rights blog, Emily Ladau stresses how important it is for lawmakers, major organizations, and the public to actually listen to what self-advocates have to say. “If so many people are all about advocating for inclusion, then why are people who actually have disabilities so frequently excluded from the equation?” she asked.

In addition to representation and engagement, activists know how to create substantial change through the policies that affect them most. New York City Council’s first liaison to the disability community Anastasia Somoza explained, "It's so important for candidates to be talking about the financial empowerment of people with disabilities because that's what we need in order to live independently." Disability blogger and online activist Andrew Pulrag noted in an interview with Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) that, “people with disabilities depend on Medicaid, not just for their healthcare...but for everyday personal care, just to live and function in their own homes.

Investment in substantial campaign issues begins with a greater understanding of people with disabilities. “I don’t have special needs. My needs are not more or less human than yours,” said Anastasia Somoza, who has been a lifelong disability advocate and was a speaker at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Flanagan notes, “We need a candidate with the courage to address ableism and who will fix the fundamentally broken system with solutions that come from the disability community.”