According to Rutgers University, in the midterm election of 2018, 14.3 million voters with disabilities cast their votes, substantially more than the 11.7 million Hispanics/Latinos who reported voting and nearly as many as the 15.2 million African-American voters. This was a surge for voters with disabilities of 8.5 percent from 2016. If voters with disabilities were motivated to vote at the same rate as those without disabilities (and could access transportation and their polling locations), in 2018, they would have numbered 16.65 million.
In 2016, 62.7 million eligible voters either had a disability or lived with someone who did.
Families whose households include someone with a disability care about disability issues. From these numbers, you would think that this population would be of consuming interest to the presidential candidates. Not so.
I have been attending Democratic events in New Hampshire with a friend who is blind, hoping to make persons with disabilities visible and part of the discussion. Last Sunday, we attended the Hillsborough County Democrats’ Summer Picnic in Greenfield. Seven presidential candidates and two gubernatorial candidates appeared. There were zero American Sign Language interpreters. I asked the chair of the county committee why. “No campaign asked for it,” was the response. “I guess no one thought of it.” That has not been the case at every campaign event we have gone to in New Hampshire, but certainly the majority.
That isn’t all. As has been widely reported, the websites of the Democratic candidates were, until recently, all inaccessible to the blind, though some are now apparently being remediated. And many videos on campaign websites have automated captioning — a process rife with inaccuracies that often effectively shuts out the deaf from the content of those videos. Very few of the campaigns’ websites — those of Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden to date — address the connection between disability and issues like interactions with police, health care and education. All the campaign websites show a broad diversity of Americans — if you exclude those with visible disabilities from your definition of American.
What most campaigns do not understand is this: All issues are disability issues.
If a candidate says she wants to ensure that everyone can vote who is eligible and wants to vote, but fails to say what she’ll do to address the inaccessibility of 71 percent of our polling places, then she’s really saying she wants “every voter, except those with disabilities” to be able to vote.
If a candidate talks about election security and paper ballots, but does not promise an accessible ballot-marking tool that allows every voter — including those with, say, cerebral palsy or who are blind — to mark a paper ballot privately and independently, then he is really saying “voters with disabilities” must give up the right to vote privately and independently.
To talk about criminal-justice reform and leave unaddressed that people with mental disabilities are seven times more likely to be arrested, and that the police are far more likely to have a violent interaction with those who are deaf or on the autism spectrum than with people without disabilities, is to propose criminal justice reform only for the able.
When the candidates forget to include people with disabilities when they talk about diversity, inclusion and underrepresentation, as they do on their websites, they are signaling their indifference.
I think the Hillsborough County party chair is right: “No one is thinking about it.” When people with disabilities are not in the room for the important conversations, they are overlooked. Perhaps when more of the candidates (as at least two now have) hire someone with a disability to be in the room when policies are proposed, this will change. For all our sakes, I hope this change comes soon.