Currently in the United States, the air waves are completely saturated with talk of the upcoming presidential election, the field of candidates discussing a wide array of topics and issues. Unfortunately, of these talking points on both sides of the political spectrum, very rarely do we hear anything relating to disability. Since the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act more than twenty-five years ago, disabled rights have unfortunately appeared very little in the mainstream political consciousness. As politics take center stage in the United States, it is important that disability affairs play a part in the general discourse in the months ahead.
If we look at disability in broadest sense it impacts around 57 million people in the U.S., arguably the largest minority in existence. In this era of “special interest” politics, disabled Americans could easily be seen as a major untapped constituency able to sway elections and policy. Many view disability and politics as somewhat separate but they are, in fact inseparably linked. A candidate’s stance on subjects such as healthcare, infrastructure, government assistance, education and veterans affairs directly effect millions of disabled Americans. When deciding who to vote for in state, local and national elections disabled rights is yet another factor to consider
Sadly, for many disabled people in this country just being able to have a voice politically is a problem unto itself due to the inaccessibility of voting. According to a National Council on Disability (NCD) study of the 2012 election more than 40% of those surveyed faced physical barriers when it came to voting. Some states also still have antiquated voter laws that unfairly exclude some mentally disabled voters. Voting may seem like a minor issue in the grand scheme of disability rights but it is a right every American is entitled to, it is the root of all freedom. As President Lyndon B. Johnson once said, “A man without a vote is a man without protection.”
Disabled men and women still remain majorly disadvantaged in America with very little representation politically to affect change. There are only a handful of disabled politicians in office and translating the needs of the disabled community into legislative action can often be difficult. Fellow disabled blogger, Andrew Pulrang points out in his own post about disability and politics that many advocates of disabled rights are not professional activists and tend to think in more localized terms. Despite systemic and attitudinal obstacles, it is important that disabled Americans take more of an interest in government and that the government take a greater interest in disabled individuals.
Anyone who doubts the adverse impact that political decisions can have on a disabled population need only look at the United Kingdom’s “Fit For Work” crisis. The UK’s conservative leaning government drastically cut supplemental income to many individuals living with invisible illness and disability under the false pretense of empowerment causing more than 2,000 brits to die. In the US, the debate over government assistance could eventually cause a similar problem. No matter the topic may be, the disabled perspective is something that must be considered when it comes to politics. Democracy is the most effective when all voices are heard and all needs are considered.