In Plain Sight: Voters with Disabilities and Election 2016

#CripTheVote in rainbow letters on a white field next to a ballot box with a variety of disability symbols on it.
#CripTheVote in rainbow letters on a white field next to a ballot box with a variety of disability symbols on it.

This piece is written By Gregg Beratan, Andrew Pulrang, and Alice Wong the co-organizers of #CripTheVote to mark the 26th anniversary of the ADA.

Today is the 26th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a major civil rights law for people with disabilities. For decades, our voices were filtered through experts or helpers who “knew what was best for us.” Many Americans viewed us as objects of pity and derision or worse yet, overlooked and ignored even while right in front of them. Sadly, these views have not disappeared from American political discourse. In the past 6 months of the election we have seen politicians mocking disabled reporters saying in town halls that disabled people are a drain on society, and excluding any mention of this large and diverse population altogether.

We are entering year 26 of the Americans with Disabilities Act and we have seen some progress, but not nearly enough. Two quick examples: transportation and employment. Most people take public transit for granted. Disabled people who use wheelchairs in New York City can only use 19% of the subway stations. According to the Department of Labor, the unemployment rate of people with disabilities is double compared to non-disabled people (9.7%, 4.3% respectively). Where is the outrage at these massive disparities in the richest country in the world?

In a country that celebrates independence and equal opportunity, these ideals are still out of reach for millions of disabled people in the United States for structural and political reasons, not due to their actual disabilities or health conditions. For disabled people with multiple marginalized identities (e.g., people of color, LGBTQ, and undocumented people), the promise and potential of the ADA is further complicated.

As politicized disabled individuals, we created #CripTheVote because we noticed last fall there was little to no engagement of our community anywhere in the campaigns or media. #CripTheVote is a nonpartisan social media campaign that amplifies issues important to people with disabilities. Since January 2016, we conducted an online survey, live-tweeted debates, and hosted Twitter chats on topics such as violence, mass incarceration, voter ID and voter access, and Medicaid long-term services and supports. By the way, the term ‘crip’ is our way of expressing disability culture and pride. It’s our way of identifying as a distinct cultural minority. 

 By using #CripTheVote on Twitter, we openly and publicly engage with people with disabilities who share their stories with us, connecting the personal to the political. There are tweets from people saying they registered to vote for the first time, or encountered inaccessible polling places, rallies, and caucuses this election season. A recent Rutgers University study indicates that 15.6 million disabled people voted in the 2012 election. However, Stanford scholar and legal historian Rabia Belt estimates that some 3 million potential votes will be lost due to voting barriers such as inaccessible polls, long wait times, and other legal obstacles.

One-fifth of the US population is disabled. There is a huge opportunity for any candidate to pursue meaningful strategies to court the vote of millions of disabled Americans. As the largest minority group in the country, we are a community no politician should ignore. We invite all the candidates in local, state and the Presidential election to engage with us on Twitter with the hashtag #CripTheVote to gain a better understanding of who we are and what we want.

This election is of vital importance to the disability community. We live in a time when many of the hard-earned victories of the disability rights movement will either be fortified or undermined. Congress is currently considering two bills that would have very different effects on the disability community: the Disability Integration Act introduced by Senator Chuck Schumer that will enable disabled people to live in their own communities rather than be forced into institutions and care facilities. At the same time the House is considering HR.3765, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2015, a bill which would undercut one the few means disabled people have of using the ADA to fight for accessibility and equal opportunity.

This November, the politicians we vote for will decide whether or not disabled people can be paid subminimum wages. They’ll decide whether we strengthen or weaken the ADA. They’ll determine what kind of health care we receive and they’ll shape the way disabled kids are educated.

Upon signing the ADA, President George H.W. Bush endorsed the law saying “For ours will never be a truly prosperous nation until all within it prosper.” While there is no denying the progress that has been made under the ADA, candidates and all policy makers can benefit from the lived experience and knowledge of disabled people on how to improve programs and services. We’ve learned a lot from our online conversations and all of this knowledge is here for the taking if people are willing to listen. 

One thing is clear: the disability community’s use of social media is flipping the script. People are asserting their voices and making themselves heard across platforms and modes. People are not waiting for an invitation or a seat at the table from politicians and candidates.

Every issue this election is a disability issue.

It’s time to #CripTheVote.


BIO AND CONTACT:  Gregg Beratan, Andrew Pulrang, and Alice Wong are the three co-partners in #CripTheVote, a grassroots nonpartisan online campaign focused on disability issues this election season. You can find them on Twitter: @GreggBeratan @AndrewPulrang @SFdirewolf


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