Why The Disability Community Needs To Vote on November 6th

Logos promoting voting by people with disabilities

It’s just a couple of weeks since I said I was more or less quitting blogging, but I feel compelled to write a blog post about the upcoming U.S. Midterm Elections. In the work I do with #CripTheVote, I try to be balanced and “nonpartisan,” but this time I’m going to go ahead and say what I think needs to happen in the 2018 Midterms, and why it’s especially important for the disability community.

At minimum, we need to flip at least one house of Congress to Democratic control. I personally would prefer both the House and Senate, but we need to flip at least one. If you generally vote for Democrats, as I do, this is obvious. If you usually vote for Republicans, you may think I'm being excessively partisan. But hear me out. There are four big reasons why people with disabilities, in particular, need to make this happen this year, and vote in noticeable numbers while doing it.

1. To act as a check on President Trump

Despite endless debate over President Trump's exact political significance, he is, if nothing else, a wild card. Nobody really knows for sure what he will do. So it is clearly a mistake to think he would never actually do anything to hurt "your" people, however you define that. And nothing in Trump’s history or rhetoric indicates that he has any special sympathy or interest in people with disabilities.

On the contrary, President Trump is notable for how openly he evaluates people based on how conventionally attractive they are, and whether or not they are “normal” in his view. He clearly despises anyone he regards as weak or alien in any way. Many of us disabled people feel should comparatively accepted by our families and communities. However, all of us who have disabilities also know that in fundamental ways we are still easily singled out as needy, abnormal, and unfamiliar. These are not qualities that President Trump is ever likely to embrace. If it ever looks to him like scapegoating people with disabilities would help him, it’s hard to imagine him hesitating to do it. It’s already happened in the United Kingdom, which is just barely emerging now from a period of years when both public sentiment and public policy directly targeted disabled people as unworthy financial drains on society. A strong opposition in Congress would at least help prevent a characteristic Trump tirade or delusion about disabled people from becoming actual public policy.

(Note … His administration is already targeting disabled immigrants very specifically, by proposing to ban aspiring immigrants and asylum seekers if they are deemed likely to be a “public charge” … that is, if they may need human services, due to, among other things, disabilities. It’s cruel on its own, and think of the precedent it sets even for disabled citizens.)

2. To act as a check on primarily Republican plans that would hurt disabled people

These include:

- Allowing health insurance companies to once again refuse coverage or charge more for “pre-existing conditions.”

- Limiting or cutting Medicaid, or narrowing Medicaid eligibility

- Cutting Social Security Disability, or narrowing eligibility

- Weakening the Americans with Disabilities Act

All of these steps can be prevented if just a single house of Congress switches to Democratic control for at least the next four years. There are no guarantees, but the likelihood of any of these things happening in the near term go way down if just one house of Congress is controlled by Democrats.

3. We need to demonstrate the growing power and political relevance of the "disability vote," so politicians of all parties and beliefs will feel they have to take disability issues and disabled voters seriously.

This is should be important to you whether you are a Democrat or a Republican. At some point, sooner or later, Democrats will be in a position to make major policy again. Nevertheless, it is a mistake to assume that Democrats will get disability policy right all on their own, instinctively. It really isn’t enough to for the disability community to help bring about a “Blue Wave” on November 6th. Democrats, too, need to recognize people with disabilities and their families as a factor in their future vision, policies, and tactics, and we will still have to be vigilant and hold elected officials accountable, no matter who is in Congress, the Supreme Court, or The White House.

4. We need to vote for state and local officials who actually make and implement most of the everyday decisions that affect disabled people's lives. And we need to be noticed as we do it so even state, city, county, and town officials will take our needs into account.

- Town and city councils decide on accessibility and good repair of streets and sidewalks, and in colder climates, what is and isn't done to clear snow and ice from pedestrian areas.

- County legislatures set the tone and budgetary parameters for how social and human services are delivered, including those for people with disabilities and their families.

- States have a lot of control over the scope and eligibility of Medicaid, including programs that provide long-term care and supports for disabled people.

You don’t have to be “into politics” or commit to full-time disability activism to recognize that elections do matter for people with disabilities and their families. And this year there are specific stakes and reasons for all of us to vote, and do so consciously and thoughtfully as disability voters.

Here are some online resources on voting … some general, some specific to concerns of the disability community:

1. Online Voter Registration - Vote.org

2. Find Your Polling Place - National Association of Secretaries of State

3. Polling Site Accessibility Checklist - U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division

4. Find Out What Is On Your Ballot - Ballotready

5. Voting Rights Subcommittee - National Council on Independent Living

6. Disability Issues Guide - American Association of People with Disabilities

7. Disability Issues Surveys, 2016 & 2018 - #CripTheVote

8. Voting Resources - Autistic Self Advocacy Network

9. Plain Language 2018 Voter Guide - Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

10. Information On All Public Offices and Elections - Ballotpedia

11. Election Polling and Forecasts - FiveThirtyEight.com

12, The 2018 Midterm Elections, explained - Vox.com