By Albert J. Rizzi, M.Ed.
Recently in a piece titled “None of the 2020 Websites Are Fully Accessible to Disabled,” Time magazine reported that, not just some, but ALL the websites for all the candidates in the 2020 presidential race are not accessible or usable to people who have a print disability. This is unacceptable. At the start of the primary debate season, when candidates are competing for name recognition, it is bad public relations to ignore one of the largest minority groups in the nation. Take into consideration their friends and families, presidential hopefuls are being foolish by denying the disability community access to their websites and social media platforms. There is no such thing as a sure thing. Recall Clinton campaign manager, John Podesta, said that the 2016 presidential election was decided by a mere 70,000 votes in just a few states. Candidates need to court this constituency of voters numbering well over 150 million in the USA today.
Information is power, and that power cannot be denied to those of us with a disability. Americans learned from both the Suffragist movement and the Civil Rights movement when it came to the importance of voting rights. Does America consider the disability community undeserving of the right to vote? Are we to assume that the candidates vying for the highest office in the land of the free only want to represent people who do not have a disability? Why, in the 21st century with laws and regulations protecting our rights as Americans, are those of us with a disability still in the Dark Ages and excluded from gathering information on political candidates?
Imagine if minorities were denied access to the voting polls or the digitized communications needed to make an informed choice in 2020? The NAACP and the Human Rights Campaign would correctly and immediately bring lawsuits against all the politicians and agencies that disenfranchised and marginalized the groups they represented. Why is the disability community expected to endure and suffer the low bar of expectation when it comes to the next primaries and presidential election? As Americans, we should all be outraged. If just one person were denied this right and privilege because of Race, Gender, Orientation, or Religion, the media would be all over it, questioning the insensitivity of these politicians. But when it is nearly 60 million people with a disability, everyone turns a “blind ear and a deaf eye” to our value as Americans.
In a piece titled “Why Disabled Voters Could Be A Key Voting Bloc In 2020,” Abigail Abrams noted that data shows that politicians who ignore disabled Americans may be missing out on a growing group of voters whose support could be up for grabs in 2020. In addition, according to a a report recently released by researchers at Rutgers University, voter turnout among people with disabilities surged by 8.5 percentage points in 2018, representing a larger increase and more voters than in any of the previous two midterm elections. People with disabilities not only saw an increase to 49.3% turnout in 2018, but they also reversed a previous trend of declining or stagnant turnout in recent years. Yet, even though one in five Americans know someone with a disability, for some unknown reason our nation is okay with this exclusionary practice that ravaged city streets with riots and had laws enacted to ensure civil rights over 50 years ago.
As Americans start to pay attention to politics like never before, and as the “traditional” minority groups gain ground in both representation and voice, it is high time that we remove the blockades intentionally and/or unintentionally put before those Americans who just happen to have a disability. The disability community is at the intersectionality of all people in the world regardless of Race, Gender, Orientation, and Religion. We are that one community anyone and everyone can be born into or join later in life. Our vote needs to be valued and considered when it comes to this presidential election and all others going forward.
In these divisive times, tens of millions of people with a disability, like me, are interested in the upcoming presidential election; in some cases, like our lives depend on it. If for no other reason, ensuring that 60 million people have access to all they need (and are legally entitled to) in order to vote should be something every person seeking public office should focus on. Do right by the disability community and we will do right by you.
In the 21st century, digital communications, social media, and the internet are becoming the vehicle of choice when connecting with voters. All candidates vying for any office should ensure that all of the voters in the country have barrier free access to their websites and digital offerings. All too often, with the power to research candidates literally at the tip of our fingers, the internet or social media is the first place anyone goes to learn about their candidate of choice. Information is power, and digital information is being denied to the disability community time and time again. Now is when people are deciding which horse they are going to put their money on. Can any political hopeful really afford not to ensure that their message is accessible to all Americans?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four U.S. adults has a disability and if people with disabilities voted at the same rate as similar people without disabilities, there would be 2.35 million more voters to court during the national elections.
All candidates vying for political office really should pay attention to this powerful voting bloc. If a candidate for any office at any level of local or national government professes to “represent” all Americans, doesn’t it make perfect sense to make digital communications and websites usable and functional for ALL Americans to facilitate a victory?
Digital equity and authentic inclusion must be a non-negotiable in both our social and corporate cultures. Additionally, candidates and politicians need to invite professionals who happened to have a disability to work on their campaigns as well. Aside from the expertise that these workers bring, digital equity and authentic inclusion are but one way to move people with a disability off public assistance and entitlement programs and allow them to actually become independent taxpayers instead of taxing dependents.
Finally, let’s not forget the financial power this community has and realize that as individuals with disabilities we are also excluded from making donations to our candidate of choice, all due to simple digital oversights and shortcomings. It’s not just the right thing to do, but it makes smart political sense.
This sort of thing should not be happening and should not continue to happen in the future. All candidates need to see the value that people with disabilities have lent to impacting and improving the human condition and to shaping the world as it is today. Provided all of us have access to the right tools that allow each of us to promote our own innate abilities, will we then all be able to create infinite possibilities for our nation and all its citizens.
I challenge all the candidates running for office, all politicians currently holding office, and all federal, state, and municipalities with a digital presence to commit to making all their digital offerings accessible, usable, and functional NOW! No exceptions. I then urge and petition all Americans to vote for those politicians that actually represent all of us and not just some of us.