By Albert J. Rizzi

Another presidential election cycle is in full swing and that might just not be what we want to focus on at this moment. Would be candidates for Congress and the White House will be stumping and asking for your support, and more importantly, your vote. Presidential hopefuls will travel the country, espousing their skills as leaders of the nation from now until November 2020.

This year’s election cycle MUST include, not exclude, those of us with a disability, including our friends and families. The disability community and the people who love them number well over 150 million people. Remember, the last election was won or lost by a mere 70,000 votes. The disability community has the voting power to change the landscape of the White House and Congress, provided we have full, barrier-free access to digitized communications, information, voting platforms, and forums. People with a disability are Americans and absolutely have the right to exercise the principals and virtues our Founding Fathers built into the Constitution and the other laws of our democratic republic. However, we are shut out of participating in the entire electoral process because of a digital oversights and glitches.

In a recent interview on WBUR’s Here & Now, heard on public radio stations all around the country, disability advocate Andrew Pulrang of #CripTheVote explained that the candidates are paying attention to people with disabilities and the issues important to them.

I am not going to pretend that we are a homogeneous group of voters. However, regardless of our politics, there are important issues that unify us…or, in my opinion, should. In addition to exercising our right to vote, we need to bear the following in mind:

  • Ability needs to be celebrated and protected alongside Gender, Race, Orientation, and Religion in both our social and corporate cultures;
  • There needs to be consistent enforcement, understanding, and appreciation for current legislation that protects and ensures our rights as a community;
  • There should be a non-negotiable approach to digital equity and authentic inclusion for people of ALL abilities, and not just some;
  • Healthcare should not exclude pre-existing conditions; in short,
  • Ableism needs to be eradicated!

Candidates need to understand who we are as a community. We are nearly 62 million strong and when we include our friends and families that number more than doubles. Candidates for public office need to understand the sheer numbers and wealth the disability community actually commands and wields. Authentic inclusion is not just the right thing to do, it is the law, and is just good sense for our social and corporate cultures.

So, instead of accepting the traditional and generationally imposed marginalization of our power, let’s harness it by demanding that all candidates understand who we are as a national community. We are their mothers and their fathers. We are their brothers and their sisters, and we are their sons and their daughters.

“Nothing about us without us!” is ringing in my head. No policy that impacts the disability community should be decided without our involvement in the process. This country has been rolling along without the disability community’s full participation for centuries. Let’s take a stand and vote for a brighter future and a more informed pool of candidates when it comes to Ability. #DontDisMyAbility #AccessAbility

Stop being a passive bystander by accepting our disenfranchisement. Instead, ask the candidate of your choice about their views on authentic inclusion, ability versus disability and, of course, digital equity.

But as Purlang correctly states, “It isn’t just policy, it’s participation.” Participation includes educating potential candidates and current politicians about who we are, what we need of them, what we stand for-- and that we are nearly 20% of the entire US population.

We need to change mindsets and perspectives on Ability. So, please get out and volunteer for political candidates or organizations that actually see us and value us as citizens worthy of their representation. The more people with disabilities who are out and proud, the more we can contribute and demonstrate to America and the world all that we can do, provided we have access to the tools we need.

As a new entrant into the disability community, I believe that active participation is critical in order to shift the inclusion needle forward. We need to work to “normalize” Ability alongside Race, Gender, Orientation, and Religion across our great nation. The less “exotic” it is to see and be heard as a community, the better position our community will be to rise to heights never before thought possible. In this way, we can be known as a valued member of TEAM USA, instead of being set aside because we are “disabled.”

Listen to the full WBUR Here & Now Interview with Andrew Pulrang of #CripTheVote