According to a Rutgers University study released in September, more than 35 million people with disabilities were eligible to vote in this week’s elections – about 16 percent of the total number of eligible voters. And because the number of Americans with disabilities is on the rise, the number of eligible voters with disabilities has increased more than 10 percent since 2008.
Those numbers surely account for the fact that the concerns of Americans with disabilities played an unprecedented role in this year’s campaigns – with many candidates and at least one major party actively vying for those votes. Now that Election Day is over, the question becomes – what next? How prominent will the rights and needs of people with disabilities be on the public agenda at the federal, state and local levels?
Will we see meaningful improvements in the ability of people with disabilities to get the services they need to live independently? To get a good education? To pursue a career without fear of losing essential benefits? Will laws requiring accessibility be broadly honored and enforced? Most importantly, perhaps, will people with disabilities be at the table when policies are debated and created?
The answers to these questions will depend, almost exclusively, on how people with disabilities, along with their family members, friends and allies, communicate with elected officials and public agencies. Given the outcome of the elections, addressing any of these issues will be an uphill climb, which means this is a very important time for all people concerned with disability rights to join forces – there is strength in numbers and organization.
What’s at stake?
According to the National Disability Rights Network, a bill currently under consideration in Congress would, if passed, seriously weaken the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA Education and Reform Act would create onerous roadblocks and delays for anyone seeking to make an ADA claim against an inaccessible business. Given the results of the presidential and congressional elections there is nothing to prevent to this bill from becoming law in 2017 – nothing except a massive popular uprising against it.
Conversely, it is hard to see a path for passage of the Disability Integration Act under the next administration – unless millions of Americans get behind it and demand its passage. The DIA, which is also under consideration in Congress, would, if it becomes law, enforce the constitutional right of people with disabilities all over the country to live independently, rather than be forced to live in institutions because their states do not provide the supports and services they need to live at home in their communities.
These are just two of the most obvious and far-reaching examples of what is at stake specifically for people with disabilities – who, of course, have all the same concerns about dozens of other issues as everyone else.
Advocacy is a team sport
If you want to focus your energy on disability-specific issues, there are many organizations to follow, join, or otherwise get involved with. These include national groups like the American Association of People with Disabilities, the United Spinal Association and the National Disability Rights Network – all excellent resources for learning about current developments in law and policy that affect the rights and needs of people with disabilities.
ADAPT is a national grass-roots organization of disability rights activists – that could mean you! The Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York is a great source for local information and help. And Crip the Vote/Disability Thinking is a vibrant online community where people share their stories and discuss important issues together from the comfort of their homes.
Whether your concerns are disability-specific or not, the Civics League for Disability Rights is a forum for New Yorkers with disabilities who want to work and learn together to advocate for change – this can be about any issue that’s important to you: housing, healthcare, civil rights, transportation, voting rights, criminal justice reform, public benefits, community policing, public parks, or something happening in your neighborhood – if you are passionate about it, bring it to the meeting!
The Civics League meets monthly, with the next meeting scheduled for December 12, from 2 to 4 pm, in our Brooklyn office. We hope to see you there – and bring a friend.
Advocacy isn’t rocket science – it just takes a little organization, information and, most importantly, persistence. It can be a long slog but it’s good to remember that pretty much anything that’s ever been achieved for the benefit of the majority of us happened because people decided to advocate and refused to give up. So no matter who you voted for in Tuesday’s elections, whether you voted at all, or what issues you care about most – there is work to be done and people who share your interests to do it with.