In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the issue's role in presidential campaigns. As I explain in the book, Hillary Clinton has a long history with the issue, and has issued an autism policy statement for the 2016 campaign. Marco Rubio helped pass autism insurance legislation in Florida. And Trump continues to press the discredited idea that vaccines cause autism.
In an election where gender and race are both popular topics of discussion, there’s a silent but formidable group of voters that no one’s talking about: disabled voters.
At last census, roughly 20% of the US population identified with some degree of disability, spanning a huge range of impairments across race, gender, age and class. Disabled people represent a huge electoral bloc, one Jim Dickson, the co-chair of the National Council on Independent Living’s voting rights subcomittee, contends is as formidable as other minority bloc voters.
But disabled voters don’t get much media attention – and substantial barriers lie between them and the polls. Some organizers want to change that, and are looking at ways to mobilize the disability vote.
Lisa Schur and Doug Kruse, researchers at Rutgers, have studied disability and voting extensively to explore the statistics of the disability vote and find out more about who is participating – and who isn’t....
Organizing as a bloc could be tough, [Schur] admits, because not everyone with an impairment identifies as disabled, and people experience such varying degrees of disability. Blind voters are different from wheelchair users or deaf voters, she says, with their own interests.
Dickson disagrees, though, arguing that disabled voters all have something in common: the experience of disability. His comments are in line with those of other disability rights activists, who acknowledge that disability is quite varied, but the priorities of disabled people remain extremely consistent.
Dickson, along with disability rights organizers Alice Wong and Andrew Pulrang, identified jobs as a key priority for disabled people, something that should be perking up the ears of the Sanders campaign. Economic inequality is a huge problem for disabled voters, who struggle with what’s known as the “benefits penalty” – disabled people who go to work risk losing benefits, so even in cases where people want to work, they are forced to stay home or lose healthcare, personal assistants and other supports that keep them living in their communities.