Now that the two Democratic Debates have concluded, the evaluation begins. But, much to the disappointment of disabled voters, there will only be straws to grasp at (see what I did there). While the candidate pool is more diverse than ever, and many marginalized groups were addressed, there were no specific mentions of the disability community—neither by the moderators nor the candidates themselves. Considering that there are 35 million eligible voters with disabilities, such ignorance could be considered a gross oversight—or a phenomenal opportunity for the right candidate.
#CripTheVote set the scene for disability inclusion on the political stage during election 2016, so candidates should not expect to get away with doing the bare minimum.
It’s time to level up.
When Pete Buttigieg posted a video of himself responding with sign language to an ASL user via Twitter, I waited for the inevitable: people to proclaim him an ally. True to form, the entirety of the internet, including many members of #DisabilityTwitter, were ready to roll out the red carpet and declare him their candidate of choice. But, upon even a little digital prodding, it is easy to stumble upon a lack of concrete policy ideas and the fact he is more bravado than substance. Additionally, Buttigieg’s track record with the black community leaves much to be desired. Given his proclamation that the school-to-prison-pipeline for disabled students needs to be ended, it’s a pretty important intersection to address.
Coming straight from Prom season, this all strikes me in the same vein as the promposals abled students make to disabled kids that are editorialized into inspiration porn. Rather than have a conversation with the disability community, candidates hope to stand next to us, casting themselves as the hero and expecting we won’t talk back.
Good luck with that.
Reporting from just days ago shows that not a single candidate has made their website accessible to disabled voters. But, the inaccessibility does not end there: videos aren’t captioned, photos don’t have Alt Text Descriptions and many campaigns haven’t hired a disability policy liaison. As a communications professional, I would think the last thing a candidate would want is their message filtered through a third party because they didn’t make accessible content.
Pandering is nothing new during a presidential election, but this isn’t a normal election cycle. Voters on the left are becoming more discerning with the types of policies they want to see and vote for. And, given that disabled voters now include the “Senior Tsunami” (Baby Boomers who generally lean right) and cast their ballot for Donald Trump, they face a ramp with a steep incline.
Just hiring a disability policy advisor will not be enough, like the rest of society, white supremacy is rampant within the community. Ideally, a candidate would be surrounded by a committee of disabled people representing the many intersections we inhabit, including race, gender, sexuality, and class. The days of trickle-down equality are over.
For now, candidates can come to my door with flowers and a corsage asking me to prom, but for now, my only response will be “I bite.”