Politics and People With Disabilities in the U.S.

Published May 4, 2020

Politics in the United States are usually characterized by the differences between the Democrat and Republican parties. Each party has its respective priorities and demographic groups that are well known. Interestingly, there is a large group of voters spanning the entire political spectrum whose needs have been largely ignored.

Approximately 20 to 25% of American adults report having some type of disability that affects their daily lives. According to a study by Rutgers University, nearly 35 million people with disabilities were eligible to vote in the 2016 presidential election. When factoring in family members of those with disabilities, the number of eligible voters rises to 64 million people, or 25% of the electorate.

When looking at people with disabilities as a voting bloc, it can be difficult to determine the specific issues that influence their voting behavior. People with disabilities, of course, come from every race, gender, and economic level. The degree to which voters with disabilities prioritize disability-related issues when voting is unclear. The political ideology of people with disabilities closely follows the ideological trends of the population in general, according to Pew Research. Knowing this, it would make sense for both American political parties to appeal to voters with disabilities.

Despite the difficulty in determining the priorities of voters with disabilities, the priorities of disability advocacy groups are generally clear. The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is one of the largest disability advocacy groups in the country and has an extensive platform that covers many areas of public policy that impact the lives of people with disabilities. The policies that AAPD pushes for are similar to those that many other advocacy groups recognize as areas of priority. These policies include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Accessible and affordable housing
  • Access to transportation
  • Access to technology to support independent living
  • Equal opportunity in education and employment
  • Full integration in the community
  • Enforcement of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act
  • The right to quality affordable healthcare

This, of course, is a very limited sample of issues. It is important for advocacy groups and voters to use their influence to bring about change because laws and regulations influence so much of life.

Unfortunately, many barriers still exist that prevent people with disabilities from voting. Participation in elections among people with disabilities consistently lags behind participation rates of voters without disabilities. Recent research by the Government Accountability Office shows that 60% of polling locations that were examined had at least one impediment that could make it difficult or impossible for a voter with a disability to have access. Included among these obstructions are lack of accessible parking, lack of ramps, and lack of safe paths. Even if the voter was able to access the building, many locations did not have voting booths that could accommodate a wheelchair, or ballots that could be completed by a person with a visual disability. Recent trends are encouraging, however, as many states are implementing alternative methods of voting including voting by mail and early in-person voting.

As one of the largest demographic groups in the United States, people with disabilities have an opportunity to come together to bring about positive change. Changing society is never easy and requires a lot of work, but it is work that must be done. Moreover, any changes that are made to benefit people with disabilities also benefit society as a whole. Accessibility, better healthcare, and affordable housing are good for everybody regardless of ability. Through advocacy and voting, these necessary changes can be made and all will enjoy the benefits.