Some disabled people think about politics and activism all the time. For some of us it’s a matter of life, death, and basic freedom, so we don’t have much of a choice. Others of us find it genuinely interesting. We have a passion for politics and advocacy, and we have definite visions of the kind of society we want to see … a society that’s better and more liberating for everyone, but especially for people with disabilities.
On the other hand, many, if not most people aren’t full-time activists, or obsessed with politics, and that’s just as true for people with disabilities. Most of us are fully occupied just living our lives, and have little interest or experience with disability issues, beyond the occasional advocacy we all have to do for ourselves now and then, just to be heard, respected, and treated fairly. Some of us actively hate politics. Some find activism awkward and scary. Many of us find the whole business boring and kind of hopeless.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
You don’t have to devote your life to disability activism, or become an expert on disability policy and politics, to play an important role in how our country treats disabled people. As we approach the first official contest in the 2020 Elections — the Iowa Caucuses on Monday, February 3 — it’s a good time for people with disabilities who don’t often think about policy and politics to start asking some questions. It’s a good time to get our thoughts and feelings in gear, and figure out where we are politically and philosophically.
Here are a few questions and resources to get you started.
- How do you identify politically? Democrat or Republican? Liberal or conservative? Authoritarian or libertarian? Radical or moderate? Don’t think about it, just give the first answer that comes to mind! If you’re not sure about where you actually are politically, try some of these online surveys:
- Which disability policy issues are most important to you?
- What are a few specific things the government could do differently on disability issues and programs that would make your life a lot better?
- If the bigger changes you want to see turn out to be too hard to achieve right away, what are some smaller or partial changes you would support?
- When a candidate changes position on an issue, do you see that as a sign of dishonesty and corruption, or flexibility and practicality?
- How much of your admiration or dislike for a candidate is because of their issue positions and goals, and how much is because of their personality and likability?
- How do you get your information on disability issues and politics? How do you decide what’s reliable information and what isn’t?
If you want to learn more about how to find reliable information and avoid rumors and outright fakery, check out this short online course from the University of Michigan.
- What do you do if you find a candidate you mostly disagree with, but you like their disability ideas? What if you like a candidate, but their disability ideas aren’t good … or if they don’t even have any?
Now have a look at the disability issue positions posted so far on Presidential candidates’ websites. There may be more to come, but at this early stage, disability issues are already getting an impressive amount of attention. You will notice some differences in specific commitments and levels of detail, but also a number of common and overlapping themes.
Candidates are listed in alphabetical order by last name, with links to their main websites and disability policy pages. The list only includes candidates with disability issues on their websites as of January 31, 2020:
Joe Biden, Democrat, former Vice-President
Pete Buttigieg, Democrat, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana
Amy Klobuchar, Democrat, U.S. Senator from Minnesota
Bernie Sanders, Independent, U.S. Senator from Vermont
Elizabeth Warren, Democrat, U.S. Senator from Massachusetts
Andrew Yang, Democrat, former technology company executive
The Iowa Caucus is on Monday, January 3. The New Hampshire Primary will be on Tuesday, January 11. The New York Primary is set for April 28.
Andrew Pulrang spent many years working at the North Country Center for Independence in Plattsburgh, NY, most recently as the Executive Director. He is a co-coordinator with disability activists Alice Wong and Gregg Beratan of the Twitter hashtag, #CripTheVote, focused on discussing the participation and leadership of disabled people in voting, politics, and disability policy.
Published on February 3, 2020