5 Easy Ways To Include Disability In Debates

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Andrew Pulrang

I watched last week’s two-night “First Democratic Presidential Debate” while tweeting with other disabled people under the hashtag #CripTheVote. I’ve been doing this for various election events since early 2016. Unfortunately, we had to generate our own conversations because nobody in the debate mentioned disabled people or disability issues.

This was disappointing, but not surprising. Despite being supremely important to millions of disabled Americans, disability is nowhere near being regarded as a major issue in presidential politics. In fact, most people don’t see disability as a political issue at all, and that includes a lot of people who have disabilities.

Still, it’s not good. We had four hours of debate, on both domestic and foreign policy, between 20 candidates, overseen by four moderators, and disability never came up? Self-help / spirituality guru Marianne Williamson made some vague remarks about “unnecessary chronic illnesses” that had disabled viewers furrowing their brows. And Rep. Tim Ryan talked about providing more counseling in schools as an approach to gun violence, which skates pretty close to stigmatizing people with mental illness and autism. But that was all.

We heard nothing about long term home care during an extensive answering / yelling session on health care. We heard nothing about disability rights when candidates talked about basic human rights and equality for all. We heard nothing about subminimum wage even during discussions of minimum wage and income inequality. And we heard nothing about the ongoing institutionalization of disabled people in nursing homes and other “facilities,” even while candidates rightfully decried the cruelty of holding migrant children in squalid detention facilities.

I know it’s early in the game, and as I said, the great silence on disability didn’t surprise me. But still, what exactly is the problem? Why don’t the candidates bother to acknowledge us, and why don’t the moderators ask even one disability-related question? Maybe they just don’t know how.

Here are 5 simple ways to add disability to debates:

  1. The Moderator’s Direct Question

Moderator: “Over 48 million Americans have some kind of physical or mental disability. Name one thing you would do as President to make disabled people’s lives better.”

  1. The Candidate Brings It Up

Candidate: “Before we finish, I would like to address an enormous portion of the American public who’s unique concerns are almost never mentioned in Presidential debates … and that is the over 48 million Americans who have disabilities.”

  1. The Name Check

Candidate: “I will fight for all Americans who struggle for equality and opportunity, including people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and people with disabilities.”

  1. The Topic Shift

Candidate: “And by the way, my Medicaid For All plan would fully cover long term care, including home care, so that people with disabilities and aging Americans can live independently in their own homes, without being forced to enter nursing homes if they don’t want to.”

     5. The Caregiver Appeal

Moderator: “Millions of parents have children with disabilities. Millions of adults have parents with age-related disabilities. And millions of people have spouses with disabilities. What policy steps should be taken to ensure that families are able to support loved ones with disabilities in healthy and financially sustainable ways?”

These are just models. The specifics will of course vary.

Including disability in Presidential debates is easy. It doesn’t take much time. It’s not as obscure a topic as it may seem. And once or twice in the seemingly endless series of debates we have in store for us doesn’t seem like too much to ask.


Published on July 2, 2019