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Presidential Debate: Will the candidates address the slaughter of people with disabilities in America?

Washington, Sept. 26 – Tonight’s presidential debate will cover three topics, each to be discussed for two 15-minute segments: “America’s Direction,” “Achieving Prosperity” and “Securing America.” As the New York Times explains, “these topics cover a lot of ground and could refer to anything: the economy, national security, domestic policy or the environment, to name just a few.”

The very flexible nature of these topics will allow debate moderator Lester Holt of NBC News to ask about current events and recent topics of conversation. One such topic is the increasing amount of people of color with disabilities being killed by police.

Left to right: Keith Lamont Scott and Officer Brentley Vinson. Vinson allegedly shot and killed Scott.

Left to right: Keith Lamont Scott and Officer Brentley Vinson. Vinson allegedly shot and killed Scott.

In a video recorded by Keith Lamont Scott’s wife, viewers hear her pleading with police, telling them that Scott does not have a gun but that he has a TBI, a traumatic brain injury, and is not going to harm them. The video was released on Friday.

In a speech on Wednesday about employment for people with disabilities, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton spoke about Scott’s death.

When presented with the information that people with disabilities more likely to suffer from police violence during the #PwDsVote Presidential Questionnaire, Clinton replied, “It is heartbreaking to hear of police encounters that go wrong and result in injury or death. These dynamics are often the result of misinformation, lack of cultural understanding, or failing to provide officers with the training they need as frontline responders.”

She continues: “I will work to strengthen the bonds of trust between communities and police, including making new investments to support law enforcement training programs at every level of government – including on implicit bias, use of force, de-escalation, crisis intervention, alternatives to incarceration, and officer safety and wellness. To increase transparency and accountability, I will provide federal matching funds to make body cameras available to every police officer across the nation, and I will double funding for the DOJ’s “Collaborative Reform” program to provide technical assistance and training to agencies that undertake voluntary efforts toward transformational reform of their police departments.”

The questionnaire also was shared with Republican nominee Donald Trump, but his campaign has yet to submit a response.

While Scott’s disability was not public at the time of Clinton’s remarks last week, there have been several instances of people of color being shot by police who also have a disability.

As recorded by historian David Perry and disability expert Lawrence Carter-Long in a report by The Ruderman Family Foundation, a third to one-half of all people killed by police are people with disabilities and this is an important lens that cannot be forgotten when examining cases like Scott’s. His death exemplifies the complexities of looking at the intersections of risk factors – including disability and racism.

People with disabilities, especially minorities, are among the most vulnerable when it comes to poverty, exploitation, victimization and violence. We need more sustained analysis into ways structural and individual ableism leads to the victimization of vulnerable individuals.

We cannot fix these problems unless we confront all the forms of oppression that intersect to ruin lives, absorb vast sums of money and shatter dreams. Disability is a critical part of that equation.

Will the candidates address these issues at tonight’s presidential debate? After all, people with disabilities make up the largest minority group in the country, with 56 million people with disabilities seeking information and answers.

One in five Americans has a disability and the majority of voters have a loved one with a disability. In past elections, the disability community has been ignored. But the recent Pew poll shows that voters with disabilities span the political and demographic spectrum and can determine who wins elections.

For More Information

Lauren Appelbaum: 202-591-0703 | LaurenA@RespectAbility.org

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Meet the Author

Lauren Appelbaum

Lauren Appelbaum is the VP, Communications and Entertainment & News Media, of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so all people with disabilities can fully participate in every aspect of community. As an individual with an acquired nonvisible disability – Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy – she works at the intersection of disability, employment, Hollywood and politics. She regularly conducts trainings on the why and how to be more inclusive and accessible for entertainment executives throughout the industry. Appelbaum partners with studios, production companies and writers’ rooms to create equitable and accessible opportunities to increase the number of people with lived disability experience throughout the overall story-telling process. These initiatives increase diverse and authentic representation of disabled people on screen, leading to systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities. She has consulted on more than 100 TV episodes and films with A&E, Bunim-Murray Productions, NBCUniversal, Netflix, ViacomCBS, and The Walt Disney Company, among others. She represents RespectAbility on the CAA Full Story Initiative Advisory Council, Disney+ Content Advisory Council, MTV Entertainment Group Culture Code and Sundance Institute’s Allied Organization Initiative. She is the author of The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit and the creator of an innovative Lab Program for entertainment professionals with disabilities working in development, production and post-production. She is a recipient of the 2020 Roddenberry Foundation Impact Award for this Lab. To reach her, email LaurenA@RespectAbility.org.

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