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Down Ballot Candidates who Support Opportunities for People with Disabilities Win Big

Washington, Nov. 9 – RespectAbility congratulates Mr. Donald Trump on his win of the presidency. We look forward to working with his new administration in the future and sincerely hopes he will work with diverse parts of America in every sense of the word.

Looking down ballot, several senate and gubernatorial candidates who support opportunities for people with disabilities (PwDs) won big Tuesday night – confirming the results from a new poll released last week. The poll showed that voters were more likely to support candidates who prioritize ensuring that children with disabilities get the education and training they need to succeed as well expanding job and career opportunities for people with disabilities. The poll also showed that voters with disabilities overwhelmingly thought that America was on the wrong track.

There are 56 million people with disabilities (one in five Americans), more than 35 million of whom are eligible voters (one-sixth of the electorate). The poll showed that half of voters either have a disability or a loved one with a disability.

RespectAbility, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to end stigmas and advance opportunities for people with disabilities, reached out to candidates for president, governor and U.S. Senate – requesting them to complete the #PwDsVote disability questionnaire on multiple disability topics ranging from employment, education, violence and abuse, criminal justice, healthcare and more.

On the presidential level former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton filled out the full questionnaire. Mr. Trump did not. However, both Clinton and Trump completed the AAPD/NCIL presidential questionnaire.

Forty down ballot candidates, including 26 for Senate and 11 for governor, from both sides of the aisle (25 Democrats, 14 Republicans, 1 Green Party) responded to the #PwDsVote questionnaire, showing that disability rights is a nonpartisan issue. The responses also were geographically diverse, coming from states all around the country as politicians are paying more and more attention to the disability community.

Of those who responded, 11 candidates have won their election as of Wednesday morning. These include Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), Atty. Gen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Gov. Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), all of whom have won their senate races; Rep. John Carney (D-DE), Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) and Lt. Gov. Phil Scott (R-VT), who won races for governor; and Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), who has won re-election to Congress. Please follow the links in the table below to read more about each of these candidates’ disability policies that affect 56 million Americans.

State Winning Candidate Race
California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris (D) Senate
Delaware Rep. John Carney (D) Governor
Illinois Rep. Tammy Dukworth (D) Senate
Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) Senate
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) Governor
Nevada Atty. Gen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) Senate
New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) Senate
North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr (R) Senate
Rhode Island Rep. Jim Langevin (D) Congress
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) Senate
Vermont Lt. Gov. Phil Scott (R) Governor

Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris (D-CA)

Democrat Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris is set to be California’s next U.S. Senator, after beating Loretta Sanchez in this year’s election. In her campaign’s response to the disability questionnaire, the campaign spoke of her dedication to supporting legislation that further disability rights.

“As San Francisco District Attorney and California Attorney General, Kamala has a lengthy record of advocating for civil rights, including disability rights, women’s rights, racial justice, and LGBT equality,” the Harris campaign responded. “In the Senate, Kamala will continue her civil rights advocacy for persons with disabilities by ensuring that the ADA is fully enforced and that similar international laws, such as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, are given full effect.”

California has 4,019,882 citizens with disabilities. There are 2,010,783 Californians with disabilities who are between the ages of 18-64. Currently only 33.3 percent of working-age Californians with disabilities are employed compared to 72.2 percent of those without disabilities. Additionally, there are 115,000 Californians ages 16-20 with disabilities. More than 613,000 California students have individual education plans (IEPs).

Rep. John Carney (D-DE)

Democratic Rep. John Carney has defeated Republican state Sen. Colin Bonini for the open gubernatorial race in Delaware. Carney has big shoes to fill as current Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, who is term limited, is a hero to the disability community. Markell’s leadership as chair of the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Better Bottom Line Initiative sets the stage to ensure best practices for expanding competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities. He was awarded recognition by RespectAbility this summer for his leadership nationally in creating more job opportunities for people with disabilities.

In Carney’s response to the disability questionnaire, he explained how all businesses can benefit from hiring people with disabilities.

“These employees are often very grateful for the opportunity, eager to learn new skills, and extremely hardworking — qualities that every employer wants in those they hire,” he said. “The state of Delaware has been a national leader in hiring people with disabilities and as governor, I would expect this to continue.”

Delaware has 109,763 citizens with disabilities. The state is 28th among states when it comes to the employment of people with disabilities. There are 55,633 people with disabilities between the ages of 18 to 64 in Delaware and 35.6 percent of them are employed. Additionally, there is still a 40.7-point gap when you consider the 76.3 percent of people without disabilities in Delaware who are working. There are 3,800 youth between the ages of 16-20 with disabilities in Delaware. Each year a quarter of them will age out of school and because of your state’s hard work, they have increasing chances to find success in the working world. Governor Markell’s leadership has left a great foundation to build on by continuing the effort to show case the business case for hiring people with disabilities.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)

In Illinois, Democrat Rep. Tammy Duckworth successfully unseated Republican incumbent Sen. Mark Kirk for the U.S. Senate seat. Duckworth is a military veteran who lost both of her legs in Iraq after the Black Hawk helicopter she was co-piloting was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2004.

In her response to the questionnaire, Duckworth talked about how the stigma she experienced as a person with a disability helped shape her beliefs.

“Having experienced the stigma surrounding people with disabilities myself, I am devoted to ensuring that every American has access to an independent life, quality employment and social and legal equality,” she responded. “A hallmark of my service in Congress has been fighting for fairness for those with disabilities and I would continue that work in the Senate.”

Kirk, who also acquired a disability following a stroke in January 2012, responded to the survey as well. He also talked about his experience with disability as a primary factor informing his policy efforts.

“As a stroke survivor I know better than most the value of research and rehabilitation in helping patients return to work and lead fulfilling lives,” he stated. “Stroke patients and individuals recovering from other catastrophic medical events deserve access to the best rehabilitation available. My experience has increased my dedication to improving the lives of people living with disabilities.”

Addressing the Democratic National Convention, Duckworth offered a simple but powerful message of the American spirit and inclusion. She represents multiple groups who often are overlooked in American politics. She is the first Thai American to be elected to U.S. Congress, as well as the first woman with a disability to become a member of the House of Representatives in 2012.

While Duckworth lost her legs in 2004, her fellow soldiers saved her life, which she said shaped her life in terms of her feelings of camaraderie and selflessness for this country.

“It’s a story about why this is the greatest nation on earth. A nation that so many are willing to die defending,” she said. “A nation that says: if you keep working hard, we won’t abandon you.”

Illinois has 1,381,787 citizens with disabilities. There are 674,067 Illinoisans with disabilities who are between the ages of 18-64 and only 35.7 percent of them are employed. Illinois is 27th among states when it comes to the employment of people with disabilities. Additionally, there is still a 40-point gap when you consider the 75.7 percent of people without disabilities in Illinois who are working. There are more than 96,000 youth between the ages of 16-20 with disabilities in Illinois. Each year a quarter of them will age out of school looking for employment options. More than 255,000 Illinois students have individual education plans (IEPs).

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)

In Maryland, Rep. Chris Van Hollen won the race to become the state’s next U.S. Senator.

In his response to the disability questionnaire, Van Hollen talked about his experience of people with disabilities serving on his staff and through his internship program, informing his views.

“When our nation underestimates or devalues the contributions of this community, we do ourselves a disservice,” he responded. “Therefore, we must always strive to break down barriers, confront stigma, and increase independence and self-determination. We must communicate with employers to share best practices and debunk stereotypes to help them understand ways to integrate their workplaces and take advantage of the talents of those in the disability community. Programs like Project SEARCH and Broad Futures in my Congressional district are making important strides in this critical work.”

As a congressman, Van Hollen worked to pass the bipartisan Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) to Work Act, legislation that enables people with disabilities and their families to save money in special ABLE savings accounts without risking their eligibility for government benefits.

Van Hollen ran a television ad highlighting his leadership on disability issues. “I thought it was really important to help parents find a way to provide some financial security to their kids,” Van Hollen says in the ad of the ABLE Act.

The ad features Ann Gibbons who speaks on behalf of her son Philip, who is now 28 years old and has autism. It includes open captioning, which is important for the 37.5 million American adults aged 18 and over who report some trouble hearing.

During a primary debate, Van Hollen also spoke about his co-sponsorship of the ABLE Act.

“I don’t have a severe disability, people in my immediate family don’t have a severe disability,” Van Hollen said. “[These] are issues of human rights and equal rights, and we need to be in that fight together.”

Maryland has 622,682 citizens with disabilities.  There are 321,409 Marylanders with disabilities who are between the ages of 18-64. Additionally, there are 22,000 Marylanders ages 16-20 with disabilities. More than 90,000 Maryland students have individual education plans (IEPs). Currently only 39.1 percent of working-age Marylanders with disabilities are employed compared to 78 percent of those without disabilities.

Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT)

Incumbent Democrat Gov. Steve Bullock has won re-election, beating Republican Greg Gianforte.

In his response to the questionnaire, Bullock focused on employment, independent community living, veterans with disabilities, education, healthcare, caregivers support and workforce development issues.

“The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services works hard to empower all Montanans with disabilities to prepare, obtain, and retain work in high-quality and high-demand careers,” Bullock responded. “This work includes actively engaging in the states Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) to reimagine the state’s vocational rehabilitation, independent living, and disability services to better serve Montanans with disability in living the lives they choose and deserve.”

There are 69,927 Montanans with disabilities who are between the ages of 18-64. Additionally, there are 3,700 Montanans ages 16-20 with disabilities. More than 14,000 Montana students have individual education plans (IEPs). Currently 40.5 percent of working-age Montanans with disabilities are employed compared to 77.8 percent of those without disabilities.

Atty. Gen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV)

Former Democrat Atty. Gen. Catherine Cortez Masto beat three-term Republican Rep. Joe Heck in a close race to fill the seat of Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic minority leader, who is retiring after three decades in the Senate.

In her response to the disability questionnaire, Masto emphasized the need to reduce stigma due to the damage it causes to individuals.

“Too often people with disabilities carry these prejudices when applying for employment or housing,” she responded in the questionnaire. “I have always fought for workers’ rights, and fair and equal employment opportunities – and fighting for fair and equitable treatment for people with disabilities is no exception. I support legislation that would prohibit employers from paying workers with disabilities less than their counterparts, and I oppose legislation that discriminates against applicants.”

Nevada has 357,035 citizens with disabilities. Currently 40.9 percent of working-age Nevadans with disabilities are employed compared to 74 percent of those without disabilities. Nevada is a leader in disability employment, as the gap between the employment of people with and without disabilities currently stands at 33.4 percent, the second lowest in the nation only behind North Dakota. There are 201,717 Nevadans with disabilities who are between the ages of 18-64. Additionally, there are 8,200 Nevadans ages 16-20 with disabilities. More than 42,000 Nevada students have individual education plans (IEPs).

Gov. Maggie Hassan (D-NH)

In New Hampshire, Democrat Gov. Maggie Hassan beat Republican incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte for the Senate seat in one of the most closely watched and evenly matched races.

Maggie Hassan’s first ad told the story of her son Ben, who has cerebral palsy, is a wheelchair user and is nonverbal. As the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza pointed out, the ad “grounds Hassan’s reason for going into public service in her own life story.”

Hassan praised all the families that came before hers “who made his inclusion possible.”

“That’s one the of the reasons I got involved in public service,” Hassan says in the ad, “because it made it so clear to me how much you can accomplish when you work together.”

Another ad released in October featured both of Hassan’s children. Meg Hassan spoke about her older brother Ben, calling him her “best friend.”

“All families have challenges and my mom instilled in us very early on the importance of finding solutions to those challenges and working really hard with your community to get things done,” Meg says while viewers see video of Ben in everyday situations. “She made it possible for Ben and for me to have a family just like any other family.”

In her response to the questionnaire, Hassan discussed her history in public service and her commitment to reducing stigmas against people with disabilities.

“I have worked throughout my career in public service to help reduce these stigmas, which are damaging to people who experience disabilities and the communities in which they reside,” she said.

Hassan has served as New Hampshire’s Governor since 2011 and previously served in the New Hampshire Senate from 2005-2011. Previously, Hassan worked as a corporate attorney for Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, advocating for people with disabilities during the 1990s. In 1999, then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen appointed Hassan to serve on New Hampshire’s Education Adequacy Commission. As Governor, Hassan signed a law banning paying people with disabilities lower than the minimum wage.

166,258 people in New Hampshire have a disability, 77,800 of whom are of are working age (between the ages of 21 and 64). Only 41.8 percent are employed compared with 80.3 percent of people without disabilities in New Hampshire. There are an additional 5,900 people ages 16-20 with disabilities, many of whom are hoping to enter the workforce.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC)

North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard M. Burr, a 20-year Republican veteran of Congress, won a tough re-election against Deborah Ross, a Democratic former state director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Throughout his campaign, Burr promoted his work on the ABLE act and how this law empowers people with disabilities and their families to save money without fearing the loss of essential benefits.

A statewide political ad featured a North Carolina family with two children on the Autism Spectrum discussing how the entire family benefits from these new 529 savings accounts. The YouTube version of the ad, which is the version embedded on the campaign’s website, and the Facebook upload, both include captioning, which is important for the 37.5 million American adults aged 18 and over who report some trouble hearing.

The campaign’s website also included two pages on the topic – a press release about the ad and a page devoted to “Working Across the Aisle for People with Disabilities.” Both pages contain facts and figures about the ABLE Act emphasizing Burr’s continuing, bipartisan work on the ABLE to Work Act, the ABLE Age Adjustment Act and the ABLE Financial Planning Act.

As Burr wrote in an op-ed in May 2016: “In my view, ABLE accounts are a milestone in a larger movement to create opportunity and independence for those impacted by disability.”

Burr detailed more of his efforts in his response to the disability questionnaire.

“As a senior member of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, I worked closely with my colleagues to pass the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014,” Burr responded in the questionnaire. “This means people with disabilities will have a greater opportunity to achieve self-sufficiency and competitive integrated employment, which will ultimately enhance their life opportunities. For this, I was pleased to support WIOA.”

Burr also made a campaign stop to bring attention to the critical challenges facing people with disabilities living in North Carolina. In August, he visited Bitty and Beau’s Coffee Shop in Wilmington, North Carolina, which is “run by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.” This coffee shop provides a current team of 40 employees the opportunity to live and work as a fixture of their local community.

While Burr advertised his work on the ABLE Act during the campaign, many people with disabilities in North Carolina struggle to find work. North Carolina has 1,330,804 citizens with disabilities. Currently, only 30 percent of the 715,508 working-age North Carolinians with disabilities have a job. Each year, one quarter of North Carolina’s 36,600 youth with disabilities will leave the school system and face an uncertain future. Despite solid job growth, the Tar Heel state currently ranks 39th in the nation in terms of the employment rate for people with disabilities.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT)

As expected Sen. Patrick Leahy won reelection for his U.S. Senate seat representing Vermont. While he did not answer each question individually of the disability questionnaire, he sent a statement addressing several of the issues brought up in the questionnaire. His opponent Republican Scott Milne did not respond to the questionnaire.

In his response, Leahy talked about his support for the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

“I am committed to fighting discrimination that prevents a person from obtaining a job or accessing public services,” he responded. “Congress needs to lead the way, backed by actions by the U.S. Department of Justice, in allowing those with disabilities to fully participate and contribute to everyday life. We must, at every level of government, improve the enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and hold violators accountable.”

Vermont has 85,967 citizens with disabilities. Only 33.3 percent of Vermont’s more than 41,500 working-age people with disabilities are employed. The state’s employment rate for people without disabilities lies at 80.4 percent. This lack of opportunity creates poverty, powerlessness and even can increase the likelihood of developing a mental health condition. Among those with disabilities, there is a poverty rate of 29.2 percent in Vermont.

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott (R-VT)

Republican Phil Scott beat out Democrat candidate Sue Minter for Vermont’s open governorship.

Scott mentions in the questionnaire how his commitment to reducing stigmas of people with disabilities led him to write the opening message for the Statewide Independent Living Council’s K-12 curriculum.

“I received this invitation because of my close connection and commitment to reducing the stigmas and challenges facing people with disabilities and their ability to live and work independently,” he stated. “As Governor, I will uphold Vermont’s equal opportunity employment policy, which ensures fair hiring practices based solely on personal skill and merits. Inspired by my father, I frequently participate in charity events, especially bike rides, which raise money and awareness for adaptive sports, athletes with disabilities and more robust accommodations and services for all people with disabilities.”

Vermont has 85,967 citizens with disabilities. Only33.3 percent of Vermont’s more than 41,500 working-age people with disabilities are employed. The state’s employment rate for people without disabilities lies at 80.4 percent. This lack of opportunity creates poverty, powerlessness and even can increase the likelihood of developing a mental health condition. Among those with disabilities, there is a poverty rate of 29.2 percent in Vermont.

RespectAbility and The RespectAbility Report are nonpartisan and do not endorse candidates. The RespectAbility Report is a nonpartisan political commentary on the 2016 U.S. elections with a focus on disability issues. The RespectAbility Report has covered all of the Democratic and Republican candidates for president, senate and governor. Coverage can be found at

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 [email protected]

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