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8 Tips for Newly Elected Officials on How to Connect with Constituents with Disabilities

By Lauren Appelbaum and Hon. Steve Bartlett

Washington, D.C., Feb. 7 – As newly elected officials begin their service, it is important that America’s largest minority group are included in policy discussions in a meaningful way. Thus, RespectAbility put together an easy guide with eight tips for leaders and their staff to ensure they reach this important constituent group.

1) Start right away on building connections to people of disabilities and disability groups in the same way that you do with other groups of constituents. 

America has 56 million people with disabilities, more than 20-million of whom are working age. Polls show that the majority of constituents either have a disability or a loved one with a disability. The extended disability community — when you include family members, those with close friends with disabilities and those who work on behalf or volunteer for a disability cause — is 63 percent of Americans. We want to be included in all policies that impact our lives and we are ready to be your partners in success. [continue reading…]

2020 Disability Voter Guide

Three RespectAbility team members holding up signs that say "Earn My Vote". Red and blue borders. Text: 2020 Disability Voter GuideVoting has begun in the 2020 election, and the disability community has a lot at stake. The nonpartisan disability group RespectAbility has asked Democratic and Republican candidates for President, Governor and the U.S. Senate the same seven key questions about issues affecting people with disabilities. Below you can read responses from candidates who have already taken the time to address the concerns of voters with disabilities.

RespectAbility is still accepting responses to the candidate questionnaire from campaigns, so if a candidate has not answered the questions, please invite them to do so. We hope that this information will enable you to make informed decisions in this election. You can find full, detailed converge online at https://therespectabilityreport.org. [continue reading…]

14 Candidates for Governor and Senate Complete Disability Questionnaire

Washington, D.C., Sept. 14 – With 50 days left until Election Day and with many voters deciding to vote early, candidates across the political spectrum are reaching out to a previously ignored block of voters: people with disabilities.

Polling conducted earlier this year showed that more than half of the electorate in the battleground (59 percent) self-identifies as having a disability (16 percent), having a family member with a disability (32 percent) or having a close friend with a disability (11 percent).

According to Rutgers University, 14.3 million citizens with disabilities voted in 2018. Those voters will be crucial as both Democrats and Republicans vie for votes this year. In response to this opportunity, campaigns and candidates across the country are going on the record about their policies and plans to help Americans with disabilities. Those plans are being documented online by RespectAbility, a national nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community.

RespectAbility is a non-partisan group and have been thorough in reaching out to Democratic and Republican candidates equally. The team at RespectAbility is still actively soliciting responses to their questionnaire from campaigns that have not yet done so.

RespectAbility has been actively engaging with campaigns to both educate them about disability issues and to get campaigns to complete RespectAbility’s 2020 Disability Voter Questionnaire.  You can find full, detailed converge online at https://therespectabilityreport.org. [continue reading…]

Reporters who use wheelchairs break barriers to inclusion in political media by covering NH debate

174,000 people with disabilities live in New Hampshire

Manchester, NH, February 7 – Tonight, as seven candidates prepare to take the stage in the first Democratic debate after the Iowa caucus, RespectAbility’s Ben Spangenberg and Justin Chappell will be in the media spin room trying to get candidates on the record on disability issues. They are there on behalf of The RespectAbility Report, an online publication at the intersection of U.S. politics and disability.

Justin Chappell holds an iPad filming Bernie Sanders giving an answer to a question he askedSpangenberg has been with RespectAbility for more than four years, and currently serves as the director of its National Leadership Program for college students and recent graduates who want to become future leaders in the disability community. He and Chappell married two weeks after Spangenberg joined the staff. Together, they previously covered debates in the 2016 Election cycle, meeting all major candidates on both sides of the isle.

People with disabilities have been historically underrepresented in political campaigns, debate and coverage for far too long. I look forward to asking the candidates about policy changes that matter to the disability community,said Ben Spangenberg. [continue reading…]

Early Voting Begins: A Disability Voter Guide

First Edition of National Voting Guide Highlights Presidential Candidates’ Responses to 2020 Disability Candidate Questionnaire

Washington, D.C., Jan. 22 – As people with and without disabilities get ready to go to the polls to vote in their state’s primary elections, a disability rights nonprofit has released its first edition of the National Disability Voter Guide. While primary elections do not begin for a few more weeks, early voting begins earlier in many localities across the country. Early voting gives voters with and without disabilities the flexibility and choice to their ballots long before primary day.

Research conducted in the 2018 election shows that 74 percent of likely voters either have a disability themselves or have a family member or a close friend with disabilities. The upcoming elections and their results will have an impact on people with disabilities, so it is important to become familiar with the candidates’ positions on certain issues.

As a nonpartisan national nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can participate fully in all aspects of community, RespectAbility has invited all candidates in the presidential race on both sides of the aisle to submit their answers to a 2020 Disability Voter Candidate Questionnaire. This questionnaire covers some of the most important issues impacting people with disabilities including employment, education, immigration, criminal justice and accessibility. [continue reading…]

Reporters on Autism Spectrum to Cover Democratic Presidential Primary Debate

James Trout and Eric Ascher smile inside the spin room at the CNN Democratic Debate

James Trout and Eric Ascher inside the spin room at the CNN Democratic Debate

Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 14 – While many of the presidential candidates are focusing on how to help people with disabilities, several self-advocates currently are in Iowa showing that people with disabilities are capable of doing the work, if only they are given access to do so.

Eric Ascher and James Trout, both on the Autism spectrum, and Ila Eckhoff, who has cerebral palsy, are ensuring that the presidential candidates do not forget the one-in-four adults in America who have a disability by reporting on the campaigns’ efforts for The RespectAbility Report, an online publication at the intersection of U.S. politics and disability.

Eric Ascher filming Amy Klobuchar giving an answer on disability issues while James Trout looks on

Eric Ascher and James Trout, who are both on the Autism spectrum, interviewed several candidates while in Iowa, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar (pictured above). This is Trout’s second campaign season doing so.

Ascher is the Communications Associate of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities so people with disabilities can participate fully in all aspects of community. Ascher’s motivation for engaging the candidates is not only professional but also personal:

“I know firsthand how hard it is for qualified people with disabilities to find jobs. I spent two years after college looking for work. I honestly believe that stigma around disability played a major role in that fact. What candidates say can make a huge difference in the stigma people with disabilities face, and I am thrilled to be in Iowa so I can help them know how they can be good allies to the disability community.” [continue reading…]

Jewish Leader with Disability to Interview Presidential Candidates

Tomorrow in Iowa, eight campaigns are set to participate in a history-making Accessibility, Inclusion, and Outreach Conference focused specifically on issues that affect people with disabilities. This is important, as while recent polling suggests that voters with disabilities themselves are more enthusiastic about participating in the 2020 elections than the nation at large, none of the campaigns are yet fully accessible to the disability community.

“It is vital for the democratic process to be open to all people and all means all – including people with disabilities,” said Lauren Appelbaum, vice president, communications of RespectAbility. Appelbaum is Jewish and recently acquired a disability. “The majority of voters have a friend or family member with a disability or have a disability themselves. It is truly exciting that eight campaigns will be focusing their attention on addressing the 1-in-5 people living in America with a disability.”

RespectAbility’s own Eric Ascher, who is also Jewish and is on the Autism Spectrum, has organized to interview candidates on the sidelines. He will be asking candidates three questions:

[continue reading…]

People with Disabilities Thank Sen. John Cornyn for Leadership on Criminal Justice Reform

Sen. John Cornyn giving a speech at a podium in front of a red and white background

Sen. John Cornyn

Washington, D.C., Dec. 19 – RespectAbility, a nonprofit disabilities organization, thanks Senator John Cornyn for his leadership on criminal justice reform. Said Hon. Steve Bartlett, the former Dallas mayor and member of Congress who now chairs RespectAbility, “While a large number of Members of the House and Senate were pivotal in creating and passing Criminal Justice Reform, and we are grateful to all involved, Senator John Cornyn stepped forward at key moments to assure the success of this reform. In particular, he was crucial to assuring successful Senate passage by a wide margin during Senate floor debate and floor action. Courageous, focused, statesmanlike, relentless, pivotal are words that describe Senator Cornyn’s leadership in Criminal Justice Reform.”

Bartlett continued, “While this Reform will positively affect the entire US population, the Reform has a profound and disproportionate effect on those with disabilities. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 32 percent of federal prisoners and 40 percent of people in jail have at least one disability. As a fellow Texan, and National Chairman of Respectability, I am personally proud of Senator Cornyn’s leadership.” [continue reading…]

People with Disabilities to Benefit as Criminal Justice Reform Passes Senate

A wooden gavel hitting a circle raised on a desk

Washington, D.C., Dec. 18 – As Congress advances our national dialogue on criminal justice reform, it is critical to remember that criminal justice issues are issues that dramatically impact people with disabilities. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 32 percent of federal prisoners and 40 percent of people in jail have at least one disability.

RespectAbility, a nonprofit disability organization, estimates that more than 750,000 people with disabilities are behind bars in America today. This includes 140,000 who are blind or have vision loss, approximately the same number who are deaf or have significant hearing loss and more than 200,000 who have mobility issues. The largest group, which includes more than half a million people, has cognitive impairments. Some have multiple disabilities.

On Tuesday, the Senate passed a set of reforms that could enable tens of thousands of people with disabilities to exit incarceration by an 87-12 vote. The House is expected to pass the bill later this week, sending it to President Trump for his signature. “These developments reflect a bipartisan consensus on the need to address mass incarceration, disproportionate sentencing, and re-entry supports for returning citizens — all issues that disproportionally impact people with disabilities.” said Hon. Steve Bartlett, the former Dallas mayor and member of Congress who now chairs RespectAbility.  “These efforts have garnered support from the White House and Governors from both parties across the country.” [continue reading…]

Remembering George H.W. Bush

President George H.W. Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act into law, surrounded by two wheelchair users and two people standing behind him.

President George H.W. Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act into law.

Washington, D.C., Dec. 3 – On November 30, 2018, America lost a champion for people with disabilities, President George H.W. Bush. In 1990, Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law, which prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities. The law improved the lives of millions of Americans with disabilities.

“Among President George H.W. Bush’s lifetime accomplishments, perhaps his most profound and impactful is the ADA,” said Hon. Steve Bartlett, who serves as Chairman of RespectAbility’s Board of Directors and who worked with Bush on the ADA. “He was the originator and the force behind the ADA. He consistently gave others the credit. Indeed, he announced his proposal that became the ADA the evening before his inaugural, surprising everyone in Washington except Boyden Gray and Justin Dart. The President allowed Congress to do the legislating of course, but he personally guided the process gently but firmly for 18 months. Millions of Americans with disabilities, and their friends and families, live better lives because of George H.W. Bush. Thank you Mr. President.” [continue reading…]

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