Next Tuesday, November 8, is election day, and never before has it been so important for people with disabilities and their loved ones to make their voices heard.
In this election cycle, the issue of disability has barely made it into the national discourse. It has not been raised in any of the debates; except for outrage over one presidential candidate’s alleged depiction of a person experiencing disability, the concerns and issues facing 56.7 MILLION Americans have gone largely unnoticed.
People with disabilities are the United States’ largest minority population. What are some our issues and concerns?
- Equal access to general education: 6 out of every 10 school-age students served under the IDEA spend at least 80% of their day in general education. But what about the thousands of students who continue to be segregated in self-contained classrooms or schools with little access to a general education curriculum or typical peers? In addition, students with intellectual disabilities or multiple disabilities are least likely to spend the majority of their time in inclusive environments (Disability Scoop, February 2, 2016).
- Graduation rates: Across the United States, 63% of students with disabilities graduated from high school in 2014 — a rate of graduation roughly 20% lower than the national average (Huffington Post, Jan 14, 2016).
- Employment: In the last decade, only 41% of people age 21 to 64 with disabilities were employed, compared to 79% of those without a disability (US Census Bureau’s report, “Americans with Disabilities: 2010).
- Independent living: Statistics vary by disability, but many people experiencing disability are not able to live independently in the community without suitable supports. For example, only about 17% of young adults with autism ages 21 to 25 have ever lived independently (Disability Scoop, September 3, 2013). Unbelievably, young people ages 31 to 64 make up 14% of the nursing home population (Oregon Public Broadcasting, December 9, 2010), and a Senate health committee report found that “a majority of states were using the more expedient and less costly option of sending them to nursing homes, many of which had empty beds and were eager for the business” (The Fiscal Times, May 3, 2016).
- Poverty: Among people age 15 to 64 with severe disabilities, 10.8% experienced persistent poverty, compared to 3.8% of those with no disability (US Census).
- Social services: Less than a decade ago, Federal budget and Census data showed that 91% of benefit dollars went to people 65 and over, the seriously disabled, and members of working households (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2012). Cuts to services our families often rely on like Social Security, Medicaid/Medicare, SNAP, and CHIP can have devastating effects. For families that rely on social services to provide attendant care for their adult children, state fiscal priorities can mean the difference between a person living independently or having to live in a nursing home.
These are but a few of the areas that affect the lives of families experiencing disability in very personal ways. If any of them speak to your family’s circumstances or include areas that you want to see changed, then:
- Research the candidates’ positions on disability related topics. Resources like the nonpartisan Respectability Report’s Oregon Voter Guide and Disability Rights Oregon’s Easy Voting Guide are great places to start.
- Confirm that you are a registered voter in Oregon, and that you or your loved one can access your right to vote. Oregon has an alternate format ballot that is available for people experiencing disability that allows them to access the ballot on a screen reader/tablet, use voice generated text tools, increase font size, and accommodate a person’s limited range of mobility.