Disability Issues - Always on the Ballot!

By Steve Suroviec, Achieva President & CEO

Tuesday, May 17, is Pennsylvania’s primary election day. If you or someone you know is at least 18, has a disability, and wants to vote, please check out the valuable information at the PA Department of State website. Among other things, it states that voters with a disability may have someone go into the voting booth with them (the only people who may not accompany the voter are the voter’s employer, union representative, or a judge of elections).

I encourage everyone to do their own research when it comes to the issues. This election cycle, I have made it a point not to watch any political advertisements on television (DVR technology is great!). Instead of relying on TV ads, I’ve visited each of the candidates’ websites and done my own research.

Every voter has an issue or set of issues that matter most to them. I have mine too, but I also care very strongly about what the candidates think about disability issues. The first thing I look for is whether the word disability is even mentioned on the candidate’s website or in their issues platform. If it’s not, then there’s a good probability people with disabilities and their families are not a priority for the candidate - and if disability isn’t a priority for a person when they’re running for office, then good luck trying to get them to pay attention to the issue after they’re in office.

If I do find disability issues in the candidate’s platform, then I read it carefully to see what they think. For example, does the candidate consider assisting people who have disabilities to be a core function of government and, in turn, believe funding for disability services ought to be a budget priority? Does the candidate believe in community-based services, or do they support keeping institutions open? Given that the home and community-based service system for people with intellectual disabilities and/or autism is essentially a government-funded “single-payer system,” will the candidate support government-established rates that permit disability service providers to pay competitive wages to attract and retain high-quality direct support professionals (DSPs)? Do they even recognize the value and importance of DSPs?! Does the candidate’s platform demonstrate empathy for the families of people with disabilities languishing on waiting lists for services? Will they support special education programming that includes students with disabilities in general education classrooms with appropriate supports so they’re more apt to be included in the community and hold a job when they transition from high school to adult life?

These may seem like a lot of questions to ask and a lot of issues to research, but it’s only when commitments on disability issues are made during a campaign that there’s even a chance disability issues will be prioritized after the candidate is sworn-in. Voters interested in disability issues (and there should be a lot of them – 19 percent of the population have some level and type of disability, 12 percent of working-age people have a disability, and nearly all people with disabilities have family and friends who vote!) are encouraged to pay attention to the issues. Please do your research, ask questions, and be sure to show up on primary day.

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