Soyer: When voting, consider those with disabilities

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Hannah Soyer
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The unemployment rate for people with disabilities continues to be double that of the rest of the population at 10.8 percent, often due to being penalized in their benefits if they hold a job or because of systematic oppression to keep them out of the workforce (read: making the workplace readily accessible and adapted is too costly). The minimum wage that most people seem to agree as being too low to live on ($15,080/year) is nearly twice the amount of the maximum Social Security income benefits a single person with a disability can receive ($8,796/year). Nearly 3 million students in the country have a disability that is not being properly accommodated in their school system, leaving most of them to be put into a separate (but equal) classroom or even a separate (but equal) school than their able-bodied classmates.

Respect Ability, a nonpartisan organization devoted to integrating people with disabilities into American society, recently released the first ever People with Disabilities’ Vote Scorecard, a questionnaire they invited all presidential candidates to fill out, asking them their plans on how they would better society for those with disabilities. With people with disabilities making up about 18 percent of American citizens, it’s incredibly important that all voters not overlook disability issues, which should be taken seriously, and how candidates have promised to address them.

As of right now, only two of the candidates have filled out the questionnaire completely: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Jeb Bush filled out most of the questionnaire, and Ben Carson and Chris Christie filled out small portions of it. The questionnaire includes questions on employment, stigma, education, safety, transportation, housing, health care, foreign affairs, and other issues. This stuff is important.

Other minorities defined by race, sexuality, or income level receive a lot of attention during election campaigns, and rightly so. But considering people with disabilities are another minority that feels all of the marginalization that comes with being a minority while not being recognized as one, it’s time that discussion begins to revolve around them as well. I want to make it very clear that this is not a call to eclipse the issues dealt with by other minorities, or a competition to say which minority has it the worst. This is about civil rights. Women’s rights are civil rights. Black rights are civil rights. Gay rights are civil rights. I would just like to add one more: Disability rights are civil rights.

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At a rally in Henniker, New Hampshire, on Feb. 8, Clinton referred to people with disabilities as “out of sight, out of mind” and said this was a group of people she was fighting for, that this idea of them needed to change. The unfortunate reality is that we are, as a whole, “out of sight and out of mind,” and this is why disability issues are hardly ever discussed in election campaigns. When they are talked about, they never take center stage, and whatever a candidate may have said or proposed is quickly forgotten.

But this is the year to change that. Despite what some people may think, people with disabilities make up a large portion of the American population, and we are not content to simply sit back and have the country pretend that we are somehow sub-citizens, deserving fewer rights than any able-bodied American. And if you are an able-bodied voter that’s down with the revolution, then I am asking you to not forget about one-fifth of the population when you exercise your most important right as a U.S. citizen.

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