We've never seen a presidential election cycle like this one. Those of us with experience and interest in the lives of persons with disabilities have a unique opportunity if we think strategically about how to approach presidential campaigns of our choice. The problem right now is that "disability issues" are seen as minority, niche issues. Most candidates do not see the value of talking about or including references to people with disabilities in their statements at this point. We need to change that. To do so they must recognize where candidates are and start there.
For example, the Democrats -- Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders talk about income inequality and the need to raise the minimum wage (O'Malley too). They talk about a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, how to provide greater access to higher education, and preserving and extending healthcare coverage to those who need it. We need to give them examples about how the policies they are talking about would benefit or hurt people with disabilities. We need to connect our issues to these broader themes. If we give them examples of how their policies would benefit people with disabilities they will use our examples in their stump speeches, debate answers, and in town hall exchanges.
The 12(?) Republican candidates talk about tax reform, boarder tightening, family supports, entitlement reform, job creation, threats from terrorists, over regulation that strangles the economy, and government not working for the people. Here too we must take on these broader issues and connect them to the lives of people with disabilities. For any policy they pose on these issues, how would it affect people with disabilities? We need to tell them. We have the opportunity to ask for a carveout, exemption, or clarification. If they agree with the idea, they will talk about it to show how much greater or smarter they are compared to their opponents or how different they are from them.
No one is going to elevate us to the "mainstream" unless we do it first. We are very adept about talking about our specialness. In this political cycle we must engage the campaigns in a smart way by talking to them FIRST about the issues that are in the forefront and how they affect us. By doing so they will see us as a vital voter block and not a niche group. Once we see candidates using examples concerning people with disabilities when talking about the benefits of policies they propose, then we can begin to introduce them to issues that are more disability specific.
I recommend that we all checkout www.therespectabilityreport.org. There we will learn what all presidential candidates are talking about. Then sit down and discuss how we would approach them and what we would share about how the candidates' policies would affect people with disabilities.
Remember we are part of the mainstream of America!