During a hyper political season in which the media jockeys to cover which presidential candidate has courted favor or offended which minority group in our country, the largest minority group among us is largely ignored - people with disabilities (PWD). According to statistics PWD make up approximately nineteen percent of our population or roughly sixty million Americans. If we add family members of PWD to this bloc, we are talking about a plurality of American voters--a group that can easily decide any election. So then why does the media largely ignore this massive minority population and its potential impact on our upcoming presidential election? Part of this omission is no doubt rooted in the historic marginalization of PWD. However, I think it is also embedded in the disability community's lack of unification; PWD have yet to successfully join together to amplify their voice as a group.
While there have been huge gains by the disability community this political season, such as increased attention in the wake of the recent quarter century anniversary of the ADA--the landmark legislation for disability rights--the nonpartisan #CripTheVote campaign, and both parties' National Conventions giving air time to PWD, the disability community largely segregates themselves into various groups focused on their disabilities. Although there are organizations that work towards the inclusion of all PWD, the majority are honed in on one category of disability. Whether the disability is autism, paralysis, schizophrenia, blindness, depression, deafness or any other one, there is a national organization and advocacy group for that particular disability. Many of these organizations do great work and advocate for similar causes, but by virtue of their separate efforts, the American public and the media in the United States tend to see the disability community not as a community, but rather a group of disparate agendas.
It is largely understandable that we don't readily see all people with disabilities as part of the same group. At first glance, Olympic powerhouse Michael Phelps who has written about having ADHD has little in common with a wheelchair-user. However, the fact is that both Phelps and any other person with any disability needs--and has a right to--an accommodating environment that allows them to succeed and be fully integrated in all aspects of life. Regardless of the specific needs, every group within the disability community would benefit from a unified agenda that would allow them to act as a voting bloc.
The more the disability community will work together to send a unified message that they will no longer be silent when their community is segregated by separate schools, housing, employment, religious and social life, the more the American public and our media will awake to the political power of this vast and growing community. The more the disability community will demand, in a unified voice, that an unemployment rate of sixty-five percent for PWD is unacceptable in modern day America, the more their voice will be heard.
The day that America should realize that disability rights are civil rights has arrived. It is not too late for the disability community to band together and make their unified voice heard. The time has come for all Americans with disabilities and their families to demand that their rights be honored by our elected officials who are on the ballot this coming November. By uniting the advocacy and unifying the message of all PWD this fall, the American people and our media will turn its attention even more to the largest minority group in the United States.'
Jay Ruderman is President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, a leading advocacy organization focusing on the full inclusion of people with disabilities into society.