Political Candidates Should Remember the 80 Percent

 Silhouette of man in a wheelchair
We’ve all heard plenty about the one percent, and now politicians and the media are discussing the 47 percent, but do you know who the 80 percent are? 

That’s the approximate percentage of people with disabilities who aren’t in the labor force.  One in five Americans has a disability, and those without a disability are likely to have a family member or close friend with one. 

Following last night’s first presidential debate, the media and candidates are more focused on stinging remarks and gaffes than they are the job training and other barriers keeping so many people with disabilities out of the workforce.

I recently attended the National Forum on Disability Issues, an opportunity for each major presidential candidate to discuss disability-related issues including Medicaid reform, education, and employment among others.

Neither Governor Romney nor President Obama could make it to the swing state of Ohio that day.  Instead, Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy, Jr. spoke on behalf of Obama and Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-5) represented Romney. 

The designees presented broad views on some disability policy issues before answering questions from moderator Frank Sesno, former CNN White House correspondent.   A taped message from Obama was shown prior to Kennedy addressing the audience.  Both speakers provided examples of employers demonstrating promising practices to make businesses more accessible and hire more individuals with disabilities, a timely topic since the forum was held on the heels of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. 

While both designees are extremely passionate about and great advocates for the disability community —  Kennedy himself is a person with a disability and Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers is the parent of a child with a disability — it is unfortunate that the candidates could not appear. 

Over 14 million people with disabilities voted in the 2008 election and, according to a recent national poll of 1,000 likely voters conducted by Greenberg/Laszlo, 41 percent of American voters are more likely to vote for a candidate committed to supporting people with disabilities.  

We hope the discussion of increasing employment opportunities for all individuals facing barriers, especially those with a disability, will continue with candidates at all levels and be addressed by them directly.