e d g e
- education for disability and gender equity
Are people with disabilities a voting bloc? That is something which disability-rights advocates often discuss.
In terms of sheer numbers, the disability community is certainly significant. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 20 percent of all Americans have some kind of disability, and 10 percent have a severe disability. And most of these people have family members, friends, and other allies who support their interests. Doesn't that seem like a large constituency?
However, there is a significant difference in the levels of political participation between people with and without disabilities. Some experts call this "The Political Participation Gap." Because of building and transportation barriers, lack of information, and other obstacles, disabled people experience a lack of access to voter registration services, polling places, voting machines and ballots.
In the 1996 Presidential elections, according to a Harris Poll, 31 percent of voting-age Americans with disabilities voted. By comparison, 49 percent of all voting-age Americans. In other words, people with disabilities were 20 percent less likely to vote than were all adults.
Things had improved a little bit by the time the 2000 Presidential election was held. In that election, 41 percent of voting-age Americans with disabilities voted, compared to 51 percent of all voting-age Americans. This meant that people with disabilities were 20 percent less likely to vote than were all adults.
Still, those percentage points translates to a large number of votes. In 2000, there were about 14 million participating voters with disabilities.
Do those numbers constitute a voting bloc? As we learned earlier, one factor which creates a voting bloc is that people's common circumstances ininfluence their political beliefs. A Harris Interactive telephone survey in September 2000 found that 48 percent of people with disabilities think of themselves "a lot" as a "person with a health condition or disability" when it comes to politics and voting. Fully 23 percent of people with disabilities say that they think of themselves "primarily" as people with disabilities when thinking about politics and voting. This was the most important group with which people with disabilities said they identified when thinking about politics and voting – more important than their party identification, race or gender.
So, what do you think? Is the disability community a voting bloc which politicians should pay attention to?