A Look at What 2020 Democrats Have Done for People with Disabilities

Note: this piece has been updated as of May 10, 2019 to reflect all current candidates.

Apparently 2020 is the election that every Democrat, no matter how much or little experience, feels the need to run for President. The platforms and priorities vary widely with some exceptions, but so far, there has not been a candidate who has clearly pledged to supporting and protecting Americans with disabilities.

While I’m not suggesting anyone support a candidate based solely on how they have or place to advocate for people with disabilities, the issue should play a larger role in the campaign than it has in the past. History has shown that when improvements are made for people with disabilities, the positive impacts are far-reaching.

Anyone, at any moment, can become a person with a disability. These issues can impact any of us and we should all care about what the candidates plan to do.

To make things as easy, I’ve put every highlight into the below roundup. Gotta be honest though, the specifics are quite hard to find and a lot of it is vague talking points. This is not 2016, where Hillary Clinton made people with disabilities a major platform of her campaign. I remain hopeful though.

It’s impossible to share full details on every resolution/measure, so if you want additional resources, I highly recommend the Disability Advocacy Network and RespectAbility.

I hope this is a helpful resource to anyone working on the 2020 election and I’ll be updating as the campaign proceeds

Joe Biden, former Vice President of the United States and Senator

Joe Biden has a history in government that predates the birth of most of you reading this post right now. Because of this, I tried to go way way back in time. These accomplishments, comments, etc. are not in chronological order but give a glimpse into what Vice President Biden has done for people with disabilities, and his attitude towards us.

Vice President Biden doesn’t completely make his issues clear yet, so he should be pressed to speak openly and clearly on what his plans are for this large demographic. For now, here is a rundown and you can be sure Biden’s section will continue to be updated as more news comes out.

  • During the 2008 campaign, Biden co-signed Barack Obama’s plan to empower people with disabilities (source)
  • Biden grew up with a stutter, which he believes is a reason for why he has so much for compassion for others who have to fight against adversity
  • Biden was a key sponsor of the IDEA
  • Cosponsored the Americans with Disabilities Act (source)
  • Copsonsored the Combating Autism Act of 2006 (source)
  • Worked with Congress on the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014, which aimed to provide additional services to people with disabilities (source)

Mike Gravel, former U.S. Senator from Alaska

Gravel was a Senator 1969–1981 and if elected, would be 90 at the time of the inauguration. I couldn’t find a lot of public information on his record with the disabled but a few important points:

  • Supports universal healthcare
  • He is the only candidate so far to dedicate an entire section of his campaign site to the rights of Americans with disabilities
  • Believes the Americans with Disabilities Act should be expanded
  • Wants Social Security expanded so it protects more young people with disabilities

Michael Bennet, U.S. Senator from Colorado

Bennet has been a Senator since 2009 and previously worked under Governor Hickenlooper. I previously mentioned Hickenlooper’s strong record on advancements for Coloradans with disabilities, but here’s a look at where the Senator has stood:

  • Supported the Disability Integration of 2019 (source)
  • That’s it. I couldn’t identify much else thus far. The search continues.

Marianne Williamson, Author

I’m going to be real right now: I spent the least amount of time researching Ms. Williamson. She’s not going to be President. However for the sake of fairness, I did look into if she’s had any public statements/stances and her campaign site. I could not identify any statements or policies on her plans or thoughts or advocacy for Americans with disabilities. Her campaign site has sections on immigrants, the race disparity, the LGBTQ community, and yet, nothing on Americans with disabilities.

Seth Moulton, Congressman, Massachusetts

I hadn’t heard of Congressman Moulton before he announced his presidential bid, but he is an active member, especially on committees that pertain to disabled Americans.

  • A member of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities
  • Supported the ABLE Age Adjustment Act (source and info)
  • Held a congressional briefing on disability employment in 2017 (source)
  • Member of the House Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus (source)
  • Supports a public option for healthcare (source)
  • Introduced HEADS Up Act to help developmentally disabled Americans (source)

Eric Swalwell, Congressman, California

Full disclosure, Rep Swalwell is my favorite member of Congress. Swalwell has been a member of Congress since 2012 and has been outspoken on a variety of issues, including common sense gun control reform. That said, Swalwell’s stance on what he plans to do with Americans with disabilities is vague at best. He does not make any mention as part of his plan on his website, however he does focus on having affordable healthcare options for all Americans.

Aside from that, let’s take a look at what Swalwell has done during his time in Congress working for the American people. I will say that I was astounded by the amount of votes Swalwell just didn’t participate in.

  • He’s on a the judiciary committee for civil rights and civil liberties (source)
  • Swalwell does not have a good record with Take Action, agreeing with the congressman only 38% of the time
  • He abstained from key votes that would impact various disabled populations, including the Autism CARES Act of 2019 and HR 6611 which would have expanded healthcare availability for the developmentally disabled
  • Supported IDEA Full Funding Act in 2017
  • Opposed HR 620
  • Supports ending subminimum wage which is essentially just a way to discriminate against people with disabilities and keep them in poverty (source)

Wayne Messam, Mayor, Miramar, FL

Despite spending a fair amount of time looking into Mayor Messam, I could not find any local initiatives impacting his constituents with disabilities or his plans for the larger population. I wish there was something.

Cory Booker, Senator, New Jersey

Cory Booker has been a U.S. Senator since 2013, and rose to prominence during his time as the Mayor of Newark, NJ from 2006 to 2013.

It is not clear what Booker achieved during his time as mayor to advance the disabled citizens of Newark. People with disabilities make up 16.9% of the population of Newark, the highest concentration in the state (source).

Senator Booker speaks regularly on the importance of equal access to education. From his website: “He (Booker) recognizes that it has become more and more difficult for schools to provide the services that children with disabilities need and are entitled to, and will continue to press Congress to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).”

Here’s what Senator Booker has done for Americans with Disabilities:

  • In April 2018, he introduced The Federal Jobs Guarantee Development Act, aimed at providing 15 local areas with federal money to guarantee jobs to residents that wanted them. The bill was developed in part, specifically to help people with disabilities get employment (source). The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is twice the rate of those without disabilities (source).
  • In August 2018, he sponsored the Housing Opportunity Mobility and Equity (H.O.M.E.) Act, which was not developed specifically for people with disabilities, but would have had a profound impact on many of them (source).
  • Supports Medicare for All (source)
  • Signed a letter opposing HR 620 in 2018, which the Republican majority drew up to roll back the Americans with Disabilities Act (see the letter here). The bill ultimately did pass — essentially the bill makes it harder for people with disabilities to sue businesses that are not ADA compliant (source).
  • In 2019, he co-sponsored the Disability Integration Act, a bipartisan bill to address the needs of people who require long term services that are forced into institutions. The legislation provides seniors and people with disabilities in-home care options not otherwise available to them.

Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend Indiana

Mayor Pete is coming up in donations and the polls quickly, however he has a lot to prove in terms of where people with disabilities would stand on his list of priorities. Partially due to his limited time in politics, there is minimal information on Pete’s record in South Bend.

We do know that before becoming mayor, he paid for a new ramp at his local Democratic headquarters out of his own pocket (source). He has also come out in support of Medicare for All (source).

Julian Castro, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

Castro began his political career in 2001, and became a noted rising star when he became Mayor of San Antonio in 2009. President Obama later appointed him as HUD Secretary in 2014.

During his time in charge of HUD, Castro made equal access to housing for people with disabilities a central part of his agenda. There is not much information though on the specific advancements he made during his time at HUD.

Csastro is in support of Medicare-for-all and his section will be updated as more details become available.

John Delaney

After a successful career in business, Delaney entered politics in 2012 as a Congressman for the state of Maryland. He is not in support of Medicare for All. Given his limited time in government, it is hard to know at this time what Delaney would do to advance the civil rights of Americans with disabilities.

Tulsi Gabbard, Congresswoman, Hawaii

Gabbard has been in Congress since 2013. During that time, she has not made any significant statements or policy proposals regarding people with disabilities.

In 2018 she voted against HR 620 (source). This section will be updated as I continue to comb through the Congresswoman’s record. Gabbard is in support of Medicare for All and in 2019 she co-sponsored the Disability Integration Act as well as the AIM HIGH Act in 2017.

Kirsten Gillibrand, Senator, New York

Full disclosure, I am a New York resident and have voted for Senator Gillibrand previously.

Gillibrand joined the House of Representatives in 2007 and took over Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat in 2009.

During the confirmation process in 2017, Gillibrand was outspoken about Betsy DeVos and made it clear that she felt the IDEA would be in danger if DeVos became Education Secretary (source).

Some other important things to know about the Senator:

  • She supports Medicare-for-all
  • In 2019, she co-sponsored the Disability Integration Act
  • With Senator Booker, introduced the Federal Jobs Guarantee Development Act of 2018
  • Signed a letter opposing HR 620 in 2018 (see the letter here)
  • She does not currently have a section dedicated to civil rights or people with disabilities on her official Senate website
  • In 2019, Kirsten faced considerable backlash from the disability community because of proposed legislation that would put a time limit on opioid prescriptions (source). She noted she’s open to working with the community to propose the legislation in a way that would not harm those with disabilities that need access to long-term opioid prescriptions.
  • “Senator Gillibrand introduced legislation that would mandate insurance companies cover autism treatment and increase federal funding for autism research.” (source)

Kamala Harris, Senator, California

Harris has been a senator since 2017, and was previously California’s Attorney General, from 2011–2017.

Harris answered RespectAbility Report’s questionnaire on disability issues, however her answers were vague and offered little on substance or concrete plans.

Highlights of what Senator Harris has done:

  • Created the Bureau of Children Justice, a division of the California Department of Justice aimed at eliminating discrimination and inequalities in education
  • Supports Medicare-for-all
  • With Senator Booker, introduced the Federal Jobs Guarantee Development Act of 2018
  • Signed a letter opposing HR 620 in 2018 (see the letter here)
  • In 2019, she co-sponsored the Disability Integration Act
  • Co-sponsored the IDEA Full Funding Act in 2018

John Hickenlooper, former Governor of Colorado

The former Mayor of Denver, turned Governor of Colorado from January 2011 to January to 2019, has a strong history of supporting the rights of people with disabilities in his state.

  • Hickenlooper expanded hate crimes laws to protect people with disabilities in Colorado (source)
  • Signed Bill 16–077 that expanded job opportunities for those with disabilities (source). The Employment First Advisory Partnership is a partnership between five Colorado state departments, representatives with disabilities and others with cross-disability interests aimed at reducing the unemployment rate for people with disabilities in Colorado.
  • Under the direction of Hickenlooper, Colorado now ranks 12th in employment for people with disabilities, up from 20th (source)
  • Does not support Medicare-for-all (source). It is not clear what would be his alternative

Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington

Jay Inslee served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1989–2012, and has been Washington’s Governor since 2013.

During his lengthy time in public service, Inslee has a long record of empowering people with disabilities. To highlight:

  • In 2016, Inslee signed Laura’s Act into law to protect adults with intellectual disabilities from abuse and neglect (source)
  • In 2018, signed a new law helping people appealing disability benefits decisions, allowing them to gain free access to a copy of their full medical record (source)
  • Signed Washington’s ABLE bill in 2018 (get more info here)
  • Instituted Project SEARCH, a one-year school-to-work program that takes place entirely at the workplace (info here)
  • In 2016, Inslee issued Executive Order 16–10, reaffirming the establishment of the Washington State Developmental Disabilities Council
  • In 2013, issued Executive Order 13–02, ordering the state government to adopt the goal that by June 30, 2017, five percent of the state workforce would be comprised of people with disabilities. For context, 12.9% of Washington residents have a disability.
  • Washington State has a Disability Employment Task Force with the sole purpose of assisting state agencies with recruitment and retention of persons with disabilities
  • Does not support Medicare-for-all

Amy Klobuchar, Senator, Minnesota

Klobuchar has been in the Senate since 2007 and was previously a county attorney.

  • Supported the ABLE Act, passed in 2015
  • Does not support Medicare-for-all
  • Supported the Affordable Care Act
  • Signed a letter opposing HR 620 in 2018 (see the letter here)
  • In 2019, she co-sponsored the Disability Integration Act

Beto O’Rourke, former Congressman

O’Rourke was in Congress from 2005 — 2019, serving the state of Texas.

O’Rourke has mentioned on several occasions that this sister grew up in special education classes, and has slammed the Texas Department of Education for not complying with the IDEA. Outside of the statements, it is unclear what O’Rourke did during his time in Congress to help people with disabilities in his district.

  • Co-sponsored a bill to end sub-minimum wage of people with disabilities
  • Does not support Medicare-for-all
  • During the 2013–2014 Congressional session, O’Rourke served on the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs (source)

Bernie Sanders, Senator, Vermont

Senator Sanders has been in politics essentially since the dawn of time. During his time in office, he has championed several progressive issues that would impact the lives of people with disabilities in every corner of the United States.

Update: Since my original post, Senator Sanders has devoted a section of his website under issues, called Fight for Disability Rights, where he lays out his plan for Americans with disabilities. This includes ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, calling for an end to ableism and discrimination of disabled people, and increasing educational opportunities to people with disabilities.

Feelthebern.org goes into more detail, but Sanders in the past has:

  • Was the first candidate to introduce Medicare-for-all
  • Proposed the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits Act
  • Co-sponsored the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), which emphasizes that, “the definition of disability should be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA…”
  • Consistently advocates for Medicaid expansion and funding
  • Sanders is outspoken on the need to increase the budget for special education
  • Co-sponsored the Expand TRICARE Coverage of Autism amendment, which would expand the program to cover Autism spectrum disorders
  • Co-sponsored the Assistive Technology Act of 2004, supporting grants to programs to address assistive technology needs to individuals with disabilities
  • Signed a letter opposing HR 620 in 2018 (see the letter here)
  • In 2019, he co-sponsored the Disability Integration Act
  • In 2015, Sanders said, “In the year 2015, it is unacceptable that over 80 percent of adults with disabilities are unemployed. People need work. They need jobs.”

Elizabeth Warren, Senator, Massachusetts

After working at Harvard for years, and initially joining the government in 2008, Warren became a Senator in 2013. Her first job out of college was teaching special needs students, so she claims to have a unique understanding of how important it is for people with disabilities to have access to education, homes, and work.

Warren believes in equal representation for people with disabilities. She helped secure over $9 million in federal grants to bring the Hingham Ferry Terminal in Massachusetts to be ADA complaint.

In addition, Senator Warren has:

  • Passed an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act re-authorization to make sure students with disabilities have access to assistive technology.
  • Introduced the AIM HIGH Act to create guidelines for accessible instructional materials on college campuses.
  • In 2019, she co-sponsored the Disability Integration Act
  • With Senator Booker, she introduced the Federal Jobs Guarantee Development Act of 2018
  • Supports Medicare-for-all
  • Signed a letter opposing HR 620 in 2018 (see the letter here)

Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang is a prominent entrepreneur and is new to politics.

Yang supports Medicare-for-all. Outside of that, there is not information regarding what Andrew Yang would do to protect the rights of Americans with disabilities, and he has not made any public statements. Update: I have listened to several of Yang’s interviews and combed through his website. While he focuses on ridiculous topics in his 85+ issue website, sadly, Americans with disabilities do not seem to be a priority for this entrepreneur.

Award-Winning Writer, Disability Specialist & Media Expert. I write about entertainment, politics, travel and some oversharing. KristenParisi.net

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