Director of Communications
Chicago – As the 2018 election season heats up, Chicago-based Access Living, together with more than 30 advocacy organizations from around the state, hosted a nonpartisan gubernatorial candidate forum Thursday afternoon.
Six Democratic candidates for Illinois Governor attended the event: Daniel Biss, Bob Daiber, Tio Hardiman, Chris Kennedy, Robert Marshall and JB Pritzker. Republican candidates Gov. Bruce Rauner, Jeanne Ives, and Chris Getz were invited.
“Last year, many Americans saw for the first time the political power and commitment of people with disabilities,” says Marca Bristo, President and CEO of Access Living. “Through ADAPT and other groups, people with disabilities put their bodies on the line, going to battle for all Americans to stop the dismantling of our health care. Candidates who ignore our issues in 2018 will pay a price at the polls.”
The event featured questions submitted by voters around the state, focusing on the candidates’ views, plans and policy priorities for issues critical to disabled Illinoisans. Questions included Illinois’ bias toward institutionalizing disabled people and plans to enforce a Supreme Court ruling supporting people living in the community, efforts to improve the employment rate of disabled people, school inclusion plans for students with disabilities, and affordable, accessible housing for Illinoisans with disabilities and their families.
“Campaigns typically do not specifically court disabled voters, as they do other blocs like racial groups or women,” said Amber Smock, director of advocacy for Access Living. “However, more than 56 million Americans, or 19 percent of the population, are living with some form of disability – whether visible or invisible.”
In the November 2016 election, 16 million disabled Americans voted, though that is about six percent less than nondisabled voters. There are about 35 million eligible voters with a disability, surpassing the number of eligible Black and Latino voters. If people with disabilities voted at the same rate as people without disabilities, there would be about 2.2 million more voters.
In Illinois, there are 1.4 million people with a disability (11.1 percent of total 12.7 m population). In Chicago and Cook County, percentages are similar with 292,332 residents and 551,169 residents, respectively.
“We all know that elections matter,” said Andrés Gallegos, Access Living Board of Directors’ Chairman and moderator of the candidate forum. “It’s imperative that persons with disabilities participate in the election process and that we exercise our power to vote because that is ultimately the best way for our voices to be heard. We’d also like to see more people with disabilities run for office as well.”
Voting, access to polling places, understanding of issues and responding to candidates are at the core of Access Living’s public policy work.
The event, and a similar Attorney General candidate forum planned for February, is part of a national Get Out The Vote campaign among people with disabilities coordinated by the American Association of People with Disabilities. The REV UP: Register, Educate, Vote, Use your Power Campaign aims to increase the political power of the disability community while also engaging candidates and the media on disability issues.
Full political participation for Americans with disabilities is a top priority of advocates. AAPD works with state and national coalitions on effective, non-partisan campaigns to eliminate barriers to voting, promote accessibility of voting technology and polling places; educate voters about issues and candidates; promote turnout of voters with disabilities across the country; engage candidates and the media on disability issues, and protect eligible voters’ right to participate in elections.
The Illinois Network of Centers for Independent Living (INCIL) and the Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC) of Illinois coordinated 11 watch parties are planned in the Chicago suburbs and downstate in Bloomington, Springfield, Mt. Vernon, Alton and elsewhere. The live event was sold out with more than 150 people attending to hear from the candidates.