Access Living, 43 Advocacy Organizations Sponsor Non-Partisan Attorney General Candidate Forum on Disability Issues


February 15, 2018 | by Emma Olson

Eight Democratic Candidates Joined Nonpartisan Event Featuring Voter Questions

February 8, 2018


Bridget Hayman

Director of Communications

(312) 640-2129

Chicago – Following a successful forum featuring gubernatorial candidates two weeks ago, Chicago-based Access Living, together with more than 40 advocacy organizations from around the state, hosted a nonpartisan Attorney General candidate forum Friday afternoon. 

Eight Democratic candidates for Attorney General attended the event: Scott Drury, Sharon Fairly, Aaron Goldstein, Renato Mariotti, Kwame Raoul, Nancy Rotering, Jesse Ruiz, and Pat Quinn. Republican candidates Garry Grasso and Erika Harold were invited.

“People with disabilities have historically been an ignored voting bloc. But that is changing and candidates who ignore our issues in 2018 will pay a price at the polls,” said Marca Bristo, President and CEO of Access Living. “The Attorney General is the chief litigator of the state who should be supporting plans and policy issues that are critical for disabled Illinoisans. We want to hear where these candidates are willing to take a stand on our issues.”

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 the candidates’ plans to enforce Supreme Court rulings supporting community integration for people with disabilities, experience assuring equal access, the overburdened but understaffed Disability Rights Bureau and what they will do to handle complaints efficiently, and the disproportionate rate of sexual assault and imprisonment for people with disabilities. 

“The Attorney General’s office is critical to the enforcement of the American with Disabilities Act. We’d like to see a serious commitment for funding for disability rights enforcement, and efforts towards major litigation for disability rights,” said Amber Smock, director of advocacy for Access Living. “We are also eager to see what the next Attorney General will to do ensure the state doesn’t take legal positions that hurt people with disabilities as a consequence.” 

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 candidate forums are 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.

This forum was broadcast on the BlueRoomStream.