Shopping for the Best Presidential Candidate? Here’s a List to Help.

Photo of the White House

It can be hard for any voter to figure out which presidential candidate to support. For disabled voters, it can be bewildering and downright painful.

You find a good candidate — someone you’re really excited to vote for, who promotes policies you care about and represents your deepest values and political philosophy. Then they say something cringeworthy about disability or put forward a thoughtless position on a disability issue. Was it a momentary gaffe, a fixable problem, or a deeper sign of the candidate’s ableism?

Or maybe you’re ambivalent about politics, with no strong preference for any party or candidate. But it feels shallow to base your vote solely on a few disability issues, or your sense of identity as a disabled person.

Deciding who to vote for in a high-stakes election is a little like grocery shopping. And with so many candidates to choose from at current count, this time around it feels a lot like we’re wandering the aisles of a superstore.

Having so many choices is exciting at first, but soon becomes exhausting and dispiriting. The shelves are crammed with brightly labeled products, but there are few reliable clues to what’s inside them. And to top it off, the store seems to be accessible when you first go in, but the aisles are cluttered, the lighting is bad, and the accessible restroom is out of order.

Here’s some advice to navigate the situation: What they say about shopping is also true in politics: don’t shop hungry without a list!

In elections, as in shopping, relying on inspiration and instinct alone is both unreliable and expensive. With that in mind, here is a shopping list that disabled voters can use to shop with purpose in the 2020 Election. Check off as many items as you can!

Aisle 1: Information on Candidate Websites

  • Easy-to-find sections devoted to specific disability issues.
  • Mentions of disability in other policy sections, (i.e., Health Care, Education, Civil Rights, and Criminal Justice).
  • Sections designated specifically to disabled supporters and volunteers.

Aisle 2: Candidate Histories

  • Past votes and decisions that support the disability community, (i.e., state budgets or bills in Congress).
  • Thoughtful public statements about disability and/or disabled people.
  • Positive reports from disabled voters who have met the candidate in person.

Aisle 3: Personnel

  • Disabled people in both paid staff and volunteer campaign positions.
  • Effective recruitment and management of volunteers with disabilities.
  • Commitment to appoint disabled people to key administration posts if elected.

Aisle 4: Accessibility and Representation

  • Campaign events are accessible and respectful to disabled people in the audience.
  • High-quality captions provided for all spoken content.
  • The campaign website is accessible by Section 508 standards.
  • Multiply-marginalized disabled people are asked to speak at panels and events. (i.e., disabled LGBTQ+, people of color).

Aisle 5: Disability Rhetoric

  • The candidate’s choice of disability terminology, (i.e., disability, challenged, special needs).
  • More talk about empowerment, less “inspiration porn.”
  • More talking to disabled people directly, as “You,” less often than as “They.”
  • The candidate addresses all disabled voters, not just a specific group, (i.e., disabled veterans, kids with disabilities, “special needs parents.”)

Freezer Aisle: Overall Tone & Vibe

  • The candidate’s interest in disabled voters seem sincere rather than pandering.
  • The candidate provides a sense of security and reassurance that they support the disability community.

Finally, before going through the check-out lane, (a.k.a. “voting”), ask yourself a few critical questions:

  • Am I making excuses for serious disability-related problems because I otherwise love this candidate?
  • Am I a lot less forgiving of disability-related problems than I otherwise would be because I happen to hate this candidate?
  • Am I overlooking other ugly prejudices because a candidate is otherwise “good” on the disability issues I care about most?
  • Am I assuming that a candidate is probably good on disability issues because they are from the same political party or ideology as me?

Now you’re ready to check out. Good luck on your shopping trip! And if you find any bargains, could you please let me know?


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Andrew Pulrang is a disability blogger, co-coordinator of #CripTheVote, and worked in Independent Living for 22 years.