Political Parties Recognize the Relevance of Disability Issues to November Elections

Aug 18, 2000, 01:00 ET from National Organization on Disability

    WASHINGTON, Aug. 18 /PRNewswire/ -- On the opening night of the Democratic
 Convention, David Robar spoke from his wheelchair about the importance of
 preserving Medicare.  Partially paralyzed by a motorcycle accident a decade
 ago, Mr. Robar knows personally how critical this government program is, and
 he also stressed the significance of legislation that allows one to hold a job
 without risking the loss of health coverage.  "People with disabilities want
 to share the American Dream," he told the convention.
     On Wednesday, 14 year-old Kyle Glozer, who uses both a wheelchair and a
 voice synthesizer, addressed the convention, challenging the Democratic Party
 to reform the system that currently supports an institutional bias toward
 placing people with disabilities in nursing homes and institutions rather than
 serving them in the community.  He called for improving opportunities for
 young people with disabilities who seek to become the leaders of tomorrow.
 The Convention organizers have also given prominent roles to two Congressional
 Sponsors of the National Organization on Disability (N.O.D.): Sen. Max Cleland
 (D-Ga.), who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam, spoke on Wednesday; Sen.
 Tom Harkin (D-IA), lead sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act, will
 be speaking in prime time tonight.
     "Americans with disabilities represent roughly a fifth of this country's
 population.  Political leaders are finally recognizing that including people
 with disabilities makes for a stronger America," said N.O.D. President Alan
 Reich.  "As we struggle to close the gaps in employment, education, and other
 aspects of American life between those with disabilities and our non-disabled
 counterparts, we are taking note of which politicians are making our concerns
 a priority."
     The Democrats are by no means the only party putting the agenda of
 Americans with disabilities in prime time this election year.  Last month, the
 Republican Party made a point during its National Convention in Philadelphia
 of addressing itself to the 54 million citizens with disabilities. Blind
 mountain climber Erik Weihenmayer led the pledge of allegiance.  David Wenzel,
 the former mayor of Scranton, Penn., who lost both his legs in Vietnam,
 saluted Gov. George W. Bush for his disability initiative.  Windy Smith, who
 has Down Syndrome and who wrote to Gov. Bush urging him to run for President,
 also addressed the convention.
     Two former Miss Americas who have disabilities took part in the Republican
 National Convention.  Heather Whitestone McCallum, who in 1995 became the
 first deaf Miss America, introduced former First Lady Barbara Bush.  Miss
 America 1999, Nicole Johnson, who has diabetes, participated as well.
     At an N.O.D. event on Capitol Hill last month, Green Party presidential
 candidate Ralph Nader pledged to make issues important to people with
 disabilities a major theme of his campaign.
     One reason that the political parties and their candidates are speaking
 out on disability issues is in response to N.O.D.'s VOTE! 2000 Campaign, a
 non-partisan effort to increase by 700,000 the number of voters with
 disabilities nationwide in this year's elections.  Historically there has been
 a 20 percentage point gap between the voting level of people with disabilities
 and the rest of the population; in part this is due to many polling places
 being inaccessible to those with disabilities.
     "The Campaign has three elements: conducting a get-out-the-vote drive;
 increasing registration nationwide of people with disabilities; and ensuring
 that the nation's 120,000 polling places are accessible to all voters with
 disabilities," says the Campaign's director, N.O.D. Vice President Jim
 Dickson.  Mr. Dickson, a well-known disability advocate who is himself blind,
 has traveled the country exhorting disability service providers, politicians,
 and citizens to mobilize for the political participation of the nation's
 largest minority.  The campaign has led to numerous statewide and local
     The National Organization on Disability was founded in 1982.  Its mission
 is to promote the full and equal participation and contribution of America's
 54 million men, women and children with disabilities in all aspects of life.
 N.O.D. is funded entirely by private donations and accepts no government
 funding. For more information visit www.nod.org.

SOURCE National Organization on Disability