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What the candidates offer to Americans with disabilities, a growing voting bloc

November 2, 2016 at 6:35 PM EST
Unlike in past presidential contests, disability is something both campaigns have addressed this cycle, if sometimes inadvertently. More than 35 million Americans with disabilities will be eligible to vote, making up almost one-sixth of the electorate. Judy Woodruff gets views from both Clinton and Trump supporters on how they’re voting.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And we turn now to an often overlooked political issue, the well-being of those with disabilities.

A bipartisan poll out today showed that 51 percent of the American people either have a disability themselves or have a family member or a close friend with one.

Politics wasn’t much of a discussion at the Breaux household in Fairfax, Virginia, until:

SARA BREAUX, Fairfax, Virginia Resident: I was upstairs, and he was in the basement with a very trusted therapist, and I hear him screaming. I came down and I was like, what? And I look, and Trump is on the television, and he has this guttural scream. And I grabbed the boards and I said, what is going on? And that’s when he said, seeing this actually gives — makes my stomach hurt.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He is Sara’s son, Ben Breaux, a 16-year-old with nonverbal autism. Ben can’t speak out loud, so he communicates by spelling out his thoughts, letter by letter.

After seeing a lot of Donald Trump on TV, many of those thoughts are now about the presidential election.

SARA BREAUX: I saw T-R-U…

JUDY WOODRUFF: A minute later:

SARA BREAUX: I saw Trump on TV, and it really U-P-S-E-T — and it really me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What was it that he said, or that he did? What was it?

SARA BREAUX: H-E — he — S-A-I-D — he said — he said things that were disrespectful to so M-A-N-Y — to so many. He said things that were so mean and disrespectful to so many.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ben is too young to cast a vote this year, but he’s part of a growing demographic. More than 35 million Americans with disabilities will be eligible to vote, accounting for almost one-sixth of the electorate.

All told, almost 63 million voters either have a disability or live with someone who does. That’s a quarter of all eligible voters. And those figures are only projected to grow as the population ages.

JENNIFER LASZLO MIZRAHI, RespectAbility: In the past, a third of people with disabilities have been Democrats, and a third have been Republicans, and a third have been independents. So, we’re the ultimate swing voter group.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi runs RespectAbility, a nonprofit that promotes disability rights and employment. She says voters with disabilities aren’t a monolithic group, but there is common ground on one issue: inclusion.

JENNIFER LASZLO MIZRAHI: People with disabilities don’t want anyone to look down at us. We want, really, these opportunities to be included fully. And we want to be included in school, we want to be included in our faith community, we want to be included in everything, including in political campaigns.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Unlike in past presidential contests, disability is something both campaigns have addressed this cycle, even if inadvertently. Last fall, Trump drew outrage from the disability community and beyond when he mocked a news reporter with a congenital condition.

DONALD TRUMP (R), Presidential Nominee: You got to see the guy. Oh, I don’t know what I said. Oh, I don’t remember.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Hillary Clinton’s campaign quickly seized on the moment, with national TV ads like this one.

WOMAN: Donald Trump doesn’t see people like me. He just sees disability. I honestly feel bad for someone with so much hate in his heart.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Clinton had already addressed people with disabilities in her campaign platform, calling for more job opportunities and tax credits for their caregivers.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), Presidential Nominee: We have got to build an inclusive economy that welcomes people with disabilities, values their work, treats them with respect.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Trump doesn’t address disability issues in detail on his Web site. He discusses the issue mostly through the lens of military veterans and PTSD.

DONALD TRUMP: A shocking 20 veterans are committing suicide each and every day, especially our older veterans. This is a national tragedy that’s not talked about.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

DONALD TRUMP: That is why we must increase the number of mental health care professionals inside the VA, while ensuring that veterans can access private mental health care as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Laszlo Mizrahi says the Clinton camp is aware of the contrast.

JENNIFER LASZLO MIZRAHI: It’s very clear that the campaign understands that, when it comes to the sort of product differentiation between herself and Mr. Trump, that this is an issue that plays in her favor.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Maybe so, but the lack of a full platform on disabilities has not deterred conservatives like Melissa Ortiz, who took part in early voting in Washington, D.C.

She has spina bifida, and she uses a service dog, Annie Oakley, to alert her when a seizure is coming on. Ortiz is an activist who was all in for Texas Senator Ted Cruz in the primary, but now she backs Trump.

MELISSA ORTIZ, Washington, D.C. Resident: It wasn’t an easy decision to come to, but I’m going to do it, because it’s — I believe in his vision for our country, more than I believe in her vision for our country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Especially when it comes to disability policy.

MELISSA ORTIZ: I do think she will create more dependency under the guise of creating independence, because, again, her idea is, it takes a village to raise a child and the government needs to do for you. And, thank you, I can do very well for myself. And most other people that I know with disabilities believe that they can do well for themselves, too. They need — they need a little help. They don’t need to be taken care of.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ortiz says her vote for Trump put policy above personality.

MELISSA ORTIZ: Do I like the way that he talks about women? No. Do I like some of the things that he’s said about people with disabilities? Absolutely not. I don’t vote with my lady parts, and I don’t vote with my wheelchair. I vote with this and I vote with this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, back at the Breaux household, mom Sara says she agrees with her son.

When it comes to issues affecting individuals with disabilities, do you have a clear sense of which candidate is better on those issues?

SARA BREAUX: I think Hillary Clinton is. And the biggest concern for all of us is not just today, which is a concern, but the future. What kind of programs are there for when we’re not the support system? And that is something that she has addressed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Candidates aside, after 18 straight months of campaigning, Ben adds what many of us have been thinking.

SARA BREAUX: Y-E-A-R — year with — W-I-T-H — I-S — year is too long to have to deal with this.

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