Representation Counts: More People with Disabilities Should Hold Office

By Jillian Day

IIf you're in a room with eight people, U.S. statistics calculate that two of them are likely to have a life-impacting disability.

That's right—about 61 million Americans have a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Yet, even with some high-profile officeholders like Texas Governor Greg Abbott, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, and U.S. President Joe Biden, the disability community is grossly underrepresented in public office.

Running for office

Reach for Resources to Launch your Campaign

Help for prospective disabled candidates is, fortunately, more readily available now than in years past, thanks in large part to the efforts of the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) and other organizations that run "campaign bootcamps." The organization is offering training for those considering a run for office, as well as raising awareness of current disabled officeholders. The awareness is important since some disabilities are less prominent or visible, like a stutter, depression, or even chronic pain and fatigue.

First, hire an experienced campaign manager with political savvy. You are likely going to receive a great deal of attention—wanted and unwanted—and a campaign manager can prepare you mentally for the grueling life of a campaign. NPR notes that you'll also need to get used to asking people formoney; you don't need to be wealthy to run for office, but you do need the financial resources to get your message across and pay your staff.

Group of men at Abilities Expo

Your friends and colleagues are also important resources. Recruit them to volunteer on your campaign, to network with their social circles, and help promote you on social media. You'll have a more coordinated and less volatile social media effort if you hire a professional social media manager, so consider that both a campaign expense as well as investment; expect to spend between $14-$35/per hour, based on experience. A social media professional knows the ins and outs of each platform, such as which audiences are more likely to spend time on each platform, and what content is most effective.
If you don't know how to start finding a social media professional, explore some online job platforms.

Remember that what you communicate matters more than how, so unless you are a proficient and experienced writer, hire a professional political speechwriter to assist you with campaign messaging and speeches. Whether you stand at a podium and speak or use ASL while someone else speaks your words, your discourse needs toexude confidence and convey the right amount of compassion while demonstrating an authoritative grasp of the issues.

Be Visible and Be Heard in Your Community

In a world of ad buys and social media, personal interaction is often stunted. While it's important that you benefit from the broad reach of social media, and the visibility of outdoor and other advertising, you have an opportunity to make a significant impression through public appearances. Appearing at public events demonstrates a confidence that you not only need as an officeholder, but that the voters need to witness and feel so they are inspired to vote for you. You are also more likely to get coveted "earned media," or pickups from local news reporters about your appearances and your message.

group of women at Abilities Expo

Also remember to make sure that your business cards, handouts and other collateral are as accessible as possible. Use plain language, sans serif fonts, high contrast colors and appropriately sized type. The last thing you want is for your message to potential voters to be muddied by inaccessibility.

One note: If you have family, the public will likely want to get to know them, as well. Prepare them well in advance for your about-to-be public life, and what they can expect—both positive and negative. They should also expect to make some public appearances with you.

Your Message Has Universal Impact

Candidates typically have a platform that helps define them, whether it's lowering taxes, expanding Medicare coverage, improving the education system or fighting for family leave. The disability issues that your platform addresses are not necessarily exclusively benefiting the disability community. Policies that promote better access and inclusivity allow everyone shine and advance society as a whole.

Regardless of the outcome, share the story of your political adventures so that others can learn and be empowered to embark on their own.

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