A Review of the Democratic Candidates Disability Plans

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From left, Democratic presidential candidates businessman Tom Steyer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., stand on stage, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, before a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN.  Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo

From left, Democratic presidential candidates businessman Tom Steyer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., stand on stage, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, before a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN. Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo

As of a few weeks ago, the six frontrunners for the Democratic nomination for president have all released their plans for disability policies if they were elected. Some of these plans have been huge hits with the disabled community, while others have left people angry or afraid of what life would look like. A good disability plan needs to actually listen to the community and incorporate things disabled people want, like marriage not affecting their SSI or more accessible schools. Most disability plans released fell short of these goals, some by a very large margin. 


Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., visits with attendees after speaking at a campaign event, Friday, Jan. 10, 2020, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Photo by Patrick Semansky/AP Photo

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., visits with attendees after speaking at a campaign event, Friday, Jan. 10, 2020, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Photo by Patrick Semansky/AP Photo

The biggest losers, by far, seem to be Andrew Yang and Amy Klobuchar. Both produced plans that do not seem to have involved any consultation with the disability community; the executive director of the Autism Self Advocacy Network, Julia Bascom, even said of Klobuchar’s, “I’m not sure who the campaign consulted with on this plan, but it sure as hell wasn’t self-advocates.”  

In his plan, Yang fails to address in his plan how UBI would impact current disability benefits. As disabled activist Sara Luterman writes for Vox, “While Yang does outline some social programs that will ‘stack’—like Social Security retirement benefits—it is an incomplete list.”  

Klobuchar’s plan is less vague but is more full of problems. In it, she endorses a program that would allow tracking devices on people who are disabled, something that the disabled community has been strongly against. 

In the middle, there are plans from Sanders, Biden and Buttigieg. Sanders’ full plan is apparently not released yet, but the bones of it seem much better than Yang and Klobuchar’s efforts. Biden’s plan is out, and while it’s not incredibly impressive, mostly just linking to other plans, it does talk about better funding for education and teaching people like first responders how to better interact with disabled populations. It’s bland, and not particularly impressive, but to me it seems less harmful than Yang or Klobuchar’s plans.  

Pete Buttigieg’s plan is also very mediocre. It doesn’t include anything about marriage for disabled people, which is currently very inaccessible due to income caps for most welfare programs. It also says that he will create a “Direct Care Workforce Standards Board,” which on paper sounds helpful. The problem is that this board would apparently be solely caregivers, and if disabled people are not included, there could be serious issues of policies being enacted that help caregivers but hurt disabled people. 

Finally, there is Elizabeth Warren’s plan. Warren’s plan is one of the most recent, coming out in very early January. It’s also without question the longest, coming in at over 7,000 words. While it’s not a perfect plan, as such a thing probably doesn’t exist, it was met with a large amount of enthusiasm from advocates. Her plan includes eliminating the marriage penalties for SSI, and discusses intersectional aspects, like race and LGBTQ+ members of the disabled community. 


Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks during a campaign event, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, in Grimes, Iowa.  Photo by Patrick Semansky/AP Photo

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks during a campaign event, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, in Grimes, Iowa. Photo by Patrick Semansky/AP Photo

Perhaps most importantly, it’s clear from the plan and from advocates on twitter that these were policies written with a ton of input from disabled people. Listening to people who your plan is going to help is the best way to have a plan that will actually help, and this plan seems to do that. Warren also held a #cripthevote Twitter town hall shortly after her plan was revealed, which is important because many disabled people do not have the resources to attend a town hall or a meeting with a candidate, and even if they have the resources, such things are often not adequately accessible. By doing this online in a free, public forum, many more disabled people were able to ask questions about the plan and issues they thought were important.  

Perhaps the most important thing that Warren has said about disability comes from that town hall. In response to a question about what policy plans Warren had that were related to people with disabilities, the senator responded, “All policy issues are disability policy issues, which is why I’ve approached many of my previous plans with a disability rights lens, from criminal justice reform, to ensuring a high-quality public education for all, to strengthening our democracy.” This idea, that disability policy needs to be a part of all other policy, is something that disabled advocates have fought for in the past, and to hear a presidential candidate saying it is nothing short of fantastic.  


Ashton Stansel is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at ashton.stansel@uconn.edu.

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