Election Day Reflections for Disability Advocates


November 8, 2022 | by Amber Smock

Advocacy at Access Living: November 8, 2022

Access Living friends and allies,

Today’s midterm election results will determine the future of our disability advocacy for the next two years, and possibly longer. Local and national media outlets will spend the day today tracking poll issues, forecasting election results, and announcing victories. But in the end, what does this moment really mean for disability community advocates? What should we reflect on today, from a nonpartisan point of view? We’d like to share some of our own thoughts.

Polarized politics will continue to make change more difficult. 
When political parties can work together at least some of the time, it’s often possible to make changes that will benefit people with disabilities, and more broadly, marginalized groups. When political parties have a very difficult time cooperating, that makes achieving ANY changes harder. Disability advocates will need to work harder on building relationships and encouraging politicians with strong views to work together.

Congressional control matters. 
Currently, the U.S. Congress is controlled by Democrats. This makes it a little easier for the President, a Democrat, to achieve some of his federal policy goals. That could change if today’s election results in the Republicans winning the House or Senate majorities, which could result in many Congressional bills or initiatives getting stalled if the parties don’t work together. Disability advocates should carefully track who will be in charge of Congress starting in January 2023.

Put racial justice at the front of the disability agenda. 
White supremacy in a variety of midterm election campaigns is a critical threat to all of us, especially disabled people of color. At Access Living, we are so thankful for the leadership of our Black and brown staff and community members who help show the way forward. Let’s step up to the challenge of addressing the priorities of disabled people of color, and actively working on antiracist efforts that interrupt white privilege, eradicate white supremacy, and meet the needs of communities of color. Ask disabled people of color what they need—then take action! 

State and local policymaking will become more important.
In periods where Congressional politics may result in gridlock, the focus of change can often change to the leadership of individual states, counties and municipalities. Success at the local or state level can help build support for federal advocacy initiatives, because you can show that the change you want can be done. Consider what areas of your disability advocacy could use more focus in the next two years.

Public messaging will become more important. 
Over the last ten years, we have seen many disability media leaders emerge. They have helped million of people learn more about the disability experience and what we need. How disability is talked about in the media can have a critical impact for advocacy work. Consider how to grow public messaging or education on your issue.

Bring forward disability advocacy lessons from the past. 
Many of you will recall the struggle to save critical Medicaid services in 2017/2018. That was a huge national scale fight involving millions of lives. What were some of the important things we learned about being effective? We know that disability community coordination and allyship is essential to major fights. We know that accessibility of collaborative meetings, online info, and events is key. We know that putting disability voices at the center, especially disabled people of color, can be incredibly powerful. And, we know that our community has many tools, ranging from research to support services to direct action. Consider, what other lessons from the past might we need in the near future?

Last but not least, we’re still in a pandemic! 
We are living through one of the biggest global health crises in modern history, and it’s not over yet. Millions of people’s lives were transformed during Covid, and we are all still adjusting to a changed landscape. Working both in person and remotely are now options for engaging with policymakers, and the needs of those with long Covid could have critical advocacy impact in the next two years. Reflect: what has changed, and where are opportunities to work together in our society, which both has changed and not changed in important ways?

Now is the moment to reflect on what’s next. We challenge you to consider these questions throughout this week as the midterm election plays out. Thank you for your advocacy!