Tool 8: Empowering Political Engagement

For too long, people with disabilities have been excluded from civic life or ignored when it comes to their perspectives on the most pressing issues facing our nation. Engaging in the civic process—by attending political events, learning about the issue, voting and mobilizing others to vote—is a great way for people of all abilities to be seen and heard. This tool offers resources that providers and others can use to promote the civic engagement of constituents with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Given the salience of the 2020 presidential elections, these resources are geared toward engaging in presidential elections, but most can be adapted for other elections at the federal, state and local levels.

In This Section

  • Tips for finding political events
  • Tips for supporting people to participate in town hall events
  • Downloadable collateral for town hall events
  • Related resources

Attending events to ask questions of the candidates, share your story and meet like-minded voters is a great way to engage in your community. But before you can begin preparing to participate in this kind of event, you have to know where to go!

Depending on where you live, candidates may be in your area all the time, or hardly at all. Candidates will likely be spending time in your area in the days and weeks leading up to your state’s primary election, and this is especially true if you live in one of the “early primary” states: Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina. If you’re unsure of when your state’s primary will take place, you can consult this handy guide from the New York Times.

Even if you live in a state or region where the candidates aren’t spending a lot of time campaigning, there are still opportunities to participate in events! Campaigns will host several events and volunteer opportunities even if the candidate won’t make an appearance, and you can typically find out about these events by visiting the website of your favorite candidate(s). Furthermore, don’t forget that there will be several “down ballot” elections in 2020—elections for everything from the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to governors and state legislatures and even local elected offices. Candidates in these races often host meet-and-greet events, and with less attention on these races than the presidential election, it’s often possible to event spend time one-on-one talking with the candidates about the issues you care about.

No matter what kind of event you want to participate in or what kind of campaign you want to engage, here are a few places to look for events.

    • The websites of candidates running for office.
    • State and local public media outlets, such as your statewide public radio station or your local NPR affiliate.
    • The websites of your state or county political parties, such as the county Republican Party, the state Democratic Party, etc.
    • The Facebook pages of local political affinity groups, such as the local chapters of Young Democrats or Young Republicans.
    • The websites or Facebook pages of advocacy groups or coalitions, such as a local Indivisible group.
    • Bulletins from your church or other faith group.
    • Community listservs or other online forums that connect people in your town or neighborhood.

Once you’ve found an event to attend, it’s time to prepare! The next section of this tool will help you get started.

Public policy can have a significant impact on the supports and services that enable individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) to live lives of their choosing. As a result, it’s absolutely essential that individuals with I/DD are engaged in the political and civic processes that decide who gets to decide what these policies are and how they’re implemented.

From going to the ballot box to asking questions at town hall meetings, there is no shortage of ways you can support individuals with I/DD to exercise their political rights and civic duties. This tip sheet offers practical advice for how you can support individuals to participate in town hall events, along with some additional ideas for ensuring the voices of people of all abilities are heard by our current and future elected officials.

If you get the chance to ask a question of a candidate at an event, take it! If you’re not sure what you want to ask, these sample questions offer several ideas to inspire your thinking. Similarly, you may find yourself with the opportunity to talk one-on-one with a candidate, which is a great opportunity to share with them the issues that are top of mind for you. If you’re unsure of what issues to raise or how to describe them, this talking points document offers a few ideas for where to start.

Having signage at political events can be a great way to spread our message. Not only can it help attract the attention of the politicians so they can realize this is an issue people care deeply about, but it can augment the message if members of the press see it and if any of the signs get captured on camera. It can also help get the attention of reporters and a strong showing can help get them writing about our cause. We have designed five posters in three common poster sizes for you to use at campaign rallies and political events. You can get these printed at a nearby Staples, FedEx, or local print shop.

To print, save the files to a USB thumb drive or your email and ask the printer of your choice if they can print either of the following sizes: 11×17 (preferred), 14×22, or 18×24. Mention that this will be a “rally sign,” as many printers know what this means. If they are unfamiliar, let them know you want the signs to be full-color, double-sided and that you want it on 120-pound cover stock in an uncoated or matte finish. Don’t worry if these things don’t mean much to you; the person working at the printer will understand.

Feel free to mix and match the designs of your choosing!

Need Assistance Using This Tool?

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