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Clinton Courts Voters With Disabilities


One group playing a prominent role in this presidential campaign, people with disabilities. Republican Donald Trump made sure of that with a famous gesture. Democrat Hillary Clinton has not missed the opening. Here's NPR's Tamara Keith.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: For Emily Ladau, a speech yesterday from Hillary Clinton about creating economic opportunities for those who are disabled wasn't just any candidate speech. It was a speech targeted directly at her.

EMILY LADAU: This has been my life since the moment I was born. The reality is that I'm sort of a political statement on wheels, whether I want to be or not.

KEITH: Ladau was born with a genetic physical disability and uses a wheelchair. She's a writer and advocate. And leading into the Clinton speech, she says there was quite a buzz in the disability community.

LADAU: This is starting to indicate that we are being taken seriously as a large population, as a group of voters who can legitimately contribute to the outcome of the election.

KEITH: One in 5 Americans has a disability. Add in their loved ones, and advocates argue this is a potentially powerful voting bloc. For much of the campaign, though, most of the focus on people with disabilities has risen out of Donald Trump's mocking of a disabled reporter. It spurred condemnation and a near constant stream of TV ads featuring the Republican nominee crumpling his arms and jerking around on stage at a rally last year.


LAUREN GLAROS: When I saw Donald Trump mock a disabled person, I was just shocked.

DONALD TRUMP: You got to see this guy, (mocking reporter) I don't know what I said. I don't remember.

KEITH: This ad from the Clinton allied super PAC Priorities USA features the parents of a girl born with spina bifida. I asked the president of the group RespectAbility, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, if she thought disability rights would be such a focus of the Clinton campaign if not for Trump.

JENNIFER LASZLO MIZRAHI: When you see a politician come out and engage on your issues and really care about your issues, the reason they're doing it is less important than the fact that they're doing it very deeply.

KEITH: She describes it as unprecedented for a presidential campaign to put this much focus on voters with disabilities. Mizrahi says she's been rebuffed by the Trump campaign.

MIZRAHI: They've absolutely missed communicating with 56 million Americans.

KEITH: In her speech yesterday, Clinton never mentioned Trump mocking the disabled reporter. Instead, there were uplifting anecdotes about people with disabilities she's met over the years.


HILLARY CLINTON: One advocate after another has told me the same thing. We don't want pity.


CLINTON: We want paychecks.


CLINTON: We want the chance to contribute.

KEITH: In the end, the speech was something of a letdown for Emily Ladau. She wished Clinton, who she supports, had spent more time on policy and less time telling inspirational stories.

LADAU: We call it inspiration porn in many disability circles - essentially, using disability to really evoke strong emotions in people.

KEITH: Still, Ladau says Clinton's overarching message of inclusion and acceptance is valuable and powerful, especially coming from a public figure of her stature.

Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.

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