Did you know that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in four people in the US has a disability? That’s a staggering portion, yet we do not see those figures represented in our elected officials. For centuries, people with disabilities have been left out of conversations about how society should work. As a result, we’ve built a society intended for able-bodied, neurotypical individuals — everyone else is just left to figure it out.
We cannot overstate the power of representation. When people with disabilities run for office, they’re able to be the voice of their community. Everyone deserves to have their needs recognized and spoken for. Are you ready to be the change your community needs? If so, consider running for an elected position. Here are tips that will help you take on this challenge.
If you aren’t already, get involved in disability advocacy and other community improvement efforts in your area. This is absolutely vital for several reasons. First, it deepens your knowledge of the issues facing your community. Second, it connects you with other passionate community members, who can be your advocates later on. Finally, a record of involvement and activism shows voters you know what you’re talking about, and willing to put in the work.
Build Your Support Team
Every elected official has a team of supporters surrounding them who helped them get to where they are. Your first step as a hopeful politician is to build this team. Start by turning to your friends, family, and community members. Express your interest in running for office, and ask if they’d support you if you did. Get their input on what they want from their government, and use that as a jumping-off point for your policies and platform.
Next, look toward professional supporters. This can feel pretty overwhelming at the start: It’s easy to get lost in thoughts like, “I need a website designer, and a campaign manager, and a volunteer coordinator, etc.” Remember to take things one step at a time — when you find the right people, your team will come together naturally. Use whatever organizational tools work best for you to sort out overwhelming thoughts and overcome executive dysfunction.
Hone Your Platform
Once you have your team set, you should work on planning your campaign and making your platform as detailed as you can. Start by using the input you’ve gathered from your team to figure out what your community needs out of its elected officials. Next, figure out what the barriers are. For example, if several people have told you that they wish there were more public services for people with disabilities, reach out to current elected officials and ask to speak with them. Ask them about the budget, public interest and awareness, and any other obstacles that may be preventing those services from existing already.
Once you know what the obstacles are, come up with actionable ways to overcome them and work that into your platform. Make sure you include budget considerations, a plan for how to raise awareness, and any studies you can find on the effectiveness of including these kinds of services. This makes your platform stronger and gives it more mass appeal.
People with disabilities need to be represented in office. First-hand experience is incredibly valuable when it comes to advocacy and making change. Many able-bodied, neurotypical politicians are well-meaning, but they simply don’t have the personal knowledge required for a true representative. If you have a passion for improving the lives of the people in your community, take your shot at running for office. You could be the change people need.