A new statewide political action committee, disAbility Votes, has recently formed to provide a centralized political voice for people with disabilities and to endorse political candidates that support the group's pet causes.
“It's to try to give a voice to the issue of disabilities,” says Bob Whytal, one of the committee's founding members and an adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who teaches disability law to educators. He says he hopes to bring key issues to the forefront and “level the playing field.”
Among other co-founders is a former Richmond School Board member, Carol A.O. Wolf, who fought to bring city schools into compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. In part because of Wolf's activism during a six-year career on the School Board, disabilities rights have become increasingly relevant in local politics.
Then there's the recent death of U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., whose support for issues important to the disabled community resulted in landmark legislation, including the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. The disAbility Votes PAC's first official act came last week in the form of a news release marking Kennedy's passing.
Martha Toomey, another PAC co-founder, says that recent political attention has yet to translate into action when it comes to implementing laws on the books, which becomes more important in the current economy with local and state governments trimming back budgets and cutting corners.
“More than 25 percent of Virginians have a disability that's covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Toomey says. “This is the largest voting block in the state.”
It's a community with money to spend too, she says, which means politicians seeking financial support have reason to listen.
“To say that the disabilities community is weak … is just ludicrous,” Toomey says. “Everyone within the disabilities community represents America.”