Disability community presses candidates for access

Judy Moe, director of the Richfield Disability Advocacy Partnership
Judy Moe, director of the Richfield Disability Advocacy Partnership, pictured at right along with interpreters on Monday, shared with Minnesota candidates the top concerns for the disability community at an event in Richfield.
Dana Ferguson | MPR News

Judy Moe took to a small stage in Veterans Park Monday night to make her appeal to several candidates running for elected office: make your campaigns accessible to Minnesotans with disabilities and address their top concerns.

With about six weeks left until Election Day, Moe, the director of Richfield Disability Advocacy Partnership (RDAP), hoped to highlight for candidates up and down the ballot the value of including Minnesotans with disabilities in their campaigns.

Nearly two dozen people from the local disability community came out to echo the message and to connect with those vying to represent them.

“I don't think that candidates realize that there are votes out there to go and get that are just out there because no party and very few candidates are campaigning to people with disabilities,” Moe said. “And so it's kind of almost this uncharted territory that's for the taking, if they put the effort in.”

In a picnic shelter, community members and candidates snacked on local Mexican fare and ice cream treats and talked about how those running for office could better connect with Minnesotans with disabilities.

Moe’s organization handed out a 33-page guidebook to candidates. And she told several candidates at the event that they should consider three of the most pressing issues for the community: the shortage of affordable accessible housing, workforce shortages that impact caregiver staffing and employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

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“Really, all of these issues boil down to people with disabilities having the right to choose where they live and work, and the staffing and support they need to make that happen,” Moe said.

At a local level, Moe said she’d seen improvements in candidates’ efforts to get to know the disability community and advocate for efforts that mattered most to them.

Richfield Mayor Maria Regan Gonzalez said she’d learned from the partnership during her time in office as a city council member and as mayor. She encouraged other candidates to work with Minnesotans with disabilities as they campaign and once elected.

“There are tons of concrete, tangible improvements made in our community and within our city, because of the work of RDAP leaders,” Regan Gonzalez said. “We need more candidates to embrace this, to connect with our community members and support our community in leading their own solutions.”

Both Attorney General Keith Ellison and his GOP challenger Jim Schultz attended the event, along with several city council and state legislative candidates from around the area. Candidates connected with RDAP leaders and community members who told them what they hoped to see from their policymakers.

Ellison, a first-term DFLer, said his office and campaign had worked to bring in more staffers with disabilities and to make its services accessible to all Minnesotans.

“We've hired folks who have disabilities, and we believe that but we can always do better,” Ellison said. “And we do better because we have a relationship, by showing up when it's not election time and by really recognizing the abilities of people, not just their disabilities.”