Talking Politics With Disabled Community Members

2024 coverage was made possible by Vote Run Lead and Women Winning.

Local advocate Judy Moe, Director of the Richfield Disability Advocacy Project (R-DAP), is focused on mobilizing the disability community’s vote. “If there is no change at state and federal levels, the same issues will continue on indefinitely,” Moe says. “We cannot just work on policy, and we cannot just work with individuals. We need both working in conjunction.”

In late September, Moe co-hosted the non-partisan “Partners in the Disability Vote” forum, in collaboration with RevUp Minnesota and Richfield mayor Maria Regan Gonzalez. Candidates from statewide elections were invited to engage with disability community members and their allies to learn more about issues.

Mayor Gonzalez, who included a platform for disability issues in her past campaigns for city council and mayor, highlighted the concrete improvements in accessibility in Richfield due to R-DAP advocacy. “Our candidates, leaders, representatives, and community members need to step up and own their leadership,” Gonzalez remarked. “R-DAP is a tangible example of the impact that happens when people do that.”

In 2018, Gonzalez supported Moe and local advocates in launching R-DAP, a community group whose leadership consists of people with disabilities. “Our general mission is to create a barrier-free, inclusive, and diverse city, where all people enjoy the power of equal rights, opportunities, dignity and respect,” Moe says. “We work with the county and advocate on behalf of individuals who are not getting the services they qualify for, or they feel that they are not being listened to by professionals.”

Richfield mayor Maria Gonzalez, who was a Minnesota Women’s Press Changemaker in 2018 (photos by Sarah Whiting)

R-DAP’s work has involved facilitating joint efforts with city council members, landlords, and small business owners in Richfield. Overall goals include creating ordinances that support more accessibility, housing options, and community spaces for residents with disabilities. Moe emphasizes that engagement in local, statewide, and national politics is a critical component. 

“Not only is it the right thing to do, but it is a benefit to candidates to include the disability community in their campaigns,” Moe says. “People with disabilities make up the largest minority group in the country. Accessibility is crucial to locking in the disability vote.”

Moe offers strategies for candidates to gain the disability community’s vote, such as ensuring that fundraisers, meet-and-greet events, and online platforms are fully accessible. She urges politicians to conduct outreach and educate themselves on the most pressing issues facing disability community members and their families throughout the state of Minnesota.

“There is a staffing shortage that is beyond crisis level,” Moe says. “Group homes are closing, and people are being moved into nursing homes at a young age. There is a lack of affordable and accessible housing, and there is simply nowhere for people to move. Subsidized housing has waiting lists from 18 months to 2 years. Another issue is employment. People with disabilities need to be able to find jobs of their own choosing in the community. All of these issues boil down to having the right to choose where to live and work, with the staffing and support to make that happen.”

The event concluded with remarks from Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who faces a re-election bid this coming November. Ellison offered an overview of his initiatives to advocate for greater access to voting, housing, and liveable wages for Minnesotans with disabilities. He urged event participants to harness their political power, stating: “Your voice is your vote, and you have the right to participate in your society.” 

Moe added: “Candidates should be responsible for reaching out to all their constituents and meeting us where we are at. It is supposed to be a partnership. And that is what I encourage candidates to [do] — create and maintain a partnership with community members.”

Some of R-DAP Accomplishments

  • Successfully advocated to have the City of Richfield amend their Comprehensive 2040 Plan to include people with disabilities as a demographic
  • Worked with County Commissioner Debbie Goettel to fill in gaps, and access services for people not currently getting their needs met by the county
  • Successfully advocated to have the City of Richfield make their website accessible
  • Successfully advocated for changes in the Richfield High School’s remodel to make things like seating and restrooms more accessible and inclusive
  • Successfully advocated for changes to the Richfield League of Women Voters candidate forums to make it easier for people with disabilities to participate
  • Public works changed their snow removal routes after we met with them to discuss where there are high concentrations of people with disabilities
  • Advocated for the city to use the Vitals™ App to improve interactions between first responders and people with mental illness and other disabilities
  • Successfully advocated to have the city of Richfield make logistical changes, in their city council chambers, to make it more accessible for people with disabilities to address the City Council, Planning Commission and the HRA
  • Advocated for the city to include accessible housing in their future plans on affordable housing
  • Successfully advocated for a curb cut-out, on Nicollet Ave, to give people with mobility issues access to Nicollet Park
  • Provided education and consultation to small businesses, city staff, city council, city departments, the school district, and non-profits
  • Was successful in asking public works to alter their current, and future, landscaping around roundabouts, to make people in wheelchairs more visible to motorists

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