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How the #CripTheVote Movement Is Advocating for Disability Policy

People voting by mail.

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Key Takeaways

  • #CripTheVote, a movement by the disabled community, is bringing conversations about disability issues to the forefront of political discourse.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four people has a disability in the United States.
  • Medicare for All, protecting the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) advancements are some policy changes that the disability community is hoping to continue working toward.

Last week, President-elect Joe Biden took the stage in Delaware to address the nation. Millions of people were watching including Sarah Colero, a disabled activist. When Biden mentioned people with disabilities in his call to action, Colero burst into tears. “Disability is never mentioned. So when I heard disability, I started crying. I felt seen. I felt validated,” Colero tells Verywell. For some disabled people, it was the first time they had heard a president-elect include disability, especially in a victory speech. Colero and others shared that excitement on Twitter using #CripTheVote. 

Colero’s tweet read: “He said disability. He said the word. He included us in his call for a better future… #CripTheVote.”

#CripTheVote is a nonpartisan campaign that engages politicians and voters on disability issues in the United States. It was coined by Alice Wong, a disabled activist, media maker, and founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project. The campaign chose this name in part because "selective use of 'crip' or 'crippled' by people with disabilities is a conscious act of empowerment through 'reclaiming' a former slur as a badge of pride," according to the #CripTheVote website.

“We had the idea for the campaign, centering Disability justice as a means of reshaping those politics,” Gregg Beratan, #CripTheVote co-organizer and disabled activist tells Verywell. 

Medicare for all, protecting the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) advancements are just a few policy issues disabled activists expressed hope for. But the reality is, activists are bringing to light how disability policies intersect with just about every issue in the U.S., everywhere from environmental factors to affordable housing.

What Is #CripTheVote? 

Since CripTheVote’s inception in 2016, it has become much more than just a social media hashtag. It’s a movement providing space for all people to engage in productive conversations about disability. Over the past few years, CripTheVote has encouraged many in the disability community to advocate for themselves in political discourse. “It's a gathering space for the disabled community who are interested in policies,” Charis Hill, disabled writer, speaker, and activist tells Verywell. 

It has also allowed the disability community to support each other. “The Disability community is the first thing that ever made me feel truly a part of the world," Beratan says. "Being an activist is ensuring others can experience the same acceptance and connection that meant so much to me."

As per the Disability Visibility Project website, #CripTheVote aims to:

  • Continue to be an intersectional movement by and for the entire disability community
  • Demand accountability from elected and public officials 
  • Engage with disability issues at the local, state, national, and international levels 
  • Provide a space for conversation
  • Support and amplify organizers 
  • Partner with disabled people and organizations 
  • Explore and promote promising ideas for better disability policies and practices 
  • Oppose any policy or practice that harms disabled people 

People continue to engage with #CripTheVote at all hours of the day, according to Beratan. “We may have reached new heights this year," Beratan says. "The community has been going constantly on the hashtag for nearly five years now.”

What This Means For You

To learn more about #CripTheVote and engage in conversations about disability issues, visit the Disability Visibility Project's website

Self Advocating Through #CripTheVote

After watching the primary debates in 2015, it became clear to Beratan, Wong, and Andrew Pulrang, another co-organizer of the movement, that politicians and even the moderators were not seeing the disability community. “When they spoke about policies that had the potential to affect our community such as health care or social security, we were not even an afterthought,” Beratan says. 

This experience catalyzed Beratan to actively engage on Twitter, where #CripTheVote gained social traction. The movement continues to be powered by the disability community. 

“It has become this central hashtag that the disabled community can come to and know that there will always be discussions about things that impact people politically,” Hill says. 

How Can You Engage With #CripTheVote?

The official CripTheVote website suggests using the hashtag when tweeting about elections, voting, and issues related to disability. You don’t need a Twitter account to engage. By clicking this link, you can see all the tweets in real-time that use #CripTheVote. 

Because government policies heavily impact disabled people’s lives, CripTheVote became a way for people to become politically engaged and advocate for themselves. 

Similarly, for Colero, #CripTheVote allowed them to self-advocate. “We don’t really have many allies. And because of that, we have to put self-advocacy at the forefront,” Colero says. 

Seeking Policy Reform

The policy reforms being advocated for by some disabled activists are expansive, ranging everywhere from health care costs to housing opportunities. Many stress the ways disability issues permeate every policy.

Charis Hill, disabled writer, speaker, and activist

Every single policy is a disability policy.

— Charis Hill, disabled writer, speaker, and activist

Medical Care

While the cost of medical care varies from person to person, health care in the U.S. is not cheap. “We have medical costs. We have medicine. We have doctor’s appointments which can cost a lot," Colero says. "In the U.S., it’s unaffordable." For Colero, they want to see Medicare for All implemented. 

With the ACA under threat, proposals to repeal or cut the ACA would negatively impact the Medicare program, a program that currently provides coverage for over 9.1 million people with disabilities. Restrictions on the ACA could include reductions in Medicare payments, cutting access to treatment, medications, and coverage for preexisting conditions. 

Currently, Medicare provides coverage to younger people with disabilities in two parts. Part A premium covers the cost of inpatient hospital care and home health care and part B covers medically necessary and preventative services. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 61 million Americans—that’s one in four US adults—have a disability.

“Why are the poorest people expected to pay the highest prices to get care that should quite frankly, be free?” Colero says. “It’s a human right.” 

Throughout Colero’s life, they have lived with brain injuries, including an arachnoid cyst that put them in the surgery since infancy. Colero has struggled with chronic pain throughout their life. When Colero accessed medical cannabis, it was a game-changer. “I was bedridden before I moved out on my own. Medical cannabis saved my life," Colero says. "I was able to finish high school and apply to college."

Colero hopes medical cannabis will be accessible to all—especially to individuals living with chronic pain with limited access to opioids.

Minimum Wage and Housing

For Hill, they hope that the SSI and SSDI programs will be raised to a livable wage. The average monthly benefit is $1,259, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. When balancing rent, living expenses, and medical costs, many people in the disability community are forced to live way below their means. 

“The minimum wage discussions have always left out the disability community. We live way under poverty,” Hill says. “If you broke it down, my SSDI breaks down to $6 an hour.” According to Hill, there are people who may be receiving half of this amount.

The U.S. spends less on disability benefits than most advanced countries. “The United States was colonized on a foundation of ableism and here we are, still one of the least represented and most marginalized and oppressed groups,” Hill says. 

Hill, who is also a homeowner, wants to see increased access to homeownership and autonomy to choose to live in a home rather than a nursing or group home. While housing organizations like Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit that helps families build and improve homes, exist, people have to reach a certain income limit to be eligible for a house. “You have to be at a certain income. Most people on disability don’t reach that,” Hill says. Housing policy reform could potentially give some disabled people the choice to live at home and transform access for millions.

Environmental Policies and Beyond

Hill also hopes to see the disability community included in environmental policies. Hill, who is a resident of California, states that the wildfires and poor infrastructure have posed an existential threat to disabled people’s lives. “[During] fire disasters, like in California, our biggest utility company is shutting off power and putting disabled people’s lives at risk,” Hill says. 

People with disabilities are largely impacted by natural disasters and/or climate-related events due to poor building infrastructure, environmental policies, and evacuation procedures. 

Still, by no means are the policies above an exhaustive list. Marriage equality, access to reproductive health care, and parenting are also policies Hill hopes are reformed to include disabled people. "Every single policy is a disability policy," Hill says.

What Does the Way Forward Look Like? 

According to Beratan, community priorities will only be met with pressure. “Pressure from the #CripTheVote community or a group like ADAPT will be needed," Beratan says. "I believe that is the only way the Disability Community has ever gotten anything."

“Biden was the last candidate to release a disability policy, and he only did so after being hounded by the Disability Community,” Beratan continues to explain. “President-elect Biden has shown little sign that he intends to prioritize our community.” 

Although Biden mentioned the disability community in his speech, the work is far from over. “As we get into the Biden presidency, people begin getting comfortable again," Hill says. "He’s not the best person for office, but he’s better than what we have now. So we just have to keep pushing."

According to Biden’s plan "for full participation and equality for people with disabilities," the Biden administration intends to appoint a director of disability policy to ensure disability issues "receive the attention they deserve at the highest levels of government."

Despite these intentions, the voices and needs of the disability community need to be represented and heard on all levels of government including the local, state, and federal levels. “We really need to be at the table helping make those decisions,” Hill says. 

To do this, activists hope to help restructure forms of traditional campaigning—as traditional campaigning often serves as a barrier for disabled people. “It’s hard to campaign the traditional way of door-knocking if you’re in a wheelchair. And so there are a lot of structural changes that need to be made in order to break down those barriers,” Hill says. 

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Article Sources
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  1. #CripTheVote. Why we use "#CripTheVote." Updated March 27, 2018.

  2. Disability Visibility Project. Looking ahead the: future of #CripTheVote. Updated November 17, 2016.

  3. Kaiser Family Foundation. Medicare’s role for people under age 65 with disabilities. Updated August 12, 2016.

  4. Medicare.gov. Your Medicare coverage choices.

  5. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC: 1 in 4 US adults live with a disability. Updated August 16, 2018. 

  6. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Policy basics: social security disability insurance. Updated July 29, 2020.

  7. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Chart book: social security disability insurance. Updated September 6, 2019.

  8. Biden Harris. The Biden plan for full participation and equality for people with disabilities.