Advice for People with Disabilities Running for Office [Guest Post]

Woman in a wheelchair uses a laptop computer at a desk.

This post comes from Ed Carter. Ed has been living on wheels for most of his life. A retired financial planner, he offers financial guidance for people with disabilities and their families. However, for this post he wanted to share some advice for disabled folks who are planning to run for public office or other leadership roles. Much of this advice is also good for anyone starting a new venture, such as running a business. Check out his website at:

www.ablefutures.org

Here is what he says

Advice for How to Run for Office
for People with Disabilities

When people decide to run for political office, many don’t realize just how much work is involved in the process. Every step of the way involves careful planning, and if you’re not ready to embrace the challenge, you’ll find yourself struggling to keep your head above water.

Several years ago, a friend of mine with a hearing impairment decided to run for her homeowners association board. While this wasn’t a high-profile political office by any stretch of the imagination, it did require her to get involved with the local community and develop her portfolio that explained why she was such a good fit. And due to her hearing impairment, she needed to work that much harder. I helped her out whenever I could, including talking to neighbors and developing her pitch to the board. Although she ultimately decided not to pursue a spot on her HOA board, the experience helped boost her overall self-confidence.

As you can imagine, running a successful election campaign — even if it’s for a spot on the town council or neighborhood association — is a big undertaking, and regardless of your background, you’ll need a strong team of individuals to help you get elected. For people with disabilities, your team can help navigate any access challenges that may arise.

The Essentials

When you’ve decided you want to run for office, there are some key steps you’ll need to take before you announce to the world that you’re a candidate.

Get organized and build your website and social media profiles before you tell the world about your campaign. You’ll want a slick website that clearly states your campaign platform, sponsorship options, and personal history. Although my friend didn’t create a webpage for her homeowners association campaign, she did keep her social media profiles — including taking great photos and posting them on Instagram — to spread the word.

If you don’t have experience building a website or have a disability that may prevent you from doing it yourself, consider hiring a professional website designer who can do it for you. One of the best places to find freelance web designers is through various online job boards, where you can find dozens of designers available for hire.

Assemble your list of potential supporters by reaching out to friends, families, and coworkers, and sort through your stacks of business cards to collect names and email addresses. Announcing your candidacy will be a big day for your campaign, and you want to ensure you have a solid list of potential financial sponsors from the get-go.

Your Dream Team

It’s impossible to win an election without a strong team of people around you, so consider who you may need to help you with the campaign. This, of course, will look different depending on the office you’re running for. The more high-profile office you pursue, the more people you’ll need in your corner to help you build a pathway to success. My friend obviously didn’t need a team of professionals to help her, but she did enlist the help of friends and family along the way, especially when she needed to verbally communicate her ideas to others.

Every major political campaign requires a financial director who can help set fundraising goals and manage the day-to-day costs of the campaign. This person should also be setting up fundraising events and managing multiple platforms for sponsorship, whether it’s through crowdfunding websites or social media fundraising campaigns.

The campaign manager will be the brains of your operation, taking both a big-picture approach to handling the campaign agenda while also handling daily challenges and needs. This person should also work to help you navigate the campaign as a person with a disability, such as ensuring that event venues and campaign documents are accessible for you.

Consider also hiring a media and communications manager who can take care of all press events, media requests, and daily content creation for your campaign. This person should be able to help develop campaign literature and ideally help you write speeches for events. The communications manager will also serve as a spokesperson for the campaign, so ensure they are appropriate for drafting and delivering statements on your behalf.

Know Your Electorate

One key element of a successful campaign is being knowledgeable about your electorate. Before and during your campaign, connect with your community in every possible way, whether it’s through street cleanups or open houses where you can learn about issues that face voters.

As a person with disabilities representing a minority group of voters, you’ll have the unique ability to promote voter registration for others who have disabilities. According to a report from the Pew Research Center, voter registration has been historically difficult for disabled people. Your role as a candidate with a disability can highlight and help dismantle those barriers to voter registration, at the same time gaining supporters within the disabled community.

Research voter history in your area, and be sure to know exactly how many votes you’ll need to win your campaign. This information will help form your campaign plan, hone in on strategies that will help you connect with potential voters, and set goals for pledges of support.

Whether you’re running for a homeowners association board or striving for something bigger, the same rules apply: You need to prepare a campaign, gather a team, and start putting your message out there. Although you may have a disability that limits you in one way or another, you still have just as much chance of reaching your goals as anyone else!

As you begin the process of launching your campaign, be sure you have a strong team of supporters and workers around you to help. Build your online presence with the help of freelance web designers, and be sure you get out into the community and meet voters. Your campaign is bound to help raise the visibility of people with disabilities in your community, which will help you highlight issues and gain support — regardless of the office you’re seeking!

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