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RUNNING OFFICE WITH A DISABILITY: A PRIMER


Campaign Training for People with Disabilities

People with disabilities have developed strong advocacy skills through many years of advocating for their own rights. Translating that advocacy to the campaign trail, however, can be challenging. Many people find it helpful to take actions like volunteering or enhancing their education.

 To help people with disabilities prepare for a successful political campaign, the National Council on Independent Living has developed the Elevate: Campaign Training for People with Disabilities program. This training uses the expertise of political consultants to teach people with disabilities how to use their voices effectively on the campaign trail.

 The training program covers core campaign skills like communications and fundraising as well as how people with disabilities can use their story to create a strong campaign message. The NCIL training is available for free as online webinars.

Assembling a Campaign Team

After learning the basics of running for office, the next step is assembling a campaign team that can help a candidate win. A traditional campaign team includes people like:

  • Campaign manager: The campaign manager is a key hire for any office run. The campaign manager oversees the staff, budget, and schedule of a political campaign.
  • Finance director: The finance director leads a campaign’s fundraising efforts by soliciting donations, organizing events, and managing revenue.
  • Communications advisor: The communications advisor is one of the most important roles on a campaign team. This person crafts a campaign’s message, develops campaign materials and polls, and responds to the press.
  • Policy director: Large campaigns often include a policy director to hammer out policy details and endorsements. However, smaller political campaigns often operate without a dedicated policy director.
  • Field director: While local campaigns may skip policy staff, even small political campaigns need a field director. Field directors take charge of outreach and canvassing, and they’re a key source of momentum for grassroots campaigns.

 In addition to these hires, candidates with disabilities should include a personal assistant on their campaign team. Often referred to as a body person, a personal assistant can help with personal logistics like booking accessible accommodations and coordinating transportation. To hire an assistant, candidates should consider whether they need someone on-site or if a virtual assistant will suffice. You can find many qualified personal assistant candidates on freelance job platforms.

Preparing to Run: Research and Messaging

Next up is the information-gathering stage. Political candidates should perform research on their constituents, their opponents, and themselves.

Public opinion research, also known as polling, gives candidates information about where constituents stand on the issues. Polling informs both a candidate’s policy priorities and their campaign messaging.

Opposition research lets candidates effectively distinguish themselves from opponents on either side of the party line. Meanwhile, self-research involves vetting the candidate to prepare for any potentially damaging information that may come out during a campaign.

As part of self-research, candidates with disabilities should consider how they’ll respond to questions about their disability. It remains unfortunately common for people to associate disability with inability, and countering stereotypes and building disability awareness requires strong messaging from a candidate’s campaign.

With these pieces in place, you’re ready to announce your candidacy. Whether running for local, state, or federal office, campaigning for an elected position is an exciting opportunity for people with disabilities. By bringing your voice to a larger stage, you can become an advocate not just for yourself, but for the one in four Americans who live with a disability