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Political Activism Growing Among Disabled

Despite political involvement suffering a decades-long decline, researchers at the University of Arkansas and Rutgers University identified one social group in which activism has been growing. A nationwide telephone survey conducted by the two universities revealed that disabled Americans under the age of 55 have become increasingly active in political matters.

Selecting random households throughout the United States, the researchers polled 1,132 citizens with disabilities and 1,112 citizens without disabilities. Participants answered questions about their voting habits, political involvement, employment, religion, the nature of their disability, if any, and general demographics. The survey also documented group activities, civic skills, access to transportation and overall life satisfaction.

In addition to showing increased political activism among young disabled Americans, the survey allowed researchers to draw correlations between specific social activities and political involvement. Reviewing the data, UA political scientists Todd Shields and Kay Schriner found that greater levels of social integration and participation led to increased political awareness and activism among disabled individuals.

However, only one type of activity was linked to activism on behalf of disability issues. Membership and attendance at disability support groups proved to be the only predictor of disability activism — even when those groups were not politically focused. The finding indicates that the disabled community should not depend on politicians or partisan groups to raise awareness. Rather, they should use the organizations and associations already in place to rouse political consciousness within their own community.

“This study shows that the disabled community not only has a responsibility to create a more politically active and aware group of people, but it has the perfect opportunity,” Schriner said. From transportation issues to educational policy and even scientific frontiers such as stem cell research — disabled people have vested interests in the outcome of those debates, she said. “Now is the perfect time for them to get involved — influencing the issues that will most impact their quality of life.”

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