Disability Positions of the 2016 Presidential Candidates

Many voters have found it difficult to choose a candidate for the 2016 presidential election. For voters who have a child with a complex medical condition or disability, it can be even more challenging.


It is critically important when you select a candidate to know where that candidate stands on issues related to medical complexity and disability that may directly affect your child and your family. Don’t make the mistake of supporting a candidate whose policies could have a profoundly negative impact on your child.

In this article, we will look at five categories or issues and the candidate positions for each one:

  • Disability Rights
  • Medicaid, Insurance, and the Healthcare System
  • Special Education
  • Community Living (including Medicaid Waivers)
  • Specific Condition Plans (such as Autism)

In order to be comprehensive, we are expanding from previous election articles to include the top four candidates, listed alphabetically: Hillary Clinton (Democrat), Gary Johnson (Libertarian), Jill Stein (Green), and Donald Trump (Republican).

Typically, we use candidate websites as well as responses to disability surveys completed by each candidate as our source material. This allows candidates to speak for themselves about the issues. However, several of the candidates have failed to complete this year’s surveys; therefore, we will rely solely on candidate websites for fairness. Website analysis included viewing written content, video content, and keyword searches.

For the remainder of this article, candidate names will be listed in alphabetical order.

Issue 1: Disability Rights

The easiest way to determine where a candidate stands on disability issues is to see if he or she discusses disability rights or other disability issues on the candidate website. While this does not guarantee a candidate’s position—because websites may not address all issues—it does show the level of commitment a candidate has toward people with disabilities.

So, the first question we asked was the following: Does the candidate have a section of the website on Disability Rights or Disabilities?

  • Clinton: YES
  • Johnson: NO
  • Stein: NO
  • Trump: NO

Then, using Google, we searched for information on each candidate’s website about disability. Google allows you to search specifically on one site using a search term, which in this case was “disability.” Here is what we found on the day we searched:

  • Clinton: 257 Results
  • Johnson: 4 Results
  • Stein: 65 Results
  • Trump: 12 Results

What kind of information did each candidate include about disability?


Clinton includes an entire page on disabilities, with a four-point plan to fulfill the promises of the Americans with Disabilities Act, support people with disabilities to live in integrated community settings, improve access to employment, and provide tax relief to caregivers. She recently gave an entire campaign speech on disability rights. In addition, she discusses her history as a disability rights lawyer with the Children’s Defense Fund. She supports the US joining the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. She also supports the Disability Integration Act, which would allow people with disabilities to live in community settings. Clinton supports funding education for children with disabilities. Under Clinton, tiered systems of wages that pay individuals with disabilities less would not be allowable. Finally, she has a comprehensive autism plan.


Johnson does not address this issue on his website. The 4 “hits” on this topic are “contact us” forms asking his stance on various disability issues, which are no longer publicly available.


Stein opposes a two-tier wage system that allows people with disabilities to be paid less. In her nomination speech, she mentioned disability rights as part of the movement for justice and democracy. She believes people with disabilities should have appropriate support and treatment, housing, health care, and jobs. She speaks frequently about how she has seen an epidemic of learning disabilities linked in part to environmental causes. Most of the “hits” on her website are comments and questions about disability that voters have asked and not statements by the candidate.


Trump only discusses disability in relevance to veterans. He has made comments on how veterans have had difficulty accessing disability payments and services. He would increase funding for veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.

Issue 2: Medicaid, Insurance, and the Healthcare System

Children with complex medical conditions rely heavily on the healthcare system, and many of them access benefits through Medicaid or Medicaid waivers. How would each candidate’s plan affect these children, whether Medicaid or insurance covers them?


Clinton believes affordable healthcare is a basic human right. She would expand the Affordable Care Act to include a public option administered by the federal government as one of the choices of healthcare plans. Her goal is universal health coverage for all Americans. Medicaid would be left intact, and expanded to all low-income Americans if possible. Her plan would reduce copays and deductibles, and also reduce prescription drug costs through bargaining and capping drug costs for those with chronic illnesses. Undocumented Americans would be permitted to purchase health insurance. She would also focus on mental health treatment as an integral part of healthcare. Finally, Clinton has a specific plan for autism that includes increased access to autism services, research, and screening initiatives.


Johnson is not very specific about his healthcare plan, and does not include any pages about healthcare. He does state that he opposes what he calls Obama’s “government take-over of health care.” He supports relaxing federal rules on medical cannabis. The remainder of his comments only address healthcare for veterans.


Stein would establish a “Medicare for All” single payer healthcare system. All Americans would be covered with no copays, premiums, or deductibles. She would negotiate purchasing of prescription drugs to reduce costs.


Trump would repeal Obamacare and increase free market principles to broaden access to healthcare. He would eliminate Medicaid as a federal-state partnership and would replace it with block grants to states, in which a state receives a lump sum that can be used to pay for some/all services for selected populations. These grants could be used by states to provide health care to populations in the manner of their choosing with minimal federal oversight. He would allow insurers to offer any plan in any state. Health insurance premiums would be tax deductible. He supports the use of tax-free Health Savings Account to help people save for health care expenses. He would reduce prescription drug costs by allowing imported prescriptions. Under Trump, illegal immigrants could not receive healthcare coverage.

Issue 3: Special Education

Most children with complex medical issues or disabilities receive some form of special education services. Where do the candidates stand on special education?


In her first job for the Children’s Defense Fund, Clinton worked to help children with disabilities who were being excluded from school to be able to attend school. Clinton would provide universal preschool to all 4-year-olds, and would double funding for certain Head Start programs. She has made numerous comments about finally fulfilling the promise to fund special education services with the federal government paying 40% of costs through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. She would work to eliminate the ongoing issue of students with disabilities being disciplined, and interrupt the school to prison pipeline that is common in children with certain disabilities. In addition, she would prioritize hiring of guidance counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists. Her autism plan expands opportunities for young adults with autism transitioning out of school settings. She would also ensure that schools are identifying and referring children with disabilities for additional support. As part of her autism plan, she would make sure all children have equal access to assistive technology and augmentative communication devices.


Johnson would eliminate the federal government’s Department of Education. He supports a universal program for school choice. On his website, he does not specifically address special education.


Stein would guarantee tuition-free education from preschool through university. She would increase federal funding for education. She has written at length about the connection between the environment and learning disabilities, which she hopes to improve through environmental policies. On her website, she does not specifically address special education.


Trump criticized Clinton for her expressed desire to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Act as too expensive. Instead, he would move education to the local level. He calls education an “absolute priority,” but does not otherwise specify any plans or specifically address special education. He recently released an education plan that focuses on school choice.

Issue 4: Community Living and Medicaid Waivers

One of the most important issues facing families of children with disabilities and medical conditions is the ability to keep their children living at home instead of in institutions. Many families receive a variety of support services to allow their children to remain at home, and most of the funding for these services comes through Medicaid Waivers.

What are the candidates’ positions on community living for children with disabilities?


Part of Clinton’s 4-point disability plan is to expand support to allow people with disabilities to live in integrated community settings. She would also provide tax relief for caregivers, and guaranteed 12 weeks of paid family/medical leave. Clinton strongly supports the Olmstead decision that allows people with disabilities to live in community settings, and plans to ensure that states are meeting their obligations under this decision. Her autism plan and her support of the Developmentally Disabled Act would expand support services at home for all children with disabilities, especially support services to caregivers.


Johnson does not address this issue on his website.


Stein does not address this issue on her website, other than stating people with disabilities should have appropriate support and housing.


Trump stated that we need to reform our mental health programs and institutions in this country but has given no further details.

Issue 5: Specific Condition Plans

Candidates often provide detailed plans for certain subgroups of the disability community, such as people with autism. This section outlines any such plans a candidate has put forward that would apply to children with complex conditions or disabilities.


Clinton has a comprehensive autism plan that would expand insurance coverage, expand early screening, invest in research, increase employment opportunities, and target bullying at school. Her plan also addresses caregiving for people with autism, community living, and assistive technology.

Clinton also has a comprehensive mental health plan. Her plan would improve early diagnosis, integrate mental health to care for the “whole person,” prioritize treatment, improve insurance coverage, and invest in brain research.

Finally, Clinton has a plan for combatting HIV/AIDS in the US and abroad.


Johnson has no plans on his website that address specific conditions.


Stein has a plan for those with “chronic diseases” that would invest in organic food systems and pollution-free renewable energy, phase out toxic chemicals, and support active and public transportation systems.


In a page no longer available, Trump briefly mentioned plans for those with mental illness and his support for expansion in this area, but gives no further details.

Conclusion: Vote On the Issues

We hope this information will help you choose a candidate whose positions on the issues will be of benefit to your family and your child with complex medical issues or a disability. Many times, people choose a candidate based on intangible factors like political party affiliation, personality, or style. Taking a deep look into their opinions on actual issues may lead you to a different candidate.

We stand at a crossroads for children with complex medical issues in this country right now, with children in many states struggling to receive the care they need, the education they are entitled to, and the community living they deserve. Some presidential candidate positions would likely improve our children’s lives significantly. Other candidates could make the environment and life for people with disabilities much worse. Choose wisely.

Author: Susan Agrawal • Date: 9/12/2016 • Photos by Gage Skidmore

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