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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

Civil Rights & the ADA

NCIL Presents a National Webinar & Teleconference… Challenging the Use of Artificial Intelligence in Public Benefits Determinations: A CDT Report

January 20, 2021; 3:00 – 4:00 p.m. Eastern

Register online (NCIL members only)

NCIL and the Center for Democracy and Technology are excited to announce a national webinar and teleconference to share the findings of CDT’s recent report “Challenging the Use of Algorithm-driven Decision-making in Benefits Determinations Affecting People with Disabilities”. This report analyzes the various litigation strategies for challenging AI used to cut public benefits. This is a critical issue as many state governments are increasing their reliance on algorithms to determine whether, and to what extent, people qualify for public benefits.

Join us for a presentation of the report’s key findings and how states’ increasing turn to algorithmic decision-making is affecting the rights of people with disabilities. Our presenters will discuss how advocates have challenged these harms inside the courtroom and through other advocacy strategies.

Registration Fee

This webinar is free for NCIL members. Non-members may join NCIL to attend.

Meet Your Presenters

  • Lydia X. Z. Brown, Policy Counsel on CDT’s Privacy & Data Project
  • Ridhi Shetty, Policy Counsel on CDT’s Privacy & Data Project

Accessibility & Accommodations

This webinar will be held via Zoom, but participants can join by webinar or telephone. CART captioning will be provided. Training materials and connection instructions will be sent 1-2 days prior to the live event. Other accommodations may be requested on the registration form.

Elevate Blog: Rajah Sandor on Being a Disabled Campaign Staffer

In October 2020, we sat down with Rajah Sandor to learn about his experiences as a disabled campaign professional, his successes, obstacles he has faced, and advice he has for other disabled people who want to work on campaigns.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you become a campaign professional, and what do you do now?

My name is D. Rajah Sandor, I go by Rajah. I’ve almost completed my 31st year, I’m Indian, and I was born without arms. I definitely came to campaigns later than the typical staffer does, I was 27 the first time I was a paid organizer. I got involved in a local mayoral election in 2015 but did not truly start with campaigns until the primary of 2016. By the end of the primary, I had essentially become a volunteer organizer which got me an interview to be an organizer with the PA coordinated campaign. And that was really it. Campaigns have a very addictive nature to them and so as long as the next gig appeared, I’d take it. Over the last 4 years, I have worked on every type of race except a U.S. Senate, and have served as an organizer, a department head, and as the campaign manager. I am currently the Western Regional Director of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Campaign Committee and have been since July.

Why do you think it is important for people with disabilities to volunteer or work on campaigns? 

  1. I think the more people with disabilities that interact with campaigns, the more we normalize it.
  2. By being involved in campaigns, you present the opportunity for the candidate to understand disability issues better.
  3. To force these spaces to become more accessible. Campaigns are all about doing things as cheaply as possible. If they think they can get away with using a space that isn’t ADA accessible, they will.
  4. Because this work is important. For a campaign to truly be successful, even outside of winning or losing the election, the campaign needs to be representative of the community, and the only way we can make sure the disability community is represented is by showing up.
  5. And finally, because we have things to fight for. There are still a number of different ways that our society is and is allowed to be ableist and society will continue to be ableist as long as we let them. Getting involved with campaigns, to elect leaders who care about our issues, or with issue campaigns surrounding our issues is a way we can fight to make our society more equitable, both for our community and other disenfranchised communities.

Did you experience any barriers while working on campaigns? 

Answering this question is hard for me, because I’m sure I have experienced barriers, but by in large I’m too stubborn to notice them as barriers until later. I will say gaining employment was tough, especially in the beginning. Before I was hired as an organizer with the PA coordinated I had easily applied for 15+ organizer jobs and I remember feeling frustrated enough that I disclosed my disability in that interview and said, I know I can do I just need someone to believe me. Even after being an organizer, I was unemployed until March of the following year, when I showed up at a gubernatorial primary campaign where a friend was working & that was understaffed and I made myself useful enough that they had to put me on staff. The only other barrier of note, is the fact that I essentially broke even during my first 2 years working on campaigns, because of shared rides costs. As I don’t drive, early in my career I would let whomever I disclosed my disability to know that I would take on my transportation costs for fear of being seen as too expensive or even a financial liability. 

What have been some of your successes as a campaign professional? 

I won the first race I managed, by 793 votes. I have developed & executed multiple successful Get Out the Vote & Election Day strategies. I have largely taught myself what I need to know to understand voting data & craft a successful DVC (direct voter contact) program.

What can campaigns do to make it easier for people with disabilities to work on them?

Make sure they are in accessible spaces. Hire folks with disabilities. Include our issues before we get there. Get rid of some of the classist expectations, that you should be able to pick up and move, or do this work without healthcare, or able to commit to 10-14 hour days at least 6 days a week. 

What advice would you give to people with disabilities who want to work on or volunteer for campaigns?

Do it. Understand that it is going to be tough, but do it. Don’t be deterred by the 25th person who underestimates what you bring to the table, just be a badass. You’re going to have to make space for yourself, but it’s important that you take up that space. If you’re thinking about actually working on a campaign, make sure you that this really is what you want for the next X number of months of your life because winning isn’t guaranteed and some days you feel the ableism so much more strongly. Find friends with disabilities that you can vent to, that can relate. You are clearing the way for whoever is coming next. Fight like hell to be treated equally so that whoever follows may be able to fight a little less.

Elevate Blog: Want to Run for Office? Think Local

Did you know that there are 519,682 elected positions in the United States? When we think of elected officials, we often think about the President and members of Congress. However, there are only 542 federal offices. Our state governments make up only 3.6% of the elected positions in the country. Local elected officials are 96% the elected officials in the country. There are over 500,000 local elected positions in the country.

If you are considering running for office for the first time, think local. There are many different positions in local government, such as:

  • City council
  • Mayor
  • School board
  • County commissioner
  • Positions requiring specific knowledge, like auditor or coroner

Each local government has a different structure, and different elected offices. You should research what positions are available in your community. Think about how you want to be involved in your community. Do you want to change laws? Are you interested in education? Do you have specific skills in an area like finance or engineering? Some offices require specific knowledge and training, while others are open to everyone.

Holding a local office allows you to serve your community directly. Big, sweeping legislation at the national level is important. But the fact is that local government has a large influence on our lives. School board members make decisions on education for children in their community. Mayors and city councils make many small and large decisions to run a city. Local government influences law, finances, education, community programs, and more.

Running for local office makes practical sense for a first-time candidate. It costs money to get on the ballot and to run a campaign. A local campaign usually requires a smaller budget than state or federal races. A local campaign may require a smaller time commitment, and you may be able to keep your current job. Keeping your job is important if the position you’re running for doesn’t have a salary or has a low salary.

Local campaigns make strategic sense as well. If you want to run for a larger office someday, you need to build name recognition. Having name recognition means that voters know who you are and what you represent. If you are active in your local community, you may have name recognition. You may be known as a community member, a volunteer, or an advocate, for example. In a campaign, you build more name recognition through campaigning. This lets voters know who you are and why they should vote for you. Running for and serving in local office can help build name recognition for future state and federal races. It will also help you gain experience that will make you a better candidate in future races.

Have we convinced you to consider running for local office? Here are some resources to learn more:

New Report: Challenging the Use of Algorithm-driven Decision-making in Benefits Determinations Affecting People with Disabilities

Last month, the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) released a new report called Challenging the Use of Algorithm-driven Decision-making in Benefits Determinations Affecting People with Disabilities. The report focuses on algorithm-driven tools that reduce or terminate public benefits. It analyzes how people with disabilities and their lawyers have challenged these tools in court.

In the report, CDT cites several important court decisions when describing states’ constitutional requirements and their obligations under the Administrative Procedure Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Some cited cases require states to provide notice to recipients prior to algorithm-driven cuts to benefits, and to provide enough information for people to know how to contest algorithms’ results. Other cases require states to inform the public that they are planning to use the tools and to allow people to submit comments prior to implementation.

The report also describes institutionalization as a form of discrimination on the basis of disability, because it isolates disabled people from the community. Plaintiffs have shared that their care hours were cut almost in half. When algorithm-driven tools cause such deep cuts to supports and services, people with disabilities may have to go to institutions to receive necessary care that they should be able to get at home.

CDT’s recommendations to state governments, attorneys, and disabled self-advocates flow from a few key takeaways. First, when states implement an algorithm-driven tool to make benefits determinations, they are making a policy decision that affects people’s lives and evokes new legal and constitutional questions. Second, disabled people and other experts on algorithms know best the impact of algorithm-driven benefits determinations, so they should drive attorneys’ litigation and advocacy strategies. Finally, in addition to litigation, self-advocates have several avenues to call attention to unjust algorithmic tools, including social media, public government meetings, and the press.

Elevate Blog: Fundraising and the Power of Disabled Leadership: Interview with Dom Kelly

Elevate Logo - Campaign Training for People with Disabilities. Graphic features the US Capitol Rotunda.

Dom Kelly works for Fair Fight, a voting rights organization founded by Stacey Abrams and based in Atlanta, Georgia, where he helps lead fundraising efforts for both the organization’s PAC and 501(c)(4). He is also a person with Cerebral Palsy who is passionate about disability justice and building political power within the disability community. He took the time to tell us why it’s important for people with disabilities to run for office, and to share his wisdom about fundraising.

Why do you think it is important for people with disabilities to run for elected office?

Dom: I am extremely passionate about getting disabled people to run for elected office, and there are a couple reasons I think it’s important. The first is that lawmakers who understand what it’s like to be disabled can create and uphold laws that actually benefit folks with disabilities. Too often we see that the disabled community is ignored and disregarded; COVID-19 and the events surrounding the pandemic has really brought to light what we in the community have known to be true, which is that our lives are often considered expendable. Lawmakers think nothing of taking away our access to affordable healthcare if it’s politically beneficial to them. Congress’s inability to address issues like gun violence, systemic racism, and police brutality mean that the disabled community is even more at risk of being harmed. Some politicians engaging in voter suppression have actively tried to take away our right to vote. All of these are just some examples of what we could be addressing through a disability lens if people with disabilities ran and won elected office. Second, I believe representation matters. As a kid, I rarely if ever saw people on TV, whether they be characters, actors, politicians, or news anchors, who were disabled like me. Seeing someone with a disability in a leadership and decision-making role can go a long way in cultivating confidence and power among folks in our community. “Identity politics” is a dirty term among some, but not for me – identity is vital for our survival.

Some people who want to run for office are afraid of having to ask for money. How can people who are afraid of fundraising get comfortable with it?    

Dom: Like it or not, raising money is a necessary activity for any organization, campaign or otherwise. The first time getting on the phone to ask someone to give can be scary, but it gets easier with each ask. It may be easier to start by planning an email or social media fundraising campaign before you start asking for larger amounts of money. At the end of the day, though, you are really selling yourself and your vision to voters, so if you feel confident in your candidacy and your platform, you’ll be able to get more comfortable with asking them to contribute.

What goes into setting a fundraising goal?

Dom: It really depends on your budget and what staff you plan to hire/what activities you undertake. When you’re soliciting, it’s always good to go to donors with a total number you are trying to reach in that stretch and an idea of what their contribution will go toward, so really understanding what your budget is and how you plan to spend the money is integral on multiple fronts. In an email or social media campaign, it might be a good idea to set a smaller goal and ask your supporters to help you reach it in a specific timeframe.

Let’s say you’re reaching out to a supporter to ask them to donate. How do you decide how much money to ask them for?  

Dom: Before you sit down for call time, you have to make sure you have done all the research on the potential donor. That includes understanding their background, what they currently do, and most importantly, their giving history. Knowing what they’ve given to other candidates, PACs, etc. will be necessary in being able to decide on an ask.

Do you have any other advice for our readers, especially first-time fundraisers?

Dom: I like to think that fundraising is akin to community-building in that you are developing a group of supporters that believe in a similar vision and have aligned values, so just as if you were creating and growing a group on Facebook and feeding them content constantly, donors need to be kept equally engaged. They are going to want to be fed lots of information and understand how their investment is actually making an impact. Remember, the people who give you money are the ones who believe in you the most. You have to keep them engaged beyond continuing to ask them to contribute to your campaign. That engagement can translate into volunteering, more giving, and ultimately, for candidates, their enthusiastic vote at the ballot box. Your donors are not just ATMs – they are people who believe in you, and you need to keep them engaged.

A young white man wearing a blue button-up shirt smiles at the camera


Dom Kelly is the Development Manager at Fair Fight Action, a voting rights organization founded by Stacey Abrams, as well as a lifelong disability justice activist. As a person with Cerebral Palsy, he is passionate about furthering disabled representation in politics and government. A native New Yorker, he currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife Catie.

Introducing the Elevate Blog

Elevate Logo - Campaign Training for People with Disabilities. Graphic features the US Capitol Rotunda.

In 2017, you couldn’t find any information online on running for office with a disability. There were no campaign training programs for people with disabilities. There weren’t many news stories on candidates with disabilities. It seemed like learning how to run for office with a disability was a well-kept secret.

At the same time, more Americans became interested in running for office. More than twice as many women ran for Congress in 2018 than in 2016. Programs that teach people how to run for office became more popular. New campaign training programs were created. There were campaign trainings for members of different political parties. There were campaign training programs for different identities, like people of color and first-generation Americans. These great resources grew and trained more and more Americans to run for office. Still, there was a major information gap for people with disabilities.

At NCIL, we decided that it was time to fix this problem. Diverse leadership is important because the government’s decisions impact many parts of our lives. Elected officials decide how to run our towns and cities. They make decisions about public transit and schools. They decide how to use our tax dollars and create the laws that govern our society. People with disabilities should be involved in making those decisions.

For two years, I interviewed candidates with disabilities. I learned about how they ran their campaigns and the challenges they faced. What I learned made it even clearer that we need a campaign training program for people with disabilities. In 2019, I teamed up with Neal Carter of Nu View Consulting to solve this problem. We created Elevate, the first and only campaign training for people with disabilities. Hundreds of people tuned into the five Elevate webinars or watched the recordings on our website.

I’m thrilled to say that we will be continuing Elevate in 2021.  We’re working hard to improve the program based on the feedback we received in 2019. We are so excited to continue training people with disabilities to run for office.

Creating this program is challenging because there is no one “disability experience.” A candidate who is a wheelchair user will have a different experience from a Deaf candidate. A candidate who is blind has needs that are different from the needs of a candidate who has chronic pain. The campaign process for one person may look different from the campaign process for another person. So how can we learn about these different experiences?

We can learn by talking to people with disabilities, of course! In this blog, we will interview candidates, volunteers, and staff with disabilities about their experiences. We will also answer common questions about running for office. We will talk about what you need to think about if you want to run for office or join a campaign.

It’s clear that the disability community has a passion for civic engagement. With the right tools and knowledge, we can take that passion and commitment beyond the ballot box. We can represent our community in elected office or on a campaign. We can effect change.

We’re excited about starting this blog, and we want your input! What would you like us to talk about? Send your questions to:

Sarah Blahovec
sarah@ncil.org
202-207-0334 extension 1103

It’s Election Day. Go Vote!

We have compiled some information and resources to help you get #VoteReady.

Same-Day Voter Registration 

Although voter registration deadlines in many states have now passed, 22 states and Washington, DC offer same-day voter registration. Find out if your state has same-day voter registration

Vote Planning and Know Your Rights Resources

1. NCIL Plan Your Vote 2020 

2. Brink Election Guide is a free app that helps you find out where to vote, who and what you’re voting for, and everything you need to make Election Day a breeze.

3. ACLU Know Your Rights 

4. ASAN Easy Read Toolkit: “Your Vote Counts: A Self-Advocate’s Guide to Voting in the U.S.” 

5. “Vote: It’s Your Right: A Guide to the Voting Rights of People with Mental Disabilities” 

Election Protection and Protection and Advocacy Hotlines 

If you have questions about voting, or experience any issues while voting, there are several hotlines available to help answer all of our questions.

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Election Day is Less Than One Week Away! Are You Ready to Vote?

Election Day is less than one week away, and millions of Americans have already cast their ballots through early voting or voting by mail. This year, it is more important than ever to know your rights and have a plan. We have listed some resources and events to help you prepare for Election Day.

Plan Your Vote 2020 

NCIL, along with other members of the National Coalition on Accessible Voting, created “Plan Your Vote 2020,” a vote planning guide that walks you through every step of the voting process.

Brink Election Guide 

Brink Election Guide is a free app that helps you find out where to vote, who and what you’re voting for, and everything you need to make Election Day a breeze. This nonpartisan, accessible app is available on iOS and Android, and it was built by people with disabilities to provide all of the necessary information a voter needs to know. Brink provides completely non-partisan information designed to inform our users on the candidates running for office and other initiatives on the ballot. The app also provides a list of resources to help voters navigate any potential issues they face when voting.

SignVote Series: Election 2020 

SignVote is dedicated to informing and engaging deaf communities throughout the 2020 election by developing and sharing resources in ASL. They recently launched the second episode of the SignVote Series: Election 2020, where you can learn everything you need to know about making your voting plan. View SignVote’s “Your Plan to Vote”.

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Help Consumers Get #VoteReady this October

This week is National Voter Education Week, a civic holiday created to equip voters with the tools, information, and confidence they need to cast their ballots. With less than a month until the General Election, it is a great time to provide consumers with information and tools that they can use to prepare to vote.

NCIL has created resources to help Center for Independent Living (CIL) and Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC) staff and consumers get ready to vote this year. The NCIL 2020 Voter Registration Toolkit provides you with information to conduct nonpartisan voter registration. Check to make sure that your state’s voter registration deadline hasn’t passed, or see if same-day voter registration is available in your state.

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CILs and SILCs: Sign-On to the Letter Urging the Senate to Oppose Amy Coney Barret’s Nomination – DUE THURSDAY!

Judge Amy Coney Barrett has been nominated to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s vacant seat on the United States Supreme Court. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stated that the Senate will hastily move forward with her confirmation hearings in two weeks, with a vote planned shortly after. Judge Barrett’s opinions on a number of issues are damaging to disability rights, and her appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court would threaten the rights and lives of Americans with disabilities. NCIL strongly opposes her nomination. We have signed on to a letter urging the Senate to oppose her nomination and we hope you will join us in signing your organization on as well.

As outlined in the letter, Judge Barrett has a history of decisions that have harmed the disability community. From siding against disabled students who were being discriminated against, to her opinion that the public charge rule does not discriminate against disabled people, to being a vocal opponent of the Affordable Care Act, Judge Barrett’s appointment to the US Supreme Court would bring immeasurable harm to our community.

Further, in the midst of a pandemic that has killed over 200,000 Americans, it is shameful that the Senate is prioritizing rushing through this highly politicized Supreme Court appointment, rather than focusing on much-needed additional COVID-19 relief. The situation for their constituents around the country is increasingly dire, and filling a vacant seat is absolutely not more important than our lives and livelihoods. 

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