An Open Letter to NBC News Regarding Inclusion of Disability Issues in Presidential Debates


An Open Letter to NBC News Regarding Inclusion of Disability Issues in Presidential Debates

Disability community leaders A.J. French and Ted Jackson issue an open letter to NBC News following the January 16, 2016 Democratic Presidential Debate. In it, they note the lack of disability inclusion in the debate moderators, online participation, and questions for the candidates.
2016 Democratic Presidential Candidates

Gregory Gittrich 

Lester Holt

Andrea Mitchell

NBC News

30 Rockefeller Plaza

New York, NewYork 10112


January 26, 2016


Dear Mr. Gittrich, Mr. Holt & Ms. Mitchell,


After watching the January 16, 2016 Democratic Presidential Debate, we are writing with grave concerns about the lack of disability inclusion in the debate from the moderators and the online participation.  Not one question was asked about the important issues for people with disabilities.  

There are 36 Million eligible voters with disabilities in the United States and, in the 2012 General election, 15.6 million of them voted according to the Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations study on the turn out of voters with disabilities – one of the definitive studies of this kind nationwide.  In the last Presidential Election we were the second largest minority voting bloc in America that year, behind African Americans who were 17.8 million more than the 11.2 Latinos who voted.  We believe in equality for all and note great election related discussion and debate targeted to these groups on your network, but are at a loss to find ourselves in your debate planning or news coverage.

This is a huge oversight of a voting bloc that very well could be the swing-deciders in the 2016 election. According to polls from 2012 and 2014, voters with disabilities as a whole sit right on the line in terms partisanship.  Certainly this is a group that your network and its cable subsidiary MSNBC should want to engage and cover, but we do not see the evidence.

Not one student featured on the pre-selected You Tube clips was a person with a visible or self-disclosed disability.  The MSNBC website for submitting clips listed immigration, LGBT, race and women under the category of equality – but not persons with disabilities.  It might be easy to accept that you didn’t receive a submission from a disabled student, but without offering our community a category no one will ever know.  And one must then question your desire to provide access to All Americans in your election coverage.

The absence of disability was compounded when Senator Sanders referenced his positions which impact persons with psychiatric disabilities and the agenda was not structured so that other candidates could provide information to help viewers understand their points of differences, which was the stated debate objective by MSNBC.  Allowing one candidate to speak on our issues without a discussion from all candidates is exclusionary and divisive.

We applaud the decision to have the Professional Black Caucus host the debate, as well as other community leadership hubs.  But we are also wondering about the probability of future debates being hosted by the disability community, our grassroots often tells us they feel lost in voting shuffle – maybe NBC has the courage to change that paradigm?

We are part of collaborations and partnerships at the local, regional, statewide and national level that could easily bring together the energy and will to support a disability issue focused debate.  And some of our organization would be glad to host such an event at their large and accessible building – the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, CA just to name one.

It has been over 25 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and this debate made it clear that persons with disabilities are still not treated as full-fledged members of society.  As a media outlet, we are reaching out to you, asking you to examine your professional ethics and determine if this recent debate sets an acceptable standard.  As representatives from this excluded minority population, we are requesting a written response to this letter as we know NBC can do far better.



AJ French

Viewer & Voter


Ted Jackson 

Community Organizing Director, California Foundation for Independent Living Centers

Appointee, California Secretary of State's Voter Accessibility Advisory Committee

Member, National Council On Independent Living Voting  Rights Subcommittee

Chair, National Council On Independent Living Queer Caucus


Organizational Signatures

  1. 504 Democratic Club, Edith M. Prentiss, President

  2. Abilities Expo, Lewis Shomer, Chair

  3. Access Living, Marca Bristo, President & CEO

  4. Access to Independence, Deloris Nash, Executive Director

  5. ADA Legacy Project, Mark Johnson, Chair

  6. ADAPT Montana, Marsha Katz (Member of Social Security Advisory Board, 2006 – 2012)

  7. Atlanta Post Polio Association, Linda Priest, President

  8. American Association of People with Disabilities, Helena Berger, President & CEO

  9. Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living, Billy Altom, Executive Director

  10. Black Network in Children’s Emotional Health, Ayo Maat, Ph.D., CEO & President

  11. CADEM Senior Caucus, Carol Taylor, Vice Chair

  12. Californians for Disability Rights, Susan Chandler, President & Ruth Goldcorn, Executive & Legistlative Committees

  13. Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities in Illinois, Percy Dace, Executive Director

  14. DBSA Arlington Heights Chapter, Karen Schuetz, Board Member

  15. DBSA Illinois GO, Naoki Nakamura, Chair

  16. Disabled Queers in Action, Zan Thornton, Co-Chair

  17. Disability Action Center of Georgia, Kim Gibson, BSW, Executive Director

  18. Disability Rights Center, Janine Bertram, President

  19. Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Susan Henderson, Executive Director

  20. Ecker Center, Karen Beyer, Executive Director

  21. Haven House Juneau, Kara Nelson, Director

  22. Health & Disability Advocates, Barbara E. Otto, CEO

  23. Massachusettes Disability Policy Consortium, Charles Carr, Legislative Liaison

  24. Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Michael Brody, President & CEO

  25. Mind Freedom Colorado, Amy Smith, Organizer

  26. Multiple Choices Center for Independent Living, Evan Bradford, Youth Transition Coordinator

  27. National Association of County Behavioral Health & Development Disability Directors, Ron Manderscheid, PhD, Excutive Director

  28. National Center for Environmental Health Strategies, Inc., Mary Lamielle, Executive Director

  29. National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery, Daniel Fisher, President

  30. National Council on Independent Living, Kelly Buckland, Executive Director

  31. National Empowerment Center, Oryx Cohen, Chief Operating Officer

  32. National Mental Health Consumers’ Self-Help Clearinghouse,Joseph Rogers, Executive Director & Susan Rogers, Director

  33. National Rehabilitation Association, Fredric K. Schroeder, Ph.D., Executive Director

  34. Peer Wellness & Recovery Services, Miriam Yarmolinsky, Executive Director

  35. Popovits & Robinson, Renee Popovits, Principal Attorney

  36. Ron Mace Center, Dr. Joy E. Weeber, Disability Counselor Educator

  37. Taxis For All Campaign, Edith M. Prentiss, Chair

  38. Texas Disability Project, Bob Kafka, Organizer

  39. The Henry Viscardi School, Diana DeVivio, Principal

  40. The Viscardi Center, John D. Kemp, President & CEO and Kim Brussell, Associate Vice- President

  41. Thresholds, Heather O’Donnell, VP, Public Policy and Advocacy

  42. United Spinal Association, Alexandra Bennewith, Vice President

  43. Wellspring Mental Health Ministries, Carole J. Willis, M.A.R., Founder & Editor

Individual Signatures

  1. Carol Boyer, (Former March of Dimes Washington, DC Poster Child, Mitchellville, MD)

  2. Dominick Evans, (#FilmDis Moderator, Filmmaker)

  3. Alan Feinberg, AICP (Executive Director of On Our Own of Fredrick, 2011-2014)

  4. Regina Ford, (Philadelphia, PA)

  5. Alyssa Schatz, MSW (Philadelphia, PA)

  6. John G. Holley, CRSS (Paris, IL)

  7. Laurie Kissell, (Filmmaker)

  8. Ethan Rogers, (Individual living with Rheumatoid Arthiritis)

  9. Eric Soto, MSPH (Philadelphia, PA)