Rolling Without Limits

Your mobility may be limited. Your voice, boundless.

How They Won: 3 Politicians Who Use Wheelchairs Share Stories About Their Election to Office
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How They Won: 3 Politicians Who Use Wheelchairs Share Stories About Their Election to Office

Why do 15-year-old nephews and 9-year-old daughters make good campaign aides? Because they’re willing to knock on doors. And as anyone who’s been shaken down by an elementary school popcorn salesman knows, it’s hard to say no to a kid.

Of all the barriers to running for office as a wheelchair user — misplaced metaphors aside — the most pervasive is front steps. There is no substitute for old-fashioned door-to-door canvassing, especially when you’re campaigning at the local level. But private residences, you may have noticed, usually have steps.

Nick LiBassi, vice president of partnership expansion for United Spinal Association and newly elected township committee member for Rochelle Park, New Jersey, worked around this by appointing his 15-year-old nephew, Mac, as his honorary campaign manager. LiBassi would roll as far as he could get, then send Mac to the door: “Hi, my uncle Nicky is running for township committee — would you be interested in talking with him?”

Mariana “Muffy” Davis, who was recently elected to serve as an Idaho state representative, recruited her 9-year-old daughter. The long hours crisscrossing her district in rural Hailey, Idaho, gave Davis and her kid some quality time together, along with an added benefit: “Everybody’s pretty nice when a cute, little 9-year-old knocks on their door,” she laughs. “They’re not going to yell at you.”

For Darryl Fairchild, a pastor turned community organizer turned city commissioner in Dayton, Ohio, a larger voter pool meant having to rely on multiple door knockers. “I’d go out with two or even four volunteers and they would go ahead of me, sending out people who were willing to talk,” says Fairchild. “That way I was able to talk to as many people as possible.”

If you want to win an election as a person with disabilities, creative thinking and being able to work around an inaccessible world are requirements. And though LiBassi, Davis, and Fairchild came in with different politics, varying experience levels, and distinct electorates to appeal to, they share some essential commonalities: work ethic, a passion for leadership and a deep commitment to the communities they’ve been chosen to represent.

Image credit: Photo by Author

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