Dahlia Joseph and James Trout have a rhythm. Trout either positions himself in the front row or figures out which campaign staffer has a microphone for the audience Q&A. Either way, he aims to maximize his chances of asking a presidential candidate a question. Joseph takes her position in the press pool, with her Canon EOS Rebel T5 camera. After weeks in Iowa and New Hampshire, where they’ve attended dozens upon dozens of campaign events, they’re now pros. Trout usually tells candidates that 70 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed, and then asks them what they intend to do about it. Dahlia captures it on film.
Joseph told me, “James and I—we’re a team. We’ve worked together for so long now that we have a flow when we go to events. It’s unspoken. We don’t even talk about it. We know exactly what we’re supposed to do.” Sure, events don’t always go as planned. Sometimes the twists and turns of a campaign event pull the candidate’s attention away from them, but there’s always the next town hall or rally. They’re in this for the long haul.
2015 marked the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA has made life better for disabled Americans in many ways, but also failed in a few important respects. Unemployment remains shockingly high as do rates of violence against disabled individuals. The disabled community has never acquired the level of political influence its numbers would seem to justify. RespectAbility, a nonpartisan nonprofit focused on shaping policies that affect disabled Americans, aims to change that. It’s put a class of fellows on the campaign trail, Trout and Joseph among them, to attend presidential campaign events over the last few months.