With early voting for the March 2020 primary elections set for later this month, one local non-profit is ensuring that local candidates are aware of local issues affecting the disabled community in the Rio Grande Valley.
On Wednesday, the McAllen-based Capable Kids Foundation teamed up with the Disability Advocates Coalition RGV to host the inaugural Disability Issues Candidate Forum.
Held at the UTRGV Small Business development Center, the forum invited candidates from the counties of Hidalgo and Cameron to address policy decisions that affect the disabled community.
“It’s important to host events like this so the candidates and legislators who can make systemic change are aware of what our families are experiencing on a daily basis and the things we can do to impact that,” Marissa Pulido Pecina- board member and cofounder of Capable Kids-said. “We’re hoping to bring awareness leading to our community becoming aware of whatchallenges face this community and maybe make it part of their platform.”
Candidates who participated in the forum included incumbents Senator Eddie Lucio Jr., Rep. Sergio Munoz Jr, Rep. Bobby Guerra and Rep. Terry Canales. The four individuals were in panels joined by their opponents in their respective races.
Questions asked in the panel included what sort of policies should be put in place to improve employment opportunities for those with disabilities, increase access to public transportation and what steps are needed to ensure Texas public schools can adequately provide resources to special needs students.
All the candidates agreed that more funding is key to provide adequate resources to the disabled community.
“You’re not getting the funding you need,” Sara Stapleton-Barrera, a Democratic candidate for Texas senate District 27 said. “We need to figure out why that is to ensure we don’t have trouble doing something like paying our special education teachers adequately. I have a sister who is a special education teacher and she frequently calls me to tell me how underfunded her department is.”
Vanessa Tijerina, a republican candidate for Texas senate District 27, said that with funding for those programs, disabled individuals will learn valuable skills.
“We need to make sure we prepare them for the real world,” Tijerina said. “We need an initiative to prepare them for adult living which includes employment skills and we also should remove the stigma of hiring disabled individuals by creating policy to hire folks with disabilities.”
State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. said he has previously introduced legislation to extend equal job opportunities to the disabled community and plans to prioritize education to special needs students.
“We need to start with the goal that people with special needs should be able to participate in the workforce to ensure job opportunities are available to all,” Lucio said. “Ensuring all Texas educators are prepared to teach all students is a top priority. We need to have a meeting summit here in the Valley inviting all stakeholders to come before Valley delegation to share these concerns.”
Ultimately, Pecina said, she hopes that candidates leave the forum with an understanding of what issues disabled voters are prioritizing.
“We want the candidates to see we are a unified community,” Pecina said. “There are a lot of voices here and we all believe education and awareness is key to affect individuals who remain in the forefront such as our representatives and senators. We want to be on their mind when they’re up there making legislation that could help the disabled community.”