Ahead of census, advocates warn of difficulties in counting people with disabilities

Published: Feb. 3, 2020 at 11:34 PM EST
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By: Jacob Murphey | WCTV Eyewitness News

February 3, 2020

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) – As the 2020 census approaches, disability rights advocates are asking if Florida leaders are doing enough to make sure everyone is counted.

The National Disability Rights Network estimates more than 2.6 million people live with disabilities in Florida. Now, the question is whether or not the census, which helps guide billions in federal funds, will provide an accurate count.

Olivia Babis is a Public Police Analyst for Disability Rights Florida. She spends her days at the Florida Capitol speaking with lawmakers.

"We have to advocate for our rights because no one else is doing it on our behalf," she said.

Right now, Babis has her eyes on the Census. Every ten years some in the disability community fall through the cracks, she said.

"A lot of times this is an overlooked population," Babis said.

Amanda Baker volunteers her time at the Capitol. She understands some people aren't willing to share everything with the government.

"When you have a disability sometimes you try to downplay it, you try to hide it," she said. "So we live in a society that makes you feel like you have to do that."

Last month, Gov. Ron DeSantis created a Complete Count committee featuring 24 leaders representing a variety of voices. But Babis thinks something is missing.

"This committee is supposed to be diverse, but the disability community has been excluded from the committee," Babis said, adding she doesn't believe the omission is intentional.

"Unless you're personally impacted by these issues or know someone who is, these aren't things that cross most people's mind," she said.

Babis admitted there is an overlap with included voices for the homeless, veterans, and seniors.

Florida AARP Director Jeff Johnson is on the committee.

"It is one group of many different groups of stakeholders that are out trying to ensure a complete count," he said. "I definitely understand the disabled community's interest in making sure everybody gets counted."

Johnson said the committee may not be comprehensive, but it's well-positioned to succeed.

"Whether the Complete Count Committee included a disabled voice there is absolutely interest among everybody who is focused on the census to count every person in Florida," he said.

WCTV reached out to the Governor's office for comment. They replied with this statement:

Meanwhile, the Census Bureau indicated the 2020 census will be the most accessible census to date, especially with a first-ever online option.