ORLANDO, Fla., Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Hillary Clinton on Wednesday addressed a potentially potent voting bloc, Americans with disabilities, saying the nation must do more to ensure they have equal opportunities for success as those who are not disabled.
In a speech in Orlando, Clinton said disabled Americans still face cruel stereotypes and barriers to housing and employment, promising she will create an "inclusive economy" that values their contributions as much as anyone else's.
The Democratic presidential nominee said the disabled are "a group of Americans who are, too often, invisible, overlooked and undervalued -- who have so much to offer, but are given far too few chances to prove it."
She cast the treatment of disabled citizens as a moral issue and a reflection of American values.
"Whether they can participate in our economy and lead rich, full lives that are as healthy and productive as possible is a reflection on us as a country," she said.
Though they are rarely courted as a standalone demographic the way voters are classified based on race, religion or gender, a recent Rutgers University study underscored how crucial the disabled vote could be in November's election. The study estimated roughly 35 million Americans have a physical or mental disability, roughly one-sixth of the population. The study also estimated about half of all Americans live with or have an immediate family member who is disabled.
The issue became a divisive one in the campaign after Republican nominee Donald Trump was widely viewed as having mocked a newspaper reporter who wrote a critical article for having a physical disability. Serge Kovaleski, then a reporter for the Washington Post, wrote an article debunking Trump's claim to have seen "thousands" of Muslims in New Jersey cheering in the streets after the Sept. 11 attacks. In the wake of the article, Trump appeared to mock Kovaleski, who has a congenital joint disorder that restricts his ability to bend his arms. At a rally in South Carolina, Trump appeared to mimic Kovaleski's condition.
"Now the poor guy, you ought to see this guy," Trump said as he contorted his face and began jerking his arms in the air. "'Ah, I don't know what I said! I don't remember!'"
Trump has said he did not intend to mock Kovaleski's disability and denied remembering ever meeting him, despite the fact Kovaleski covered Trump for many years while working for the New York Daily News covering his real estate dealings. Kovaleski had conducted several in-person interviews with Trump over the years.
While Clinton did not mention the incident during her speech on Wednesday, the clip has been the centerpiece of attack ads run by a super PAC supporting her campaign.
Though it is sometimes a painful reality, advocates for the disabled welcomed the heightened awareness of the issue in the campaign.
"I don't think there's a person with a disability on the planet who has never been made fun of," Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of the advocacy group RespectAbility, told The New York Times. "Every person with a disability knows what it's like to live with stigma."