Hillary Clinton's speech on disabilities showcased her stark divide with Donald Trump


ORLANDO, Florida — On Wednesday, as Donald Trump called for the implementation of discriminatory stop-and-frisk policing nationwide, Hillary Clinton came here to lay out a detailed policy proposal meant to help a group of people who are often overlooked in presidential campaigns: Americans with disabilities.

In a gymnasium at the Frontline Outreach and Youth Center in West Orlando on Wednesday afternoon, insulation hung from the ceiling and a kickball was precariously wedged between the ceiling and a light fixture as Clinton addressed the room of supporters.

The speech was the latest in what her campaign calls her "Stronger Together" series of speeches, coming two days after she pitched millennials on her candidacy in Philadelphia.

In Orlando, she outlined a plan with a level of detail that stood in sharp contrast with any number of proposals from her Republican rival, betting that her focus on substantive policy issues will be enough to not only win in November, but also to govern from a position of strength should she do so.

The speech: Clinton spent the first 10 minutes of her speech addressing the recent police shootings in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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"We have two more names to add to a list of African Americans killed by police officers in these encounters," she said. "It's unbearable. And it needs to become intolerable."

Clinton eventually turned to her proposals for improving the lives of those with disabilities — people like Anastasia Somoza, a disability rights organizer, who sat in a wheelchair on the stage behind her.

Striking a distinctly personal tone, Clinton spoke of her experiences working to help the underprivileged in the 1970s as a young lawyer with the Children's Defense Fund, working to improve access to public education for children with disabilities. She praised members of her staff with disabilities. She recounted her work on the international level to help people with disabilities during her tenure as secretary of state.

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Clinton vowed that as president she would tackle the unique challenges faced by people with disabilities, particularly in the workplace. She called for leveling the playing field for workers, 60% of who she said are not in the labor force. She called for eliminating the "subminimum wage," which allows employees to pay workers with disabilities less than their coworkers. She emphasized improving accessibility in educational settings and called for the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The reaction: Those in the crowd were impressed with the level of detail Clinton brought to Orlando, and said her fluency with intricate policy matters reinforced their support.

Following the speech, Stanton Sheogobind, a retired teacher who moved to Orlando from Brooklyn 10 years ago, said he was struck by the contrast with Trump.

"The other candidate is mocking disabled people," Sheogobind said, referring to Trump's heavily condemned impression of disabled reporter Serge Kovaleski last November. "Here we have a candidate who is all for bringing them into the mainstream... I thought this was a very positive speech that I haven't heard from the campaign before."

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"One of things that struck me — 1 in 5 [Americans are disabled]. Who would have thought?" Sheogobind continued, repeating an alarming statistic cited by Clinton minutes before. "You may not see it, but it's there. And I'm glad she brought this up, because my grandson is autistic. But that doesn't stop him."

Others said they were not aware how common disabilities of all kinds actually are.

"She said things about disabilities that I didn't know," Norma Gold, a retiree from Orlando, said along the edge of the crowd. "I didn't know that 1 out of 5 people are disabled. Unbelievable."

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Jennifer Allender drove an hour from Daytona Beach to see Clinton on Wednesday. Using a walker, Allender said she had seen Clinton three times in Florida and didn't know what to expect in Orlando, but got the chance to shake her hand following the speech.

"I just met her. It was nice," Allender said. "She was very sweet. She said it was nice to meet you."

The politics: Clinton's commitment to helping those with disabilities is undoubtedly sincere, but her focus on these issues in Florida also serves two distinct political purposes.

First, it's an attempt to cut into Trump's lead among older voters, particularly in Florida, where they make up a large share of the electorate and heavily favor the Republican nominee. Nearly a quarter of Floridians ages 65 to 74 are disabled, compared to 11% of those between 21 and 64, according to data from 2013.

Secondly, her speech served as a not-so-subtle reminder of Trump's mocking of Kovaleski — something voters view as one of Trump's most negative moments of the campaign, and that the Clinton forces hope voters will remember in the voting booth. Priorities USA, a super PAC backing Clinton, included footage of that incident in an ad that blanketed battleground states for six weeks over the summer.

But Clinton indicated that her focus on disability issues was more than just a political tactic, despite the apparent upsides. She also said her commitment would continue should she win the White House.

"We've got to ... do better for everyone's sake because this really does go to the heart of who we are as Americans," she said on Wednesday. "I intend this to be a vital aspect of my presidency."