19th News - Sara Luterman

27 Feb 2024

Though few people know her name, Emily Voorde helped shape Secretary Pete Buttigeg’s views on disability long before he was advancing policy for the Department of Transportation.

Secretary Pete Buttigieg has made unprecedented advances for people with disabilities during his tenure at the Department of Transportation. He has spearheaded disability events at the White House and has ushered in changes to air travel that will make airplane bathrooms more accessible and widen airplane aisles to accommodate personal wheelchairs. Airports, train and bus stations across the country have made improvements to increase Americans with Disabilities Act compliance. 

These are not new issues for Buttigieg, and they featured heavily in his 2020 presidential primary platform. He was not the only Democratic presidential hopeful to have a disability platform, but his was one of the first to be released. 

His commitment to disability policy is personal, thanks in no small part to his longtime friendship with Emily Voorde, 31, who met Buttigieg when she was in high school and he was running for mayor of South Bend, Indiana. She worked on Buttigieg’s presidential campaign and went on to work for the White House. 

Buttigieg credits Voorde with his interest in disability rights. It is something he has always cared about, but knowing Voorde brought it closer to home for him, he said. 

[Read more: Meet Emily Voorde, the woman behind revolutionary changes for disabled travelers (19thnews.org)]