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Celebrating and Spreading Awareness of National Disability Voting Rights Week

Next week is National Disability Voting Rights Week, and at US Vote we’re doing everything we can to ensure voting is accessible for all – whether at the polling place, through a drop box, or by mail.

One in four American adults – over 60 million – lives with a disability. And one in six voters -38 million total  -  are impacted by a disability. Despite these significant figures, roughly two-thirds of polling places in the country still aren’t in full compliance with all requirements stipulated in the Americans with Disabilities Act, Help America Vote Act, or Voting Rights Act, all of which require voting to be made accessible to those with disabilities. Indeed, polling places across the country lack accessibility ramps, are housed in places with too-narrow doorways, or fail to provide accessible voting machines.

As a result, citizens with disabilities face greater obstacles than the average American. Whereas 8% of all voters reported difficulty voting at the polls, in 2012, 26% of those with disabilities reported such problems in the same year.

But when it comes to democratic participation, disabled persons are beating the odds. In 2020, 62% of Americans with disabilities cast a vote, compared with 56% in 2016 – notwithstanding the presence of a pandemic that made traveling to polling places and voting in public spaces more onerous and dangerous than usual. To be sure, these higher numbers demonstrate individual and communal resolve to make all voices heard, whatever the obstacles. But state offerings of mail ballot and drop box options were also key toward boosting the numbers. In the first presidential election struck by Covid-19, most of us – regardless of disability status – took advantage of vote-by-mail options. And the majority of disabled Americans did too: A full 53% voted-by-mail in 2020.

Instead of a pandemic-caused dip in voting, we saw the highest turnout in over a century.  And this uptick applied to voters with disabilities, too. Of course, that doesn’t do away with the problem of inaccessibility. We can and must replicate these access measures, fix outdated problems, and empower voters through strong education programs, rather than just rely on self-motivation. Another good reason for people with disabilities to vote: your vote can help influence accessibility and other issues relevant to voters like you.

At US Vote, we make registering to vote and obtaining your absentee ballot easy and accessible, whether you have a disability or don’t.

Starting on September 12th, we’ll publish a new post each day that week by a guest blogger, highlighting the unique circumstances voters with disabilities face and, significantly, the solutions needed to ensure that everyone has equal access to the ballot.
 

Here’s what’s on the agenda:

  • On Sept. 11, Elizabeth Pendo, Joseph J. Simeone Professor of Law at Saint Louis University School of Law, will provide an introduction to National Disability Voting Rights week, explaining the unique challenges faced by voters with disabilities. Check out her post that day for the “what and why” of disability-rights awareness.
     
  • On the 12th, Lilian Aluri, Rev Up Voting Campaign Coordinator at the American Association of People with Disabilities, gives an overview of their coalition’s work to mobilize disabled voters through the “Rev Up” campaign.
     
  • On Sept. 13, we’ll post a practical piece on accessible voting machines jointly authored by Debbie Dietz, Executive Director of the Disability Independence Group, and Laura-Lee Minutello, the Voting Access Advocate Outreach Specialist for Disability Rights Florida. This blog will include links to new videos demonstrating how to use the two main types of accessible equipment found in polling places, plus some personal experiences of disabled voters using these machines. Consider this a “how to” post!
     
  • On Sept. 14, we’re featuring a post about how people with aphasia, a language disorder that affects speech, need special accommodations to support their ability to vote. We’re especially honored to have Troy Van Horn, who has had aphasia for three years, and Marion Leaman, a speech-language pathologist and Assistant Professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center, as the co-authors of this fascinating post.
     
  • On Sept. 15, we’re looking into how voters with disabilities living in rural areas often face obstacles and isolation in their quest to be informed voters. Colleen Downs, a Systems Advocate for North County Center for Independence, will explain how disabled voters in rural areas can organize to get out the vote. This one is your “how to – from afar!” post.
     
  • To close out the week, on Sept. 16, Gretchen Knauff, the Director of the Office of Services for Persons with Disabilities in the City of New Haven, will write about the urban experience and how those with disabilities can make an effective plan to vote. This post is the “how to – from downtown!” Having a plan in place ensures a more successful outcome, whatever one’s ability-status, as you can consider everything you’ll need before heading out the door and to the polling place.

 

Whether you’re one of the many Americans who live with a disability – or want to better understand what a loved one, neighbor, or colleague experiences – please join us in reading these posts and bringing awareness of these key issues to those in your community who could benefit most. A healthy democracy requires everyone’s participation, and we each have a part to play in ensuring that every eligible American who wants to vote – can and does vote.

Make sure you have access! And please help ensure that others have access too! And get that I Voted! Sticker on November 8!