The right to vote is a privilege that is not only the cornerstone of democracy and a right for which many have fought and died, but also something that is so ingrained in the American way of life that it is often taken for granted.
Yet, for millions of Americans with disabilities, the act of participating in the election process, like so many other activities, can be riddled with additional barriers. When it comes to voting, these include difficulty registering, inaccessible polling places, and a wide variety of troubles in casting a ballot.
According to research conducted by Rutgers University, 15.6 million people with disabilities participated in the 2012 presidential election, putting voter turnout for those with disabilities lower than their non-disabled counterparts by 5.7 percent. Additionally, of those voters with disabilities who cast a ballot, 30 percent reported having difficulty at their polling places compared to only 8.4 percent of those without disabilities.
In light of such statistics, it would seem that self-advocates have the unique ability to play an important part during this and any election season by not only making themselves aware of the candidates’ policy positions and casting their own votes, but also in helping to pave the way for greater numbers of their fellow citizens with disabilities to do the same.
The following are a few tips intended to help self-advocates and others as they ready themselves to head to the polls in November.
Make every effort to familiarize yourself with the policies put forth by as many candidates as possible. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, including through the news media, internet research, by attending political events/rallies, and contacting each candidate’s local campaign office to discuss the issues important to you. As self-advocates, it is important to continually engage with elected representatives at all levels in regard to policies affecting the disability community. Local supervisors of elections can provide lists of local candidates. Disability Rights Florida’s Access the Vote website lists all Florida elections supervisors here.
So far, Hillary Clinton is the only major presidential candidate to include disability issues in her platform, which can be found here.
Self-advocates can contact Donald Trump’s campaign to request information on his position on disability rights, if any, here.
Self-advocates can take engagement a step further by holding a local candidate forum or inviting local candidates to a self-advocacy group meeting. Polk County Self-Advocacy Alliance recently held a school board candidate forum and the Self-Advocates of East Volusia have invited local representatives to their September meeting.
Register to vote! In order to vote in the general election this November, you must be registered to vote by October 11. Access the Vote has information on registration and voting. If you receive state services, you may give your registration application to your support coordinator/service provider to submit on your behalf. Your parent, spouse, child, local supervisor of elections office, or any voter registration agency may also assist you in registering if necessary.
Vote! You may vote early, by mail, or on election day at your assigned polling place. To vote by mail, which may be easier for some with disabilities who have transportation issues, or who may be more comfortable receiving necessary assistance in a private setting, request a vote by mail ballot from your local supervisor of elections.
If you decide to head to the polls in person, it may help to call your polling place (whose address can be found on your voter registration card) to address any accessibility concerns. Keep in mind early voting is not available at every precinct. Call your local supervisor of elections for information on an accessible early voting location near you.
Federal law requires that all polling places meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (with the exception of bathrooms at churches) and that voters with disabilities be given assistance marking their ballots, if necessary. However, the ADA law is not always followed. Should you have trouble with access to your polling place or casting your ballot, contact your supervisor of elections office, and if they are unable to assist you in a timely manner, follow up with Disability Rights Florida.
Regardless of how you vote this election, the important thing is that you do. At almost 57 million strong, Americans with disabilities are the largest minority group in the U.S and the only one of which anybody can become a member in an instant. At least that would be true if those with disabilities were a recognized minority, which they are not. This fact serves to make the participation of disabled individuals, and in particular self-advocates, all the more important. After all, for voices to be heard, they must first be raised.