This blog post was written by Sarah Blahovec, Disability Vote Organizer at National Council on Independent Living.
The disability community is one of the largest groups of voters in the United States. In 2016, 16 million people with disabilities participated in the election. However, voter turnout of people with disabilities is still below the rest of the population. There are still many barriers that exist for voters with disabilities throughout the process of registration, voter education, and casting a ballot.
One of the largest obstacles for the disability community is outdated ideas around who is disabled and what they can do, and this is a challenging attitude in the voting space as well. However, with some simple strategies, you can ensure that your voter registration activities are inclusive of the disability community.
- Don’t assume somebody’s disability (or lack of a disability): When you think of somebody with a disability, what comes to mind? For most of us, we think of a wheelchair user, somebody with a service dog, or an elderly person who uses a cane. However, many disabilities aren’t visible, and even those that are may not fit our idea of what disability looks like. For example, not all people with blindness or low vision use a service dog or a white cane, and some may look at phones or other materials, but that doesn’t mean that they are lying. Young people may use canes or other mobility devices, and wheelchair users may be able to walk. Many people may not be able to stand for long periods of time or may need other assistance due to disabilities that you can’t see at all. When somebody tells you that they have a disability and need assistance or accommodations, believe them.
- Provide online registration as an option and have seats available: Some people with disabilities may be more comfortable with registering online as opposed to on a paper registration form. It may allow options like increasing the font size and for some, typing may be easier than writing. Having more options means that you meet more access needs. Additionally, have a few seats available at registration for those who may have trouble standing for long periods of time due to balance, pain, and other disabilities.
- Don’t make judgments about a voter’s capacity: Just like you can’t always tell if somebody has a disability, you cannot tell whether or not they can vote or whether they need help. In fact, telling somebody that they can’t vote due to your own beliefs can get you in trouble! People with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities can often vote. People who you think need assistance with casting their ballot can often vote without any assistance, and all voters are guaranteed an independent and private right to vote. Additionally, trust that the disabled person (and their companion) knows what their access needs are. If they need an alternative material formats, need to register online, or need to sit at a table to fill out their registration, try to meet that need if you have the capability and do not question them on whether they really need that accommodation or assistance.
- The Election Assistance Commission has a Document of Rights for Voters with Disabilities: The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) has a simple federal voting rights document, available in card or pamphlet form, that reminds voters with disabilities that they have the right to vote privately and independently and have an accessible polling place. Additionally, it gives simple information on seeking assistance from polling place workers or bringing someone with you to vote. These documents are available with Braille as well. Distributing these cards to voters will help them to know their voting rights as a person with a disability and ensure they know how to get help with voting accessibility. More information on how to order these free cards is available on the EAC’s website.