I’m Disabled and I Vote

A person in a powerchair wearing a shirt that says 'feel the power of the disability vote.' Photo taken at a protest in California.

(Photo by Flickr user Steve Rhodes, used under a Creative Commons license.)

Here in the United States, we are in the midst of a midterm election cycle, and given that campaigning for Presidential elections basically starts two years in advance, we are about to start ramping up for the 2012 Presidential election, which looks like it is going to be a doozy.

I have voted in every single US election since I reached the age for voting eligibility. I’ve voted on traditional paper ballots, hanging chads and all. I’ve voted on scantron ballots. These days, I vote via permanent absentee ballot:

California Ballot for the June 2010 primary election

I’ve always been mesmerised by the electoral process. Growing up, our house was used as the polling place for the community, and my father always let me take the day off from school to watch the voting. I clamored to turn on the radio for election results like other children screamed for ice cream. I’m somewhat more cynical about elections, voting, and enfranchisement these days.

As we approach the 20th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law on 26 July, 1990, we are still dealing with inaccessible polling places. And we are still dealing with disabled politicians who veto bills designed to increase polling place accessibility:

Last September, the governor [David Paterson of New York], who himself has a disability, shocked many when he vetoed a group of disability bills mostly centered on rights provided through the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, including voting place access.

This article goes on to discuss the voting access aspects of the legislation Paterson vetoed in more detail, pointing out that many of the claims he made about the legislation were false and illustrating that funds are made federally available to address accessibility issues at polling places. There is no reason for a polling place to be inaccessible, ever, and it is horrific that the Governor felt it was appropriate to veto a bill that included, among other things, polling place accessibility.

Voting matters. We have a right to participate in the democratic process, and this right is routinely denied to us. Not just here in the United States. I’m sure many FWD readers remember jady_lady’s post about being disenfranchised in the recent UK election:

It was only whilst walking home with my partner that we compared notes. It appeared that my template had been placed fairly close to the left hand edge of the form, and my partner’s had been nearer the middle of the form. We phoned a friend and asked where the boxes appear on the ballot paper and were told that they are down the right hand side.

It would therefore appear that both our ballot papers are spoilt and we haven’t had a vote in this very important election.

When I was a young child eagerly watching everyone vote, it filled me with a sense that there was some justice in the world. People could be angry, they could be unhappy with the political situation, and they could express themselves at the polls. I remember the first election I voted in vividly. I remember reading my voter’s guide with care and showing up at the polling place precisely at 7:00 AM so I could vote as soon as it was physically possible, I remember being handed my ballot and going into the stall and carefully using the stylus to punch out my vote, I remember slipping my ballot into the protective cover to protect the confidentiality of my vote, handing it to the poll worker and watching her drop it into the lockbox with the other ballots. I remember eagerly watching as results rolled in, looking at the county results and thinking ‘one of these votes was mine.

The thought that anyone would be denied that right and that experience makes me indescribably furious. Actively working to deny people the right to vote is nothing short of repugnant. So is denying people the right to vote in confidentiality; a polling place is not ‘accessible’ if voters are required to disclose their votes to a poll worker to get their ballots cast. It is not ‘accessible’ if the only wheelchair-accessible space to vote is a table in the middle of the room where everyone can see.

An estimated 20% of the population of the United States is disabled. That’s a pretty big percentage of the electorate. Given that we are not actually a hivemind, it’s safe to assume that we have some very diverse views on politics and that those of us who do vote probably vote very differently. Those of us who can’t vote would vote differently as well, if they were given an opportunity to do so. It’s important to make sure that these voices are heard, to ensure that votes are cast not only by people who can walk up the stairs to a polling place, stand at a polling booth, and interact with a touchscreen or paper ballot, but by everyone.

There is absolutely no reason to keep polling places inaccessible, unless, of course, you are afraid of the power of the disability vote.

About s.e. smith

s.e. smith is a recalcitrant, grumpy person with disabilities who enjoys riling people up, talking about language, tearing apart poor science reporting, and chasing cats around the house with squeaky mice in hand. Ou personal website can be found at this ain't livin'.

7 thoughts on “I’m Disabled and I Vote

  1. It was only very recently, in the UK general election, that I heard of accessible paper ballots for the blind. As far as I know, we don’t have those in the Netherlands. I have always had someone t o vote for me, although I’m always present when they cast my vote and tell them whom to vote for. It’s enraging if you look at it.

  2. My voting place is a mess. The owners of the facility will not allow the door that wheelchair or scooter users could access to be opened on election day. The interior setup is hostile to all people, but even more for people of size or using canes or other mobility aids. On the rare occasions that there is a line, voters are directly denied use of the many chairs available right there in the waiting area, on the grounds that the facility has not included use of chairs by voters in their agreement for use of their space (for which they are paid, well enough to cease normal business operations those two days a year). The workers are condescending to people who need help with the voting machines, and overall it feels like more of a chore than the exciting exercise it ought to be.

    As a woman and a person of color, I take the right to vote especially seriously. It irritates me that no one seems to care about the physical barriers that are keeping people from the polls. In order to vote absentee in Pennsylvania, you have to sign an affidavit that you’re physically incapable of entering your assigned polling place. I fear my ballot being challenged or thrown out as a case of fraud because I can go to my poll, it’s just incredibly difficult. Similarly, my mother can vote on the new electronic machines that we have, but with her visual impairments, it’s an iffy and painstaking process. It’s too important to me to run that risk.

  3. I think most places to vote here are pretty inaccessible, though the nearest one to us is in a care home for elderly people and so somewhat more accessible than other places I’ve voted in, regarding actually getting into the building and the room they’re voting in (not regarding the voting room and the booths themselves etc). I also didn’t find the instructions really sufficient, and I was far more stressed out than I had to be on June 9th this year.

  4. I vote and last election I stuck my “I voted” sticker on my purse. It’s still there. I placed it there so that people would know that even though I am the way I am I still vote, my voice still matters, and that I’m a person with every bit of rights that anyone else has!

    Earlier today I was thinking about my sticker on my purse and I had a sobering thought: Most people who meet me on the street when my tics don’t see a sentient human being. Most people, I feel, when they do consider the possibility that I’m a human being consider me some kind of grown-up child. I’m sure that many people when they see my “I voted” sticker on my purse don’t look at me and think “that woman voted,” I feel they look at me and think “someone very nice in her life must have given her that sticker to make her feel good!”

  5. The Polls Apart report on the accessibility of the recent UK election is well worth a read. Unsurprisingly, jady_lady’s experience was fairly typical, and there were numerous other failures to make both polling stations and postal votes even minimally accessible.

  6. I never have experienced having problems with voting, as I am an ambulatory, hearing, sighted persyn, however, having Aspergers might trigger issues in a more crowded polling place. That’s why I do absentee ballots (in New Jersey, you don’t need a reason).

  7. In my state, there are plenty of barriers to the disabled in voting situations. We’re really behind the times compared to the majority of the rest of the nation (I live in Wyoming), and people are just beginning to realize that not all diabilities are visible. I’m chronically ill, among other things, and sometimes use a cane. I have a disabled parking tag as well. I can’t count all the times I’ve been shouted at or treated poorly for parking in disabled spaces because I don’t “look sick”.

    That’s why voting is often a stressful and trying even for me. There is no seating for waiting, and I don’t quite meet the criteria for needing assistance. I’m kind of in-between I guess.

    Sorry, it’s late and I can’t sleep; I’m rambling here. Our ballots are simple and easy. We just use a special marker and color in the bubble of the canidate of our choice. Certainly avoids the issues with hanging chads and unverifiable electronic votes.
    Also, I would love to know where the man in the picture got his t-shirt, as I’d love to have one of my own!

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