Persons with disabilities now represent the single largest minority group in our country’s electorate. According to a report from the Rutgers School of Management, 35.4 million people with disabilities, which represents one sixth of the US electorate, are eligible to vote. When family members of the disabled are included, the number of Americans affected by disability swells to 62.7 million. The disabled community needs to identify as a voting bloc they can wield huge power in the electoral process, but to date that has not necessarily been the case.
It’s scary to contemplate the disabled community not exercising its right to vote. Given that one fifth of Americans overall have disabilities, we need to ensure that entitlement programs such as Medicaid and Social Security Disability remain protected. We also need to strengthen the educational rights of the 2.8 million school children in our country who require special education services. Persons who have disabilities are twice as likely to be victims of violence compared to persons without disabilities. Additionally, one-third to one-half of persons who die at the hands of the police have mental health issues or other disabilities. For all these reasons plus many more, persons with disabilities must vote to protect their interests.
By authorizing the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, the federal government has made efforts to ensure the accessibility of polling places. More than 45 technological and administrative solutions have been developed to assist with voter access. Should a polling place be physically inaccessible, election judges can bring a ballot to the voter curbside as long as the voter is within 50 feet of the polling place. Voters who are blind and visually impaired must have non-visual accessibility. At least one direct responding electronic (DRE) voting system, which provides a touchscreen, along with at least one election judge familiar with its use, must also be available in each polling place. Here in Illinois, Equip for Equality has federal funding to assist those with disabilities have access to the voting process.
It has been an ugly and brutal presidential election cycle. It is time for all voters who have disabilities to take a good hard look at the candidates, as we are in the home stretch. I purposefully do not express my political views in this blog or in other social media. Suffice it to say, that viewing the websites and conduct of each candidate, should readily inform voters with disabilities and their loved ones with all they need to vote with knowledge of who will support their interests. Register, vote and let our power as a community be felt.