In Case You Forgot: People With Disabilities Have the Right to Vote

I work in a field that can best be described as social work for adults with developmental disabilities, although I am not a fully-fledged social worker.  Still, it’s the easiest explanation I can give when somebody asks me what I do for a living. My responsibilities range from making referrals to direct support agencies, to quality assurance of vendors providing those supports to clients.  However, given this particular field, wherein I am often colloquially referred to as a “paper-pusher,” I know firsthand that it’s sometimes easy to get bogged down with mundane tasks and forget about the bigger picture.

To me, the bigger picture means that my job exists to provide information and options to people with disabilities in order for them to live their lives as independently as possible, all while ensuring that their personal and civil rights are respected. One such example of hundreds is that per the Lanterman Act, I am required to ask clients at least once per year if they are registered to vote and if not, whether they would like to become a registered voter.

In the United States, people with disabilities have the right to vote.

Repeat that to yourself as many times as you see fit, because I grow extremely tired, and frankly, agitated when I hear some of the following excuses from family, friends, and/or care providers:

“He can’t vote, he doesn’t understand what he’s voting for,” to which my response tends to be “neither do I most of the time, but I still have the right to vote, and he still has the right to vote.”

“She finds politics confusing,” and to that I say “I think the vast majority of people are baffled by politics, but they, and she, still have the right to vote.”

Or even this type of reaction: “Seriously? You have to ask him if wants to register to vote every year? His status hasn’t changed!” This one is the worst, because not only is it incredibly rude to say in front of the person, but it automatically makes me wonder if anything else hasn’t changed in his life in the past year, and if so, why?

Stagnation in a person’s life, unless 100% their choice, is a cause for concern to me. Think about the type of person you were a year ago, and I bet you will see a lot of differences. In the span of a year, your hobbies and interests have likely changed (sometimes dramatically), you may have made or lost some friends, you might have gotten more (or less) politically involved, etc. Well, the same goes for people with disabilities, and when I hear things like “his status hasn’t changed in a year,” that sends up a big red flag to me, and I will be looking for explanations as to why that is the case.

Laws and limitations around voting rights do vary by state (for example, in some states, convicted felons might face a lifetime ban on voting) so do your research. However, people with disabilities have the right to vote, and they cannot be disqualified from voting simply on the basis of disability.

Keep repeating that to yourself until you have a clear understanding of my message.  In fact, if you attempt to interfere with someone’s right to register to vote, their right to privacy in deciding whether to register, or their right to choose their political party, you could be breaking the law, and the person whose rights you infringed upon can file a complaint against you.

Now, more than ever, people with disabilities can and should be included in the political process, and everyone deserves to have their vote count. Don’t be that person who, intentionally or otherwise, holds them back.

Image by Thinkstock.

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