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6 Tips for Voting With a Disability or Illness

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November 6 is Election Day in the United States and millions of citizens will be voting in what is widely regarded as the most important midterm election in years. Those voters include millions of people with disabilities and health conditions who are engaged with the political process and ready to cast their ballot. However, people with disabilities are significantly less likely to vote. In the 2016 election, the voter turnout rate for people with disabilities was 6 percent lower than for people without disabilities.

People with disabilities often face barriers when we try to exercise our constitutional right to vote. However, there are many laws protecting that cherished right, and many people across the political spectrum who want to help everyone have equal access to the ballot box. Voting is the most important action we can take to advocate for our rights and needs as Americans. Here are some tips for voting if you have a disability or health condition.

1. Vote early and often.

(But only once in every election, of course!)

Many states now have early voting. You can go to the polls when it’s more convenient for you instead of trying to fit it in on Election Day. Early voting empowers people with disabilities and health conditions by giving us more time and flexibility. You have more opportunities to get to the polls if you need a ride or you can choose a “good day” to vote if you have chronic pain or chronic illness. If your health fluctuates, I recommend voting as early as you can just in case you have a flare.

In some states, you can vote absentee in person prior to Election Day as long as you give them a reason why you can’t vote on Election Day. If your state doesn’t have early voting, you can change your registration to vote absentee for the next election.

If your state doesn’t have any options to vote early in person, speak up to change that. Early voting makes it possible for people who might not otherwise get to the polls to use their voice, including people with disabilities and health conditions and our loved ones.

Here is the early voting schedule so you can see your options for this election.

2. Know your rights and speak up if you encounter inaccessibility at the ballot box.

Numerous laws have been passed that guarantee the right to vote for people with disabilities. No one can tell you that you can’t vote because of a physical, intellectual or mental health disability.

If you need assistance to vote, you have the right to be accompanied by a person of your choice — but that person is only there to help you vote for candidates you choose, not tell you who to vote for. If someone is trying to control your choices, notify a polling place worker.

Polling places are required to be accessible and provide at least one voting station that can be used by people with disabilities. That station is required to allow voting with the same level of privacy and independence afforded to people without disabilities. For example, blind people should have access to a Braille overlay or audio voting system.

Despite these laws, many polling places are still not accessible. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, during the 2016 election, 60 percent of polling places had some kind of accessibility impediment and 65 percent had a designated “accessible” voting station which made it difficult for people with disabilities to cast a private and independent vote.

Inaccessible polling places are required to offer curbside voting and have a portable accessible voting station — but of course, that doesn’t mean it will. If you’re struggling to access a polling place or vote, don’t give up! Ask polling place workers to hold the door open, put your ballot on a lowered table or bring it to your car. That’s their job, and they should be polite and supportive.

Some states require ID to vote, which can be more difficult for people with disabilities and seniors to obtain. If you need help getting your ID to vote, visit VoteRiders.

If you need transportation to the polls, check out Carpool Vote. Uber and Lyft will also be offering discounted and free rides on Election Day. If you need to use paratransit, schedule your ride as far in advance as you can.

The Ruderman Family Foundation released a white paper which outlines common barriers to voting and proposes some solutions. You can learn more about your rights and the requirements for polling places on the ADA voting website.

3. Think about the ways disability and health intersect with important issues and candidates on the ballot.

Intersectionality is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot, but what does it really mean? In simple terms, it means connectedness. Human beings don’t exist in a vacuum. We all have identities that interact and connect and you can’t separate one part of a person from another. When you stop and think about it, disability and health intersect with just about every issue of local and national importance, from housing and public transportation to the justice system, education and of course health care.

When we’re voting and want to consider the needs of the disability community, we must recognize that many of our members belong to other communities as well. Disability is the only group anyone can become a member of at any time; it’s always intersectional. Many of us are also women, people of color, LGBTQ, belong to various religious groups, are immigrants or refugees and more. Many people with disabilities struggle to work due to our medical conditions and/or the unfair work restrictions placed on us by Social Security and Medicaid, so we’re more likely to live in poverty.

I encourage you to learn more about the perspectives of people with disabilities who are also part of communities you don’t know much about. We need to support each other and bridge the gaps that are dividing us as a country if we want to move forward.

4. Get informed about local races.

During the election season, the media often focuses on the national level — representatives, senators and of course the president. But state, county and city representatives are just as important when it comes to disability and health issues, sometimes even more so. For example, Medicaid is a state program, so your state representatives have a major role in shaping how it works and who it covers. County and city officials can play a major role in supporting affordable housing development, increasing accessibility of local transportation, funding sidewalk repair projects and more. District attorneys and judges can influence how your community treats people who have mental health conditions. Look into your local school board candidates to see if they’ve been supportive of students with disabilities, special education and anti-bullying initiatives.

5. Look beyond parties.

Traditionally, disability was seen as a nonpartisan issue. The Americans With Disabilities Act was passed with bipartisan support and signed by Republican President George H.W. Bush. Research shows people with disabilities hold similar political views to the rest of the population and are just as likely to be Democrats, Republicans or Independents.

With that said, Americans, in general, seem to have become more partisan in recent years. Many of us love one party and can’t stand the other, and it’s hard to imagine voting for someone on the “opposite side.” As a result, we’re losing the ability to communicate with each other and “reach across the aisle” to collaborate and compromise. We vote based on whether there’s a D, R or other letter next to someone’s name and don’t always look closely to see if they actually care about our needs. Let’s change that.

Take a moment and try to look beyond whether a candidate is “blue” or “red” to study their views, behavior, and voting history if they’ve held office before. Has this candidate shown they care about people with disabilities and health conditions through their actions and not just their words? Do they show respect towards public figures with disabilities, or do they mock and insult them? Do they support people with pre-existing conditions and those who need Medicaid, or would they rather cut services and hand more profits to insurance companies? Have they supported legislation to expand rights and opportunities for people with disabilities, or tried to weaken the ADA?

Character and integrity matter too. Many non-disabled candidates don’t know much about disability issues, but an elected official should be open to listening to their constituents and learning. Does the candidate you’re considering discuss important issues thoughtfully, or resort to personal attacks on opposing candidates? Do they seem genuinely connected to everyday people, or are they judgmental and dismissive?

6. Support candidates with disabilities, but not just because they have a disability.

Although there are no statistics on the number of people with disabilities currently holding elected office, it’s clear we are extremely underrepresented on the local, state and national level. We need more people with disabilities to run for office and win so our voices can be heard. If there is a candidate with a disability running in your area, learn about them and consider voting for them. But, of course, you shouldn’t vote for someone just because they have a disability. If you don’t like a candidate, disabled or not, don’t vote for them — and consider running for office yourself! The National Council on Independent Living maintains a list of current national, state and local elected officials with disabilities.

Elected leaders with disabilities have made significant contributions to society. Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt was our first and thus far only President to use a wheelchair. He led the United States through the Depression and World War II and created safety net programs which support many people with disabilities today. Republican John McCain was a senator and presidential candidate who became disabled due to injuries he sustained as a POW in Vietnam. He spent much of his political career advocating for bipartisanship and was respected by politicians and citizens from both parties.

People with disabilities and health conditions are highly capable of serving our country and when they deserve our votes, they should get them.

No matter what kind of disability you have and regardless of the health challenges you may be facing, your vote matters. Together we have the power to make change. See you at the polls!

Getty image by Jaflippo.

Originally published: October 30, 2018
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