“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” ~ Alice Walker
The 2015 version of this article started with despair. A lament that our elected officials didn’t hear us, or worse, they didn’t care to hear us. The needs of Americans with disabilities, their families and allies were at the bottom of the proverbial pile. We didn’t matter. We were not a big enough threat to their political aspirations.
This feeling was reinforced over the last several years with one-sided policy proposals and decisions that adversely and disproportionately impacted Americans with complex health and long term care needs.
In 2015 we despaired that “we the people” had become a silent many, watching democracy slowly die…our freedom and power eroding as our apathy swelled. We called for action. A movement. An uprising. We were pessimistic, yet hopeful, if that’s even possible.
But then, in 2016 and the years to follow, there was a shift. There was a swell of advocates from all walks of life, all manner of disability, demanding to be heard. Much like the early days of the pre-ADA disability rights movement, there was a momentum, a force that could no longer be disregarded. The candidates slowly started noticing. They talked about disability policy. They consulted with disabled advocates. They developed comprehensive disability policy plans.
It’s a shift years in the making, but one that has barely progressed past a nudge. The truth is, the majority of polling places remain inaccessible to voters with disabilities. A wave of restrictive voter ID laws and a recent court ruling removing unsuspecting voters from voter roles make voting all the more difficult. Add in a lack of transportation to the polls, and we’re left with a whole lot of momentum with no where to go.
So, what’s a hopeful voter to do?
You need to prepare for the fact that voting while disabled is not as easy as it should be. There’s work involved (far too much work, if we’re being completely honest). It’s not fair, but the work is necessary until we get to the place where these barriers no longer exist.
We need to do what needs to be done to ensure our vote counts, all while advocating loudly for change. You will be tempted by apathy – that nagging, deceptive voice that tries to convince you that your work will not matter. Do it anyway. Once apathy takes hold, it is a most formidable, destructive beast. Fight it.
Take it one step at a time…
First, are you a registered voter? Double check your state’s voter registration process and verify your status as a registered voter. Have you moved recently? You may have to re-register. If you’re not registered, take care of that as soon as you can. Visit Vote Smart: Voter Registration
Second, do you have a valid form of ID to vote in your state? Double check your state’s voter ID policy. Some states are more restrictive than others. Visit Voter Identification Requirements: Voter ID Laws
Third, do you know your state’s early voting/absentee voting policy. If you don’t have transportation to the polls, many states allow voters to vote via an absentee ballot via mail. Each state has their own early voting/absentee policy.
Fourth, do you know your rights as a voter? Learn which laws protect the rights of voters with disabilities and come armed with this knowledge when you vote.