Every summer, interns work to help accomplish the goals of Disability Partnerships. This summer, one of our wonderful interns wrote an article about accessibility of polling locations for persons with physical disabilities. Spreading the message of the importance of voting is a critical component of our effort to improve the quality of life for persons with physical disabilities. How can we truly achieve the goals of this organization if we don't encourage voting in the primary and general elections? By the same token, I know that voting can be very difficult for persons with physical disabilities. We have to contend with the issues of lack of transportation to the polls and inaccessible polling locations. Please take a moment to read this article written by our summer 2018 intern, Virginia Faust, about the importance of accessible voting.
What Does Accessible Voting Look Like?
The voting system in the United States is considered by many to be overly complex and confusing. The tedious registration process is one obstacle in itself, while the coordination of poll timing and location only serves to make it more complicated.
Voting has become inevitably associated with inaccessibility. People working low-skilled jobs are not given time to vote by employers; people living in poverty are often unable to provide photo identification in states where it is required. Add in a disability to the mix of complicating factors, and a person’s ability to vote becomes a lot less likely. So, how do we make voting more accessible?
What options, if any, exist for people with disabilities who want to vote?
In Maryland, early voting for the primary election begins Thursday, June 14, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. According to the state’s official website, “all of the early voting centers in Maryland are accessible to voters with disabilities.” The official primary election voting day is Tuesday, June 26. There is a specific function on the official website to research each voting station’s accessibility, linked at the end of this article.
Before going to the polls, however, it’s necessary to register. Moves to increase voter participation within the disabled community have been made; the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 requires public service offices and state-funded programs aimed at serving those with disabilities to also provide the opportunity to register to vote. Such organizations are mandated to offer voter registration forms, assist in completion of the forms, and transfer forms to appropriate election officials.
According to the official Americans with Disabilities Act, “the NVRA requires such offices to provide any citizen who wishes to register to vote the same degree of assistance with voter registration forms as it provides with regard to completing the office’s own forms.” Persons with disabilities who need home services from these organizations are also entitled to in-home assistance with voter registration.
The actual polling process poses more challenges for those with disabilities. American polling places include libraries, schools, churches, and more—and while these places are usually built with accessibility in mind, there are always unexpected barriers that pop up. The Americans with Disabilities Act provides a simple checklist for election officials organizing polling location, which includes information on accessible parking, constructing ramps, doorway measurements, and more. Also useful are the listed solutions to problems that may arise unexpectedly.
In Maryland specifically, accommodations are made with disability-specific assistive functions. Headsets, keypads, and high contrast are available for use by those with visual or auditory impairments, Online, absentee ballots can be completed using software built for those with disabilities; a voter can also choose to get assistance from a friend to fill out their ballot.
While efforts have already been made to increase accessibility for citizens with disabilities, the voting process is still not immune to criticism and improvement. All citizens should be given an equal opportunity to have a political say, especially those within marginalized communities often silenced. When such communities are empowered to vote, this country will see progress transforming itself into a more inviting place to live for not only a few, but all of its people.
Where can I find Maryland-specific information on voting with disabilities?
Is my designated voting location accessible?
Where can I find more general information on voting with disabilities?
What specific laws pertain to the voting rights of people with disabilities?
Where can I find the accessibility checklist?
Working together to improve the quality of life for persons with physical disabilities!