Change Your Community by Voting
Until 1974, civil rights recognition for people with disabilities was so insubstantial that a person with a disability could be arrested for having the audacity to be out and about. The so-called “ugly laws” made it illegal for a person deemed “unsightly” or “unseemly” to appear in public. Even more recently, it was acceptable to demand a person with a disability to leave a gathering place because they made others uncomfortable or “sad” by their mere presence.
Thankfully, this changed with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. Until this historically affirming event 26 years ago, our civil rights to public access, public transportation, education and communication did not exist. We were politely referred to as “shut-ins” because we had been shut out of public life, our voices unheard and the expectation that we would “go quietly.” Think again!
We now have our civil rights. And we now benefit from a world with greater access and protections of these rights. The ADA, IDEA, the ABLE Act, Vocational Rehabilitation and more exist because elected officials felt the weight of the will of voters.
However, there are continuous challenges to restrict our hard-won rights and protections. Last year, the Arizona Legislature considered bills that would limit the use of service animals and another that would add additional roadblocks to ADA compliance by businesses. They were narrowly beaten back by advocates – voters who convinced legislators these bills would displease the voting public.
Elected officials who control the federal budget decide issues of funding for public transportation, access to healthcare, funding of SSI and SSDI and annual COLA (cost of living adjustments). It is our responsibility to hold elected officials accountable and make sure they act in our best interest. We can only accomplish this through the voting process.
“Voting is part of the ritual of being American,” says Amina Kruck, VP of Advocacy at Ability360. “The very programs that people with disabilities rely on are created and funded by the people we elect.”
Every election, from President of the United States, to Congress, to state legislatures, to your local school board member, impacts the quality of life for people with disabilities. In order to effect change in your community, you have to vote.
Voter access for people with disabilities continues to improve thanks to the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and Protection and Advocacy for Voting Access (PAVA). Along with options such as voting by mail (known as PEVL or the Permanent Early Voter List) or using curbside voting at your designated polling place, you can also go to an Early Voting Site such as the Ability360 Center. Beginning on Oct. 17 through Nov. 4, any voter in Maricopa County can vote at Ability360.
Remember that as a person with a disability, there are accommodations available to you at the polling location. Some common accommodations include:
- You can move to the front of the line if your disability is aggravated by waiting in line or if you depend on Dial-A-Ride so that you don’t miss your return trip.
- You are entitled to use the voting assistance of your choice in the voting booth, you can bring a person (not a candidate on the ballot or your employer) or device to help your read or mark your ballot or assist with way-finding.
- If you are unable to leave your vehicle or enter the polling station due to access issues, you may curbside vote. The Marshall will begin a process where your ballot will be brought to you in your vehicle.
Justin Dart, the father of the ADA famously said, “Vote as if your life depends on it, because it does.” Your vote safeguards our hard-won civil rights protections. Don’t let that go!
On Election Day, ACDL staffs a hotline to address election concerns for individuals with disabilities related to the right to vote independently, accessibility, and voting machines.
Senior Staff Advocate Renaldo Fowler offers the following for all voters before going to the polls:
- Confirm your voting status at ServiceArizona.com now to ensure your voter record is current and accurate.
- Know your voting location and hours of voting. Polling stations can move from election to election, so you may have to go to a different place than you went in the past.
- Know what identification you need to vote.
- Understand what accommodations are available to you and how to access them.
- Review the sample ballot in advance.
- If there is any question about your eligibility to vote, do not be turned away without casting a provisional ballot.
The Arizona Center for Disability Law staffs a hotline to assist with access issues for voters at (602) 274-6287 or 1-800-927-2260.
Jennifer Longdon is known to drink too much coffee, ask too many questions and then write about it. She has served on numerous Boards and Commissions focused on disability advocacy including the Phoenix Mayor’s Commission on Disability Issues, the Statewide Independent Living Council and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation Public Impact Panel. Jen has a T-4 spinal cord injury and uses a wheelchair full time.