From being turned away at the polls because of a developmental disability or trouble accessing a polling place while using a wheelchair – voting, an act of patriotism and power, often becomes a dehumanizing experience.
When I vote, I need to have an accessible machine or someone else fill in my ballot boxes. But poll workers don’t always understand my fine motor skill issues and why I need help. I often use mail-in ballots instead because it allows me more time, but that also means my parents or someone else is helping me fill it in, removing my privacy and independence.
These are just a few of the challenges when voting in an inaccessible system. And I’m not alone.
One in four adults in the United States have some type of disability. An estimated 38 million eligible voters have a disability. And yet, those of us with disabilities have long been disenfranchised from exercising this fundamental American right.
Take polling places, for example. An estimated 60 percent of polling locations are inaccessible, according to the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress. And although Ohio allows you to vote curbside at the location, you must often rely on someone else to bring a poll worker outside.
With the pandemic threatening the safety of all of us, people with disabilities are facing what seem like overwhelming obstacles this election year.
At LADD, we are empowering everyone we support to make their voices heard at the ballot box. But across Ohio, thousands of people with disabilities may not be having these conversations, and the efforts of fellow citizens and poll workers are critical. It starts with knowing the facts.
Did you know:
People with disabilities have the right to independent and private voting.
A person with a disability can choose to bring someone to help them vote (just not an employer, union agent or a candidate).
Having a legal guardian does not remove someone’s right to vote.
Ohio voting locations are required to be free of any barriers to entrances or exits and have ramps, wide doors and accessible parking.
If for some reason the polling place is inaccessible, Ohio allows voters to request a ballot from a car/curbside.
Ohio polling places are required to have an accessible voting machine that includes features like audio ballots, Braille touch pads and zoom features.
Poll workers should be trained to help people vote or fix issues with a voting machine.
If there is a problem with your registration, you can request a provisional ballot.
If you face issues voting, you can file a complaint with the Ohio Secretary of State.
Even with these protections, we have a long way to go before voting is truly accessible and equitable – where all people can exercise this right on a level playing field, from the same starting line. But until then, people with disabilities must know their rights and we all have a role to play in removing barriers and empowering each other to vote.
(Featured in Cincinnati Enquirer October 2020)
Jason Harris is Director of Strategic Operations at LADD, a Cincinnati nonprofit that empowers adults with developmental disabilities to live, work and connect. Jason has a master’s degree in Cultural Foundations of Education and a Certificate of Advanced Disability Studies from Syracuse University. Jason, an Autistic adult, is also Founder of Jason’s Connection, an online community for individuals with disabilities, mental health, aging and diverse abilities and needs.