For people with disabilities, voting has always required a plan

shared courtesy of L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C.

 

Washington, D.C.- You can’t miss the calls to vote these days. It’s everywhere – online and on yard signs, in hashtags and on t-shirts. The message is clear – make your voting plan and exercise your right to vote! But what about people with disabilities who face challenges accessing their voting rights?

A core member (adult with intellectual disability) at L’Arche GWDC expressed their desire to join their fellow community members in voting. But this core member’s right to vote had been taken away when they were placed under guardianship. A L’Arche leader stated that “with the right supports and the right accommodations” to communicate and explain the issues and candidates on the ballot, this core member could vote. They know who they want to vote for. They have explicitly said they want to vote. But they don’t have the right.

This core member isn’t alone. As Pew Trusts reported there are “tens of thousands of Americans with disabilities who every year lose their right to vote during guardianship proceedings, according to the California-based Spectrum Institute, an advocacy group for people with disabilities.” While this impacts thousands of people, the process itself isn’t standardized: “Not only is there no agreement among legal and psychological experts over whether certain people with disabilities should be disenfranchised, but there is also no set standard for measuring the mental capacity needed to vote.”

And even if someone with disabilities retains their right to vote, actually casting that vote can be difficult. Barriers can include not having a ballot they can read (visual disabilities or ballot formatting), not having an alternative to providing a signature, the voting location not being wheelchair accessible, no functioning accessible machines, or poll workers not knowing how to support people with disabilities. The pandemic, of course, just exacerbates the situation. This is no small number of people impacted by inaccessible voting. Rutgers University researchers found “A projected 38.3 million people with disabilities will be eligible to vote in the November 2020 elections, representing close to one-sixth of the total electorate.”