Voting is at the heart of our democracy and our American way
of life. It gives citizens age 18 and older a real voice in who their elected
leaders will be and how our government works, and 2020 will be a big year with
many choices. While voting shouldn’t be hard, for people with intellectual or
developmental difficulties, there can be barriers that make it more challenging.
State and local governments are tasked with making it
easier, thanks to a number of laws on the books, including the Americans with
Disabilities Act. Fundamentally, the ADA requires governments to ensure that
people with disabilities have a full and equal opportunity to vote. We really
encourage you to read about it in detail here at the ADA site, so that you or a loved one
understands what rights exist and where to go if you feel rights have been
violated. Here are a few key takeaways:
States are required to make sure all aspects of the voter
registration process are accessible to people with disabilities, and states
can’t disqualify people solely because they may have a disability.
The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 requires that
offices providing public assistance or state-funded programs that primarily
serve people with disabilities provide registration support through distributing
and helping people complete forms, and getting the forms to the right officials.
In some cases, this can include assistance within a person’s own home.
ADA requires that people with disabilities can physically
access voting sites, whether they be at city hall, a church, a business or
anywhere else. There’s a standard checklist that helps election officials
understand whether their site fits the bill. (This includes areas outside the
building, too, such as parking spaces.) Certainly a person with a disability
could choose to have an absentee ballot mailed to them. That’s fine if it’s
what they choose to do, but that can’t be the only option available to them. Additionally,
poll workers are required to allow service animals to accompany voters.
Casting of ballots
The Help America Vote Act of 2002 states that if a location
is conducting a federal election, voting machines need to be accessible to
people who are blind or visually impaired. Voters’ privacy and independence
must always be maintained. Poll workers must ensure the machines work and that
election workers are fully trained on them. Additionally, the ADA requires
officials conducting any elections to provide effective communication and
auxiliary aids and services at every stage of the process, from registration
through casting a ballot.
Candidates and the
The mechanics of voting are important. So is understanding candidates’ stances on a variety of issues, including disability matters. For an interesting perspective on what people with disabilities want from candidates, check out this article from a Forbes contributor who has had lifelong disabilities.