Washington, D.C., November 26 – This past month, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released a draft copy of their report looking at barriers and accessibility for voters with disabilities. In response to this meeting, RespectAbility, a national, non-partisan nonprofit organization, submitted a short letter and detailed data on where things stand for voters with disabilities after the 2020 election and looking ahead to the 2022 election cycle.
“Our past voter survey work shows that 74 percent of likely voters are touched by disabilities,” said former Rep. Steve Bartlett, who was a primary author of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and is the immediate past Chairman of RespectAbility. “Candidates for office ignore the disability community at their peril. Some of the closest elections in recent years have been won by candidates who reached out to voters with disabilities. Glenn Youngkin did it in Virginia, Steve Daines did it in Montana, just as President Biden, and Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock did in Georgia. All of them made their campaigns accessible to voters with disabilities.”
Earlier this year, the Biden Administration released Executive Order 14019. This E.O. directed key federal agencies to dig into issues of “difficulties with voter registration, lack of election information, and barriers to access at polling places.” Looking closely at supporting voting access for communities of color and citizens with barriers to voting, such as disabilities, this Executive Order prompted the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) solicited online, public feedback from constituents across the country.
That feedback has been synthesized into a draft document entitled Promoting Access to Voting: Recommendations for Addressing Barriers to Private and Independent Voting for People with Disabilities. This summer, RespectAbility submitted public comments as the draft report was coming together and shared key lessons from past election cycles.
Now that a draft document has been finalized, RespectAbility formally responded to the NIST with new voter data reflecting the scope and scale of the disability community’s electoral impact.
As the nation moves forward into a new election cycle, RespectAbility’s team will continue to seek new opportunities to provide input and suggest best practices for future elections.
RespectAbility’s full testimony is presented online as a PDF and below:
To: Leadership and Staff, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
From: Staff, Fellows and Board members, RespectAbility
Re: Public Comments on Draft NIST Special Publication 1273-draft
Dear Director Chambers and NIST Staff,
Once again, the RespectAbility team thanks you for the opportunity to offer public comments on the NIST’s work to address the critical barriers impacting voting access for voters with disabilities. Our organization previously submitted public comments in July 2021 on NIST-2021-0003-0001 Promoting Access to Voting.
We are incredibly pleased to see how far NIST has gone on these issues and how deeply your current draft document reflects the lived experience of millions of voters with disabilities. Much of your document is focused on the technical requirements and accessible parameters of voting itself. This is as it should be given your agency’s scope of responsibilities and legislative foundation. At the same time, your draft document reflects the broader barriers that impact whether millions of Americans with disabilities can exercise their right to vote. Those barriers begin long before election day and reflect the deep inequalities that define the United States of America.
At the same time, your draft document points the way forward in terms of solving the technical challenges and focusing effort on the systematic barriers. RespectAbility’s board of directors, our board of advisors, our staff, and our National Leadership Program participants congratulate you on your hard work. We look forward to helping with implementation in the years ahead.
If given the opportunity, the approximately 38 million eligible voters with disabilities have the power to impact and swing elections for years to come. Their active engagement as equal citizens depends on many of the solutions identified in your draft report.
As a supplement to your work, we are enclosing with this document some of our most up-to-date data on voters with disabilities. It reflects where things stand now and how your work will impact them. Likewise, we include below the key data points from our July 2021 submission. Thank you again and we look forward to working with you!
Ollegario “Ollie” Cantos VII, Chair, RespectAbility
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, President, RespectAbility
Matan Koch, Vice President, Workforce, Leadership, and Faith Programs, RespectAbility
Philip Kahn-Pauli, Policy and Practices Director, RespectAbility
Nelly Nieblas, Manager of Policy, Advocacy and Engagement, RespectAbility