As a Disabled woman, I dread voting. Polling places are supposed to be accessible to Disabled voters, but in my experience, they seldom are. For one, I do not have the fine motor skills to fill in the bubbles. As a result, I need assistance to fill out the ballot.
I’ve heard horror stories about Disabled voters relying on election workers–workers who loudly repeat the voters’ choice or workers who try to talk the voter into making a different choice. As a result, I ask my mom to help me. She respects my voting choices, even when we are not voting for the same candidate. The election workers often let me do this with no problem.
However, this year when I voted in the primary election, one of the workers loudly shouted, “No cheating!” as my mom helped me fill out the ballot. I felt like a child singled out by a teacher for utilizing the reasonable accommodations outlined in my IEP. I was humiliated and angry. I was exercising my right to vote like anyone else; I just have to go about it a bit differently. I tried to laugh it off, but the worker continued to make a scene, filling the previously peaceful room with his boisterous voice. He repeated himself, even though I heard him perfectly the first time. I was reminded at that moment that I was different – that our society and its conventions were not designed for me. I was an other. I am an other.
I do not remember the exact words I uttered in that moment, but they must have been along the lines of, “She’s just helping me,” to which he replied, “You have to fill it out yourself.”
I said, “But the ballot isn’t accessible. I can’t do it on my own.” He looked at me dumbfounded, as if he had no idea what I was rattling on about. Maybe if I hadn’t been caught off guard, I would have been able to say something snappier – something worthy of a monologue in a film where the protagonist rails against ableism. But I am just a human being, not some hero. I get embarrassed, I feel pain, and I don’t always have the energy to fight back.
He then told me that a poll worker could help me, but by then, I had had enough of the microaggressions and said that I would prefer my mom help me. “Then she has to be sworn in,” he said. After my mom got sworn in, I resumed my ballot and left, having my worst fears about voting as a Disabled person realized.
Months have passed since the primaries, and the general election is quickly approaching. I am mentally preparing myself for voting. My mom and I are devising a plan to let the election workers know ahead of time that she is going to assist me with my ballot so that she can be sworn in and I can avoid public humiliation.
However, the activist in me knows that the system should not be built this way. The ballot should be made accessible for everyone, polling sites should be accessible for everyone, and no one should be made to feel singled out while voting.