Skip to content

Category: Voting Accessibility

In 2022, Barriers Remain for People with Disabilities in the Midterm Elections

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects voting rights for people with disabilities, but 32 years after its passage, voters with disabilities still experienced barriers to participating in the polls. In this election cycle, some particularly significant issues included a lack of poll worker training on using ADA-compliant voting equipment and poll workers not properly addressing challenges that prevent people with disabilities from voting.

A Reflection on Being Singled Out While Voting

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.

What National Voter Registration Day Means for Voters with Disabilities

Washington, D.C., September 20 – Today, RespectAbility celebrates National Voter Registration Day. According to the official website, “National Voter Registration Day is a nonpartisan civic holiday celebrating our democracy. First observed in 2012, it has quickly gained momentum ever since. Nearly 4.7 million voters have registered to vote on the holiday to date.”

With the 2022 midterm elections only 49 days away, time is running out for people to complete their voter registration. As RespectAbility encourages all voters to ensure they are registered, it also is important to bring attention to the distinct barriers faced by a major voting bloc that is all too often ignored when their exercise their right to vote – the one in five Americans living with a disability.

In total, there are 61 million adults with disabilities across the country. Yet despite the size of the community, voters with disabilities face distinct barriers when it comes to exercising their right to vote. According to researchers at Rutgers University and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC): “one in nine voters with disabilities encountered difficulties voting in 2020,” and “voting difficulties were most common among people with vision and cognitive impairments.”

RespectAbility Responds to Request for Ideas on Promoting Access for Voters with Disabilities

Washington, D.C., July 19 – Last week, RespectAbility submitted comments to the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Request for Information (RFI) regarding voting access for voters with disabilities. 

This RFI comes after President Biden signed the Executive Order on Promoting Access to Voting in March of this year. Within the Executive Order, President Biden called on the NIST, along with the Department of Justice, the Election Assistance Commission and other relevant agencies to “analyze barriers to private and independent voting for people with disabilities, including access to voter registration, voting technology, voting by mail, polling locations, and poll worker training.” This is a critical step towards understanding how to improve access for the 38 million eligible voters with disabilities in America who look to cast their ballots in future elections. 

How Candidates & Campaigns Can Connect with Voters with Disabilities: by Nelly Nieblas and Hon. Steve Bartlett

Washington, D.C., June 28 – In the 2020 election cycle, candidates from both political parties who made their campaigns accessible and inclusive of people with disabilities won key races and helped shift the balance of power in America.

The biggest wins for candidates who reached out to voters with disabilities were in the state of Georgia where President Biden and Senators Ossoff and Warnock all made their campaigns accessible to voters with disabilities.

The Voting Accessibility of the 2020 Election

Washington, D.C., March 17 – After an unprecedented election season, Rutgers University’s Program for Disability Research and the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) recently released a study of the voting accessibility of the 2020 elections. This study highlighted the differences between the voting experience of individuals living with and without disabilities. The report found that even in the unprecedented circumstances of the 2020 election, voters with disabilities were better accommodated than in the 2012 election. The study’s findings also shine a light on how much our nation still needs to grow to make sure that individuals living with disabilities can equitably cast their ballots.

Georgia Disability Voter Access, Pollsters & Exit Polls

As the nation waits for the Georgia Senate runoff next week, disability organization calls on pollsters and media to track disability participation and access.

Washington, D.C., Dec. 28 – With the political universe centered on the Senate runoff in Georgia, the unique needs and barriers of Georgians with disabilities could very well factor into to the outcome of the race. Thus, the national nonpartisan disability inclusion organization RespectAbility is asking pollsters, polling firms and political consultants to track voters with disabilities in their demographic data, as well as voter access exit polling.

According to the 2019 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium, the total number of Georgians with disabilities is 1,246,077, making up 12.1 percent of the total state population. 2018 employment data show that there are 658,811 working-age people with disabilities in Georgia. In the economic expansion prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, only 238,875 (or 36.3 percent) of those Georgians had a job.

Thus far, there has been little outreach to voters with disabilities from all four Senate candidates in the runoff race. As noted by RespectAbility in November, none of the four candidates even mention the word disability on their campaign websites. None of the Senate candidates’ websites are fully accessible to the 254,972 Georgians who are blind or low vision. And very few of the candidates’ videos have captions, making them inaccessible to the 328,000 deaf and hard of hearing Georgians.

Georgia Senate Candidates Deny Access to Voters with Disabilities

Washington, D.C., Nov. 12 – Despite there being more than 1.2 million Georgians with some form of disability, all four Senate candidates in the most hotly contested Senate races in America have thus far failed to reach out to voters with disabilities. Indeed, none of the four candidates even mention the word disability on their campaign websites, and none of their websites are fully accessible to voters who are blind or deaf.

The failure of Georgia Senate campaigns to reach out to voters with disabilities is in stark contrast to President-elect Joe Biden who made outreach to the disability community a key part of his winning strategy. A poll conducted by Democracy Corps on behalf of RespectAbility in the major battleground states in the days leading up to Election Day found that 60 percent of voters with disabilities say they have or were planning to vote for Joe Biden, compared to 35 percent of voters with disabilities supporting President Trump. This showed a shift from 2016, when a poll conducted by Lake Research Partners and The Tarrance Group found that voters with disabilities split their votes between President Trump (46 percent) and Secretary Hillary Clinton (49 percent).

National Voter Registration Day: Joshua Basile’s Story

Washington, D.C., Sept. 22 – My life flipped upside down and changed forever on an August summer day in 2004. I was 18 years old when a wave lifted my feet off the ground and slammed me head first against the ocean floor. I remember hearing a loud crack in my neck and could not move my arms or legs. I later awoke in a hospital bed paralyzed below the shoulders, and unable to speak because of a ventilator in my neck helping me to breathe. For four weeks I could not say a word or speak my mind. Eventually I weaned off the ventilator and found my voice again. 

Josh Basile smiling, sitting in his power wheelchair with the US Capitol behind him.

Since regaining my voice, I have dedicated my life to letting each and every word be heard with purpose. Whether with my voice or with my powerful power wheels, I try to be a force for good through civic engagement by bettering my community and others living with significant disabilities. I have faced many obstacles compromising my ability to live safely and independently in the community outside of a nursing home. Numerous times I was denied vital government-funded community supports such as attendant care and nursing care. Luckily every time I faced one of these scary challenges, I did not have to face them alone.

Blind Michigan Supreme Court Justice unable to receive absentee ballot, turned away

BIRMINGHAM, Mich., July 9 – A blind Michigan Supreme Court Justice was turned away from a clerk’s office while trying to retrieve and fill out his absentee ballot last week because the workers did not know how to get him his ballot.

Justice Richard Bernstein, who was elected as the first blind justice to the Michigan Supreme Court in January 2015, told local reporters that “I think what I experienced was the fact they didn’t have any idea what the protocol was,” and that he has nothing bad to say of the workers in the office, only that they simply did not know what to do. 

Voters with Disabilities Find Accessibility Issues Nationally and Locally

Washington, D.C., Nov. 20 – Voters from across the country faced long lines, malfunctioning machines and a lack of trained workers on during the 2018 midterm elections. In some parts of the country, voters were forced to wait for hours, only to find that their voting precinct was not equipped with the correct facilities to handle a large turnout. To voters without disabilities, these obstacles may come across as a hindrance or annoyance. For voters with disabilities, however, lack of accessible technology, long wait times and voting rules can disenfranchise them from the system.

A National Issue

The problems with the election were widespread across the country. In Atlanta, home to a contentious Georgia Governor’s race, one precinct was equipped with only three electronic machines to serve nearly 3,000 voters. In Brooklyn, voters were forced to wait while poll workers rushed to repair ballot scanners as a line slowly wrapped around the precinct outside. In North Dakota, Native American voters found themselves being turned away from trying to cast provisional ballots. It became clear that across the country even voters without disabilities faced obstacles in trying to vote.

National Voter Registration Day 2018 – Reflections from a Voter with a Disability

Hi, my name is Stephanie Farfan and I have never stepped foot inside a polling station. Yet, I’ve voted in every election I have been old enough to vote. I always have gotten an absentee ballot from my home state of Florida. This is because as someone with a physical disability,…

Voters with Disabilities Matter – This Year and Every Year

National Voter Registration Day logoWashington, Sept. 26 – RespectAbility is honored to participate in the sixth annual National Voter Registration Day (NVRD), a nonpartisan effort to encourage people to register to vote and make their voices heard in our nation’s political process. Today, organizations nationwide will register thousands of new voters.

However, if you read the news today, many people might feel discouraged, disconnected or unconvinced that their voices matter. Last year, it was clear that getting the vote out mattered with the high stakes of a presidential race and key Senate contests across the country. What about this year? Why should people get out, get registered and get out the voter in a quiet year like 2017? The reason is simple.

As the former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Tip O’Neill famously said, “All politics is local.” Did you know that 59 of the 100 largest cities in America are holding elections this year? Did you know there are 36 mayoral races and more than 360 city council races in 2017 alone? In communities across the country, local, municipal and state elections are taking place this year.

Candidates Talk Accessibility for People with Disabilities

Washington, Nov. 3 – In theory, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) opened the door to employment for many people with physical disabilities by requiring that buildings be physically accessible. In practice, however, workplace accessibility for many people with disabilities is far from universal.

Many employers have offices in buildings that predate the ADA and therefore don’t have elevators, accessible bathrooms or necessary assistive technology for people of all abilities to be able to work there. In addition, the ADA exempts companies with fewer than 15 employees from having to abide by ADA standards, so many miss out on a chance to work for a smaller organization.

Therefore, as part of the #PwDsVote Disability Questionnaire, the nonpartisan, nonprofit disability organization RespectAbility asked candidates running for president, senate or governor about their plans to address this issue. Every candidate was given an equal opportunity to respond and if they are not listed, it is because they declined to answer.

Many campaigns lack basic accessibility – from websites being accessible for people using screen readers to videos lacking captions for the 37.5 million American adults who are deaf or hard of hearing. In addition, not all campaign events are ADA accessible, including parking, entrances and bathrooms. Many lacked ASL interpreters and live captioning services.

The quotes in this article are the candidates’ answers to questions 1 and 2 in the gubernatorial/senate questionnaire: “Do you have designated advisors and clear processes for making decisions on disability issues? Is your campaign accessible and inclusive to people with disabilities?” These were adapted from similar questions, numbers 1 and 11, in the presidential questionnaire.

In Delaware, both candidates for the open gubernatorial seat have worked to ensure they have accessible campaigns by seeking input from both family members and constituents with disabilities. Whomever wins will have big shoes to fill as current Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, who is term limited, is a hero to the disability community. Markell was awarded recognition by RespectAbility this summer for his leadership nationally in creating more job opportunities for people with disabilities.

“I have learned about disability issues from constituent calls seeking assistance as well as disability community meetings as a member of the legislature,” Republican State Sen. Colin Bonini replied. “We hold meet and greets at various locations including restaurants. We ask the locations if their events are accessible prior to setting an event up and it is our goal to hold events at locations that are accessible.”

“I have strong relationships with members of Delaware’s disabilities community, and I rely on them for advice and guidance on how to best serve the needs of those with disabilities,” Democrat Rep. John Carney replied. “My campaign welcomes all Delawareans to share their thoughts and concerns about the future of our state. We ensure that our offices and community events are always accessible for anyone who wishes to participate in the election process.”

Check out all of the candidates’ full responses below:

Recognizing the Impact of Voters with Disabilities on National Voter Registration Day

National Voter Registration Day logoWashington, Sept. 27 – Today, we celebrate National Voter Registration Day. With the election only 41 days away, time is running out for people to complete their voter registration. As we encourage all voters to ensure they are registered, it also is important to call attention to the importance of voting rights by talking about barriers that keep people from exercising their right to vote.

This day comes at a critical time not only for the presidential election but also for the one in five Americans who have a disability. The electoral power and political impact of voters with disabilities are being recognized like never before. From front page news stories in the New York Times and the Washington Post to groundbreaking political research by Pew Research Center and Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, Americans with disabilities are being recognized as a potentially decisive voting bloc. Just this past week, Hillary Clinton delivered a major speech about disability employment.