On November 4, 2008, our president, Barack Obama was elected in a landslide, running for “change.” As disabled youth there are many problems in our lives whether it is with our healthcare or just making places more accessible for us. We would like to change these things, but how do we go about making these changes? Community activism helps but there is one simple way for us to make changes: get involved in the political process!
Justin Dart (the father of the Americans with Disabilities Act) once said, “Vote as if your life depends on it. Because it does.” We are affected by public policy as much and even more so than other groups of voters, so it’s critical that we make our voices heard. The Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) all guarantee accessible polling places or voting methods (ways to vote). We’ll focus on those later, though the true key to getting our voices heard is getting informed.
Here are some ways to get informed:
« Look up the candidates’ (local or national) policies online to see where they stand on disabled citizens’ rights and accommodations.
« Don’t be afraid to call them. If you let the candidates know you are out there and are interested in learning about them, they may send you information, or even change their policies.
« If you still need more information, go in person to the candidates’ headquarters and ask about their policies on citizens with disabilities. If a candidate knows they can receive new or more votes, the candidate will gladly let you know how he or she feels or even consider changing his or her policies for you.
Hard to believe that you hold that much power, huh? Votes are important to politicians, and politicians are willing to help you in order to get them. Just be determined, start out small, and let candidates know you intend to make your opinion heard, and major changes can happen. After all, even some of the greatest advocates like Justin Dart and Martin Luther King Jr. got their start as citizens who wanted change.
After you get informed, it is time to head to the polls.
Thanks to the
For those of us who can’t get to the polls, or just prefer to vote in our homes, the state lets us vote by absentee ballots. These can be picked up and submitted anytime from the beginning of the campaigns up until the day before the polls open; however, you have to apply for them months in advance. Check with your state to see what they offer. Some states also offer home delivery and pick up of your absentee ballots. Be careful though, when using this method, as you don’t want the people who pick up your ballot to be a part of any political party. It’s really important to keep your vote private.
to getting our opinions heard. There’s something more important than
being informed though, and that’s not being afraid to vote. Just because we
have disabilities doesn’t mean our opinions can’t be heard.
For more info on your voting rights, check out:
This is the National Organization on Disabilities’ information on voting, take a look at this with your families.
This group’s purpose is to assist protection and advocacy systems, election officials and people with disabilities to make voting accessible for citizens with cognitive disabilities and visual disabilities.
The Center is managed and operated by self-advocacy
leaders. It has some great articles on voting:
Check out the Gotham Gazette for more information on the issues of accessible voting: http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/voting/20060607/17/1875 and
links provided) (The information on BMD’s came from these articles.)
This site shares the history of voting rights for people with disabilities:
However you choose to vote, it’s important to
remember to find out what voting accommodations your state offers before you
vote. Be sure to check with local city or town hall and legislatures to
learn about local accommodations.
Author’s note: The author would like to give a heartfelt thank-you to the Big Foot high school history and social studies department, particularly to coach James Hani for their assistance.