It’s Disability Voting Rights Week — a “REV UP” campaign hosted by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) to recognize the over 38 million people with disabilities who are eligible to vote in the United States but often face barriers to do so. Last week, Epicenter-NYC reported on some of these hurdles at early polling sites, from too-steep ramps to too-narrow door frames to inadequate etiquette and device training among poll workers.
Disability advocates have also highlighted a general lack of awareness about the voting rights of people with disabilities. One of them, Michael Ring, told Epicenter that people with physical disabilities who need to use the ballot marking device (BMD) might not know it exists. They might not know that this electronic device can, for instance, read the ballot out loud for those who are blind or have low vision, or can allow people without the full function of their fingers to use a mouse or touchscreen to vote. Ring recommended that all voters, whether or not they have a disability, try the BMD once so they can be aware of it and “encourage their disabled friends to go vote.”
In honor of Disability Voting Rights Week, Epicenter looked into other ways people can get involved in raising awareness and protecting the rights of people with disabilities to fully participate in our democracy. Here are a few:
- Know the rights of people with disabilities. At a recent event, “Diversability Unplugged: The Power of the Disability Vote,” hosted by Diversability, an online community, together with REV UP, panelists named some voting rights people might not know about:
- You have the right to an assistant of your choice, with the exception of your employer or union rep, offered voting access advocate Laura-Lee Minutello.
- The versatility of the BMD can’t be overstated, said voting rights advocate Jenessa Seymour. Among previously mentioned features, it includes headphones, and a paddle board for people who have decreased dexterity in their hands, allowing them to vote with their feet. It has a sip and puff device to navigate the menu. “It has a million features and I swear there’s one in every polling place in New York,” Seymour said.
- The nonprofit Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York (CIDNY) is supporting a Zoom workshop hosted by the AAPD called “Access Your Power as a Voter” on Friday, Sept. 15 at 6 p.m. You can register here.
- CIDNY hosts a monthly Consumer Action Network (CAN) meeting, an advocacy gathering where community members can share whatever is important to them, including any voting issues or voting experiences they have encountered. The next CAN meeting is Wednesday, Sept. 20 from 1 to 3 p.m. You can RSVP here.
- To help advocate for accessibility and other issues, stay informed, advised Tashia Lerebours, the transportation and voting community organizer at CIDNY. Read articles on voting issues, and follow organizations like CIDNY and initiatives like REV UP. Watch Board of Elections meetings here or read the transcripts and agendas here.
- Voice issues to legislators and the Board of Elections. You can write or call your local officials. Groups like CIDNY often share petitions or other initiatives that can directly reach elected officials.
- To keep informed on New York-specific resources for voters with disabilities, here’s a guide.
Learn more about events to educate yourself on these issues here.
This is part of a series of articles exploring health equity in New York that is funded by a grant from the Commonwealth Fund.