CommunicationFIRST Celebrates Disability Voting Rights Week with REV UP
“Vote as if your life depends on it ... because it does.”
Justin Dart, father of the Americans with Disabilities Act
September 12–16, 2022, marks Disability Voting Rights Week. Disability Voting Rights Week is a nonpartisan initiative of the American Association of People with Disabilities’s REV UP (“Register! Educate! Vote! Use your Power!”) campaign to make it easier for disabled Americans to vote and become more active in democracy and civic life. CommunicationFIRST has partnered with AAPD and over 200 other organizations to help educate and encourage people with expressive communication disabilities to get out and vote!
Why? Because CommunicationFIRST believes that voting is an important form of effective communication, expression, self-advocacy, and community inclusion.
When you vote, you make your voice heard!
People with disabilities make up more than sixteen percent of eligible U.S. voters. But too many of us face tremendous barriers to both registering to vote and casting a ballot. People who need and use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) may be even less likely to vote than the rest of the disability community. It is impossible to know this, however, because federal surveys collect data on the voting rates of people with only certain types there disabilities and those with speech disabilities are not counted at all.
Only 17.7 million of the over 38 million eligible voters with disabilities participated in the 2020 elections. Together, we can change this!
Whether you’re registering for the first time, wondering whether to vote in person or by mail, or eager to get your community voting, REV UP’s resources for voters with disabilities can help.
How to register and vote
The REV UP campaign has also partnered with Rock the Vote to help disabled voters register to vote, or check they are still registered. It takes just a few minutes to use REV UP’s voter registration tool. Use it yourself and share with others!
Learn the basics of voting, elections, and why your vote matters with the Autistic Self Advocacy Network’s (ASAN) toolkit, Your Vote Counts: A Self-Advocate’s Guide to Voting in the US. It’s available in plain language and Easy Read formats. The Arc of the United States has a similar voting guide, and it’s available in Spanish, too.
Vote.org’s tool can help you find your polling place. It can help you understand who and what is on your ballot this year. You can learn more about candidates and voting initiatives on your ballot from VoteSmart, Ballotpedia, or Vote411.
Some states require you to show identification (ID) before you can vote. Check to see if your state requires ID with VoteRiders. If you don’t have an ID but need it to vote in your state, VoteRiders will help you for free.
ASAN’s video on what it’s like to vote in person with a disability can help you prepare for voting in person.
If you’re worried about voting in person due to disability, COVID-19, or another reason, you can apply for an absentee ballot, which comes to your home in the mail. You can get help filling out your ballot if you need assistance because of a disability. You can learn more about voting by mail with ASAN’s plain language resource, How to Vote by Mail.
Need help, or still have questions? Find your State’s P&A (Protection and Advocacy) agency. You can ask for help with voter registration, check accessibility measures in place for voting day, or report discrimination. You can also ask for help or report discrimination with this tool from The Arc.
What is it like to vote? What does voting mean to you?
Our friends at Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE) have posted many voting stories from self-advocates, talking about all parts of the voting process.
REV UP asked people with disabilities what voting means to them. You can read their stories here. The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) has also published stories from disabled people sharing their voting experiences and why voting matters for our community.
#CripTheVote, a nonpartisan online movement and hashtag co-founded by new AAC user Alice Wong of the Disability Visibility Project, is designed to get disabled people talking about their experiences and thoughts about voting, and to encourage other disabled people to vote.
When you vote, mark the occasion with a photo and post it on social media to spread awareness that AAC users, too, can and do vote to make their voices heard! (But be aware that taking photos of your marked ballot, or inside your polling place, is illegal in some states, so check first to see what kind of polling place photos are allowed where you live. You may decide to take a photo at home instead, with your “I Voted” sticker.)
Your rights as a voter with speech-related disabilities
If you are 18 or over and a US citizen, in general, you should be able to vote in the next election in your area. If you need reasonable accommodations to help you vote, you are entitled by law to receive them. Accommodations can include your AAC system that allows you to communicate about voting, candidates, and politics, and to ask questions. Accommodations can also include supported decision-making, someone to help you fill out a ballot, and absentee voting (voting by mail instead of going to a polling place).
Disabled people have the right to vote privately and independently, like people without disabilities. We have a right to accessible polling places. We can ask for help from election officials, or bring someone with us to help us vote.
If you want to learn more about your rights as a disabled voter, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law partnered with ASAN and NDRN to write the plain language guide, It’s Your Right: A Know-Your-Rights Guide for Voters with Mental Disabilities and Advocates. If you’re interested in learning more about the legal side of things, this version is more detailed: It’s Your Right: A Guide to the Voting Rights of People with Mental Disabilities.
Even though there are legal protections to make voting accessible for people with disabilities, many polling places still make it difficult or impossible to vote in person. They might not be accessible to people with all kinds of disabilities. They might not be physically accessible to people using wheelchairs or other mobility aids. Some polling places are too uncomfortable for people with sensory sensitivities or chronic pain. They might not offer communication and language access measures, like interpreters or ballots in languages other than English.
Poll workers sometimes wrongly assume that voters who cannot rely on their own natural speech to be understood automatically lack the capacity to make decisions, even if they do have access to a way to communicate choices. If this happens to you, and you are not subject to guardianship, you can report this as discrimination and ask for help.
If you experience discrimination or faced another kind of barrier when trying to register or vote, here are some steps you can take:
- Contact your local P&A (Protection and Advocacy) organization. They can help you find solutions to barriers and can give you legal help, too.
- Use The Arc’s Voter Support Service to ask for help or report discrimination.
- Call the nonpartisan Election Protection hotline at:
- English: 866-OUR-VOTE
- Spanish: 888-VE-Y-VOTA
- Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Bengali, Hindi, Urdu, or Tagalog: 888-API-VOTE
- Arabic: 844-YALLA-US
- The National Association of the Deaf maintains a voting hotline at 301-818-8683.
- Report the discrimination to the US Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.
- Your state or county may offer resources for language and communication access. Search “[your state] voting language access” or “[your county] voting language access” to see what services you may have access to locally.
Guardianship and “voter capacity”
However, if you are under guardianship or conservatorship now, or ever have been, some states can legally prevent you from voting. When you become subject to guardianship, a court may make a legal determination that you aren’t capable of making certain decisions like who to vote for. The rules are different in every state, but you might be able to ask for help getting your right to vote back. ASAN made a guide to help you find out if you can vote if you have, or used to have, a guardian or conservator. You can read the Easy Read version, with pictures and more white space, or the plain language version.
Even if you do have a legal right to vote, sometimes carers, support people, or disability service providers make their own judgments as to whether you have the capacity to vote, and may make it difficult for you to exercise that right. Poll workers have also made their own judgments. For instance, in Charlestown, New Hampshire, a poll worker attempted to restrict AAC user Justin Milliken’s voting access, despite the fact that New Hampshire is a state that does not have a voter capacity requirement. During the November 2018 election, Milliken’s mother was wrongly told that she could not accompany her son into the booth or help him use the accessible voting station. Due to his disabilities, Justin needed assistance to use the touchscreen system to place his vote.
Ben Breaux, an AAC user and CommunicationFIRST Advisory Council member, wrote in a letter to the Northern Virginia based Connection Newspapers about how registering to vote can be made much harder by misguided assumptions about AAC users. At Ben’s school, students without disabilities were offered the chance to register to vote, but students in the segregated special education classes were not.
Ben has also pointed out that guardianship laws can make it much harder or even impossible for some AAC users to vote. Even with legal protections in place, judges in a number of states are authorized to strip people with disabilities of their voting rights through guardianship laws. Guardianships can unfairly disenfranchise and discriminate against people with disabilities. CommunicationFIRST supports alternatives to guardianships like supported decision-making, a strategy that recognizes individual autonomy and provides people with disabilities access and the support they need to fully participate in their community, which includes the ability to vote.
After voting in his first presidential election in November 2020, Ben commented on his blog:
As both a United States citizen and registered voter, I see this as an action that is not only a right but a true responsibility! As a person with disabilities it is even more imperative to vote in order to help assure those voted into office will always remember to conduct their political processes with the needs of these particular constituents in mind.
Three years earlier, accompanying his parents to vote right before he became eligible himself, Ben observed, “This is a much simpler process than I thought it would be. But I can tell how important it is to know who you are voting for and why.”
A year later, when he registered, he said, “I really encourage others with disabilities to register to vote and to be sure to remember to fully use that right by voting whenever possible, no matter whether regarding local, state, or national issues.”
Making our voices heard
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many states made it easier to vote by mail in the 2020 election. That helped more disabled voters access a ballot. Thanks to increased access and efforts like REV UP, more disabled people are voting than ever before. In fact, between 2016 and 2020, voter turnout among people with disabilities increased by 5.9%. We’ve started to close the gap between nondisabled voters and voters with disabilities, too. But it hasn’t been easy: 11% of voters with disabilities reported at least some type of difficulty voting in 2020.
CommunicationFIRST supports Disability Voting Rights Week to raise awareness about these and other issues that AAC users, and the greater disability community, experience. By increasing our voting numbers and power, we can empower ourselves, advocate for changes that address the issues impacting our communities, and build alliances, connections, and a greater understanding among the general public.
Want to learn more?
In December of 2021, CommunicationFIRST hosted a webinar featuring four people with speech-related disabilities talking about their experiences running for elected office, and otherwise being active in electoral politics. You can listen to the audio and read the transcript of the webinar on our website. (A video recording of the webinar with open captions will be posted soon!)
To learn more about the impact of guardianships on voting, SABE’s GoVoterProject conducts a bi-annual survey. They have published the results of 2018 and 2020 surveys. The GoVoter project also has videos to help self-advocates teach others in their communities about voting. Currently, the recordings are only available in English, but in the near future, SABE plans to release a Spanish language presentation. SABE is also working with AAPD to provide Easy Read versions.
The 2022 TASH Conference will be held December 1-3, 2022, in Phoenix, Arizona, and will create space for discussions about disability voting rights and supported decision making.
Finally, ASAN is updating its “How to Vote by Mail” guide and will offer three plain language webinars this month. One will be for Disability Voting Rights Week and on making a plan to vote, one will focus on why you should vote, and one will address general barriers to voting.
#DisabilityVote ● #DVRW ● #DisVotingRights ● #RevUp ● #CripTheVote ● #LISTEN
Helpful Resources at a Glance
- Read more about Disability Voting Rights Week.
- Check out REV UP’s voting resources, starting with their Upcoming Elections page.
- Register to vote, or confirm your registration, with REV UP’s voter registration tool.
- Share the tool with your community with this easy link: https://bit.ly/revup-voter-reg.
- Register to vote by mail if you can’t or don’t want to go to your polling place this year.
- Make sure you know what kind of ID is required to vote in your state.
- Find your polling place and learn what’s on your ballot.
- Learn all about the candidates on your ballot and initiatives you can vote for this year with VoteSmart, Ballotpedia, or Vote411.
- If you have questions or need help reporting barriers or discrimination, contact your local P&A agency, use this tool from The Arc, or call the Election Protection hotline (available in many languages).
- You can also report discrimination to the US Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.
- Learn more about how supported decision-making preserves disabled people’s rights to make their own choices about their lives. Or read even more with this resource from the ACLU.
- Learn more about the voting rights of cognitively impaired people and how you can support them in this toolkit from the American Bar Association, Assisting Cognitively Impaired Individuals With Voting: A Quick Guide.
- Learn how to teach others about voting with SABE’s Voter Education Toolkit.
- Listen to or read our webinar on running for office with a speech-related disability.
Plain Language, Easy Read, and ASL Resources
- Learn more about voting and why it matters with ASAN’s toolkit, Your Vote Counts: A Self-Advocate’s Guide to Voting in the U.S. This page also links to ASAN’s resources on voting when you have (or used to have) a guardianship or conservatorship: “What Are the Laws in My State?”
- The Arc has a guide to voting, too. Los materiales también están disponibles en Español.
- ASAN made a video to help you prepare for going to your polling place in person.
- Want to vote by mail this year, instead of going in person? Learn more about it with ASAN’s toolkit, How to Vote by Mail.
- If you need help to vote, you have the right to get the help of an assistant. Learn more about assistants and voting with this video from NDRN.
- You have rights as a disabled voter. Learn more with the Bazelon Center’s plain language resource, It’s Your Right: A Know-Your-Rights Guide for Voters with Mental Disabilities and Advocates.
- Learn more about the laws that protect our ability to vote with this resource from SABE.
- The National Association for the Deaf has a website on voting while d/Deaf here, including some resources in ASL. They also have an ASL Voter Hotline at 301-818-8683.
- AAPD asked disabled voters what voting means to them. Read their answers here.
- NDRN asked disabled voters for their stories about voting. Read these stories here.
- Read stories from self-advocates on SABE’s website.
- Read summaries of Twitter chats about disabled people voting and more at #CripTheVote’s Blogspot.
- Read about CommunicationFIRST Advisory Council member Ben Breaux’s experiences with voting here and here.
- Listen to a podcast episode with Lilian Aluri, AAPD REV Up Voting Campaign Coordinator, on how her disability has played a role in her life and on her work at AAPD.
- Read the story of Justin Milliken, a New Hampshire voter and AAC user who was wrongly denied his right to a companion of his choice to assist him in the voting booth.
Legal, Academic, and Statistical Resources
- Learn more about the legal frameworks guiding disabled voters’ rights with the Bazelon Center’s resource, It’s Your Right: A Guide to the Voting Rights of People with Mental Disabilities.
- Access the Bazelon Center’s table of State Laws Affecting the Voting Rights of People with Disabilities, including which states restrict the voting rights of people subject to guardianship.
- Read the Bazelon Center’s comments on discrimination against voters with disabilities who are denied the right to vote due to “capacity” requirements.
- Learn more about how guardianship denies disabled people full integration into their communities with Rethinking Guardianship (Again): Substituted Decision Making as a Violation of the Integration Mandate of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Learn more about federal laws protecting the rights of voters with disabilities from the US Department of Justice.
- The American Bar Association outlines some of the barriers faced by voters with disabilities.
- Learn more about all kinds of statistics about disability and voting with this resource from AAPD’s REV UP.
- Read all about disabled voter turnout in 2020 compared to years prior.
- Read the results of SABE’s 2018 and 2020 GoVoter surveys, focusing on voters with developmental disabilities.