Services Available to Voters with Disabilities: Ensuring Everyone's Right to Vote
Voting is a fundamental right, yet many Americans with disabilities face challenges in fully participating in the democratic process. Due to inaccessible polling locations and limited access to absentee ballots, barriers at the polls can cause voices to go unheard. Luckily, there are numerous laws, protections, and services in place that not only safeguard the voting rights of disabled individuals but also ensure accessibility at polling places across the country. Ready to cast your vote? Continue reading to find out what rights you have and what accommodations you can use at the polling place.
The Importance of Voting Accessibility
Voting accessibility ensures more than an accessible polling place and ballot. Accessible voting allows diverse perspectives of people with varying backgrounds to be heard. Just as the U.S. population is diverse, its voters are too. Voting accessibility allows all those who are affected by laws, including those with disabilities, to voice their opinions and take part in the democratic process.
The Fundamental Rights of Every Citizen
By providing disabled people an equal opportunity to participate in the electoral process, we not only uphold the principles of democracy but also recognize the importance of representation and equity for all, giving everyone, regardless of ability, an opportunity to shape our future through voting.
Why Accessibility Matters in the Democratic Process
Over 10% of voters with disabilities reported facing challenges when casting their vote in recent elections. Making up the largest minority group in the U.S., that’s over 1.95 million voters who either could not cast a vote or struggled to do so because of a lack of accessibility in the democratic process. By meeting ADA guidelines and ensuring accessibility, all voters with disabilities can not only take part in the democratic process, but make sure their vote counts.
The ADA and Its Role in Voting Accessibility
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a U.S. law that ensures access for people with disabilities in any area of public life, including voting.
Introduction to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that protects the rights of disabled people. While the law ensures spaces are accessible with elevators, ramps, and handicap parking spots, it also provides greater protections for people with disabilities, like the right to accessible voting.
ADA Provisions Specifically for Voting
Within the ADA is Title II, which requires state and local governments to provide disabled people with an equal opportunity to vote. Title II of the ADA requires the voting process including voter registration, polling place selection, and casting of ballots to be accessible for disabled voters, whether they choose to vote on Election Day or vote early. Under Title II, polling places must have an accessible entryway including widened ramps, doorways, and accessible parking spots. They must also have accessible voting equipment and assist voters who need it. Government agencies are also encouraged to train poll workers, so they are aware of ADA laws.
Success Stories and Challenges since the ADA’s Implementation
There have been multiple successes for voters with disabilities since ADA's enactment in 1990, with many polling places becoming more accessible and the introduction of accessible voting technology. These successes have empowered disabled voters, enabling them to exercise their rights to vote, however, laws are always changing, and vary by state. For example, some states require disabled voters to place their own ballot in a ballot box. But what if a disability impacts a voter's use of their arms? Inconsistent implementation of ADA laws, budget constraints that keep polling places from getting accessible voting equipment, and a need for ongoing education of poll workers and the public about the rights of disabled voters continue to present challenges for voters with disabilities.
Voter Assistance for People with Disabilities
There are multiple kinds of assistance voters with disabilities can utilize when casting their vote. The type of assistance a voter will need will depend on their disability. Types of assistance include:
Assistance at Polling Stations
Many voters with disabilities can fill out a traditional ballot, however, they may require help or accommodations like:
Assistance from another person: Protected by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, A voter with a disability may receive assistance from a poll worker or they can bring a person of their choosing to help them when casting their vote.
A wheelchair accessible voting booth: An accessible voting booth should be available, with a polling machine located at a reachable height for wheelchair users.
Accessible Voting Machines and Technology
If the above types of assistance do not meet your needs, you can use an accessible voting machine. Accessible voting machines are primarily used by those who are visually impaired or blind, and those who have motor disabilities that impact their ability to use a traditional touchscreen.
Sip-and-puff devices: These devices allow voters with mobility disabilities to cast their vote by inhaling or exhaling through a straw-like device to make selections on an electronic ballot.
Paddle devices: If a voter finds pressing small buttons to be a challenge, they can use a paddle device with two large buttons to make selections on a voting machine.
Braille and audio devices: Voters with visual disabilities can use audio navigation and braille selection buttons with high color contrast to cast their vote.
While all polling locations are required to be accessible to people with disabilities, not all polling places will have the same assistive technology. If you are curious about your local polling locations accessibility, contact local and state election officials.
Mail-in and Absentee Voting Options
Voters with disabilities may qualify for a mail-in or absentee ballot. Some states require voters to have a valid reason to request a mail-in ballot. If you are unable to get to a polling place due to disability or a lack of accessibility, you may be able to vote by mail. Some states also offer curbside voting, so voters with disabilities can stay in their car and have a poll worker bring voting materials out to them. Be sure to check your state and local guidelines to find out about qualifications for mail-in and curbside voting.
If you are voting by mail, or your local polling place uses paper ballots, you can request a large print or braille ballot, and you can have someone of your choice help you to fill out the ballot if needed.
Overcoming Barriers to Voting Accessibility
All polling places should have the following:
A wheelchair accessible entrance
Handicap parking spots
Wheelchair accessible voting booths
Handrails on all stairs
If you face any accessibility barriers at the polls, contact state and local election offices. If you need further assistance, you can call or text the U.S. Election Protection Hotline
Key Takeaways: Empowering Every Voter
Whether you’ve never voted before or you’ve done so for decades, keep in mind a few helpful tips to make the voting process easy for people with disabilities:
Voter registration: The ADA requires the voter registration process to be accessible. Some states even offer same day voter registration or online registration. If you are unsure of how to register to vote, check your states guidelines.
Voting and assistance for voters with disabilities: If you have a disability, you may vote in person, by mail, or curbside. If you have any accessibility needs, let a poll worker know, or contact state and local voting offices ahead of election day to ensure your polling location has accessible voting aids like braille or paddle buttons if needed.
Accessible transportation: On Election Day, many organizations and companies provide low-cost transportation to the polls. Contact your local BraunAbility dealer to find out about accessible transportation options in your area so you can cast your vote.
Mobility aids and medical devices: Whether you’re voting early or on election day, be sure to bring the mobility aid you’re most comfortable using in the event you’re waiting in a long line. Know that you can have a service animal with you, and any other medical devices or aids you may need.
The Significance of Continuous Advocacy
The disabled community has a long history of advocating for their civil rights. By participating in the electoral process, you can ensure that your voice remains a powerful force in shaping an accessible and inclusive future for people with disabilities. Are you looking to make an impact beyond the ballot box? Join The Driving Force; the first movement to unite the voices of caregivers and people with mobility challenges. As a member of The Driving Force, you can take action to provide greater access and inclusion for those living with mobility challenges in your local community and beyond. Join The Driving Force today and see our past Drive For Inclusion Report Cards for an in-depth look on the state of inclusion for those living with mobility challenges.