Why They Don't Take Us Seriously
Posted on January 30, 2012 by Amanda Beals
As the Civic Engagement Organizer at Paraquad and member of the Missouri Disability Vote Project, I have had the opportunity to travel across the state of Missouri and speak to several people about voting, elections, and the election system. While building these relationships, I have been quite surprised at some of the conversations I’ve been a part of; conversations of which we, as the disability community, need to be made aware.
In 2002, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was signed into law. This established standards that led to the creation of accessible voting machines. With the passage of this act and access to these machines, people with disabilities could be assured they would be able to participate in the election process in a manner that provides the same opportunity for access and participation as for other voters. The disability community could finally exercise our right to vote with the same privacy and independence as everyone else.
As I was speaking with one election official about barriers people face in accessing the vote, he replied that they actually train poll workers to discourage people from using accessible voting machines. They are too much of a hassle…they create too much confusion for poll workers. I was shocked. These machines prevent confusion on Election Day as people who cannot see ballots can actually go into their polling place independently and readily access a ballot. How is this confusing? Isn’t this an infringement on our right to vote?
Another professional working in the disability community told me she has been trying to put together candidate forums for years, inviting candidates to come talk to the disability community in her area, and has been unsuccessful. Upon asking her why, she replied that one candidate told her he does not see the disability community as an integral part of his reelection. Basically, we don’t matter in his election and very likely won’t matter when he’s in Jefferson City voting on issues that affect the independence of the disability community across the state.
It would be easy to get mad at these officials. We ask ourselves, how could they say that? How can they do things that so blatantly infringe on our rights and the power of the disability community? Well, let me explain. It’s because we let them. Every time we choose not to register and vote in an election, every time we let a vote happen in the House or Senate without calling our representatives and telling them what we think, we are giving people permission to brush us aside as not important.
When the Vote Project started, people with disabilities were voting at a rate that was 20% lower than people without, and in 2008, that gap was only 0-2%. We've come a long way, but we still have far to go before law makers take the disability community seriously. We need to show them this is not acceptable, we will not be victims of harmful political decisions affecting our ability to live independently. How can we do this? Participate in your community and in the political process. Call your representatives and senators and tell them what is important to you. And most important, register and vote in all upcoming elections.
The Presidential Primary is Tuesday, February 7th. This is just 2 weeks away! Let’s tell our officials that our independence does matter, that we are powerful, and that they must listen to us. VOTE on February 7th.