It’s no secret that one of the most basic forms of civil rights for citizens of the United States is the ability to vote. Our country was founded on a democratic system, meaning the citizens that inhabit this country decide collectively how it should be run and who runs it – at least this is the theory. However, this system has not always been perfect, inclusive, or completely functional, and this is especially true today. With an upcoming presidential election, there is a lot of direct attention going towards this system – does everyone actually get a say, a vote?
This election is truly bringing out the worst in people. Not only is the climate of our country very politically charged, but everyone seems to have a very strong opinion on “the right way to vote.” First, let me start by saying that there is no correct way to vote. Our current system allows for a few different options that are up to the individual to choose, and that is okay! There’s not a “one size fits all to voting.” For disabled people, oftentimes mail-in voting or absentee voting is the only way their voice is heard because of inaccessible polling places. This year is also different due to the pandemic that our country is still experiencing. Not everyone feels comfortable or has the option to leave their quarantine area, this can be especially true for those of us that are immunocompromised. Voting is a right that is afforded to all – not just able bodies. Why should we be in a constant state of begging for the same rights that others have?
I wasn’t necessarily aware of how many polling places are inaccessible before this year. I am lucky that my polling place is a minute from my house and is wheelchair accessible, however I am aware that it is luck I should be thanking, not the system. Because polling stations are set up in many different buildings, there is often a chance that those who use mobility devices, or have any disability, might not be able to access their polling place. Despite ADA laws, we all know that just because it’s written doesn’t mean it is being practiced. Almost any building can be used for these stations, so shouldn’t accessibility be a top priority?
Different sources have slightly different numbers, but it is shocking how many polling places are not accessible, this directly enforces voter suppression.
A study conducted by the Government Accountability Office found that nearly ⅔ of polling places they investigated had some feature of inaccessibility. In other words, only 20% of polling stations were accessible.
Another study found that over 20,000 polling stations are currently inaccessible to those with disabilities – http://www.accessiblesociety.org/topics/voting/pollaccess.htm
NPR discussed a church used as the main polling place in D.C. had accessible entrances with locked doors, broken elevators, and an extremely steep ramp that most wheelchair users couldn’t access. – Voters With Disabilities Fight For More Accessible Polling Places
From the start of our society, voting has been a way to have an input in how you live in the spaces around you. It’s disheartening to me that disabled people often have to put up a fight for the right to have equal access to voting – not that I don’t love a good fight, but in my mind certain things are granted to you for simply being a human in this world. Not to mention that there usually is so much weight trapped in these elections. As disabled people, we are used to this fight, the past has taught us that our rights and access to live can be a political issue, and it is one that’s not always guaranteed. When your access to society is based on laws and amendments, anxiety swoops in, taking over, because laws change and can be revoked at any time under certain circumstances. For us, and many others, voting isn’t just about what you prefer in terms of taxes or other routine boxes that are checked, for us it can be life or death. I’m sure this sounds dramatic, but for us it’s reality.
The voices of all citizens demand to be heard, and I’ll be damned if inaccessibility will stop me from voicing my choices. I hate that inaccessibility of polling places exists, and I hate that our communities as well as others have to jump through hoops and figure out for ourselves where and how we can vote – but we shouldn’t let this stop us. However you are voting this election year, I encourage you to use the resources provided to make sure your ballot is accounted for and that your voice and needs are met. Let’s use the foundation of our society to our benefit. Our voices and needs demand to be heard.
Listed below are more resources about accessible voting. I encourage you to also look for specific legislation pertaining to your state and jurisdiction.
My name is Madisyn Hess and I am 20 years old. I am currently a junior at Christopher Newport University. I am completing my undergraduate degree in Psychology and I hope to pursue a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. I am a T-10 paraplegic, and I have an adorable service dog named Oxford. In my limited free time, I love to watch movies or TV shows, occasionally “bingeing” them (whoops), and I enjoy trying new restaurants as well as new types of food. You can find me dancing, singing, or trying any adaptive sport I can!