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A Milestone for the Disability Vote: Advocates Meet with the Vice President

by | Sep 20, 2021 | Blog, Disability Culture, Disability Rights, Education

A racially diverse group of women, non-binary people, and men dressed professionally stand or sit together and smile at the camera against a white wall with windows on either side. From left to right and top to bottom, the people are Mathew Yanez, Jalyn Radziminski, Dr. Ricky Scott, Howard Porter, Olivia Babis, Maria Town, Morgan Dunn, and Lilian Aluri.

By Lilian Aluri | September 20, 2021

As we close National Disability Voter Registration Week, we wanted to share a blog documenting a key moment for the disability vote this year. This blog shares highlights from a meeting that disability advocates had with Vice President Harris in July of this year to talk about gaps in voting access for voters with disabilities.

When I told my mom that I was going to meet with disability advocates after their meeting with the Vice President, she immediately thought I was going to meet with the Vice President myself. I had to temper her excitement slightly. But she was right to be excited, for the folks who actually got to meet Vice President Kamala Harris.

On Wednesday, July 14, seven disability advocates from across the country met with Vice President Kamala Harris for a roundtable discussion on access to voting at the White House. During this meeting, coordinated by Emily Voorde, Associate Director in the Office of Public Engagement at the White House, each advocate had a chance to share their personal experiences with the range of barriers that keep disabled voters from participating in democracy. 

The organizers present included many from the REV UP network whom I had spoken with several times but never met in person, as well as other advocates who have been working outside REV UP in their communities advancing the rights of disabled and Black communities. The advocates included:

  • Olivia Babis  |  Senior Public Policy Analyst at Disability Rights Florida and Member of REV UP Florida
  • Anthony Bonnelli  |  Freelance Journalist and Advocate for People with Disabilities
  • Dessa Cosma  |  Executive Director at Detroit Disability Power and Partner of REV UP
  • Howard Porter, Jr.  |  Advocate in Alabama
  • Jalyn Radziminski  |  Communications Manager at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Founder and President of Count Us IN, and Fannie Lou Hamer Leadership Program Alumni
  • Dr. Ricky Stott  |  President at The Scott Institute and Former Board Member of the NC Council of the Blind, Raleigh Mayor’s Committee for Persons with Disabilities, Raleigh Human Relations Commission and the Governor Morehead School Human Rights Committee
  • Mathew Yanez  |  Legal Intern at United States Attorneys’​ Offices and Partner of REV UP

Following their meeting with the Vice President, all of the advocates, except Mr. Bonelli and Ms. Cosma, joined myself and several of my colleagues for lunch at AAPD’s office. Over lunch, the advocates shared key moments and reflections on the meeting. It seemed that each of the advocates felt a mixture of hope and despair, a mix of emotions many feel when advocating for a more equitable world. This meeting felt like a new milestone in the ways that our political leaders are acknowledging both the existence of the disability vote and the access barriers disabled voters face. At the same time, as many of the attendees expressed, this was one, short meeting focused on a topic that needs more discussion and concrete action.

As Mr. Porter stated while we munched on sandwiches, he has been fighting to make a difference for so long with the hope of making a better world for his kids, and yet in many ways we are in the same place. You can read some of Mr. Porter’s testimony on page three of the NC District Court opinion. Statewide attacks on voting rights threaten to reverse the gains in voter turnout we saw during the 2020 elections, and the efforts to make voting more accessible, like the For the People Act, have failed so far to pass Congress and even fail to include people with disabilities from the start. Other efforts, like the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, have yet to even be introduced. 

Despite the threats to our voting rights and access, disability advocates in each state continue to reach out to their communities, call on their elected leaders, keep their election officials accountable for holding accessible elections, and collaborate with one another to build the power of the disability vote. The work of the REV UP network and the many disability organizations advancing the disability vote has rarely felt more important. For me, and I hope for the advocates who spoke with Vice President Harris, this meeting felt like a sign of a shift that has been happening, and started well before I came to AAPD, towards meaningful recognition of the disability vote from the highest offices in the country.

Yes, it was just one meeting, and talk means little without actions. But this meeting between disability and voting advocates and the Vice President represents a significant moment for the disability vote nationally. And so yes, my mom was right to be excited.

Learn about National Disability Voter Registration Week that ends today at aapd.com/ndvrw and…