What Does Voting Mean to You?

Illustration of seven people line up on either side of two ballot boxes against a white background. The group of people are diverse in age, race, disability, and gender and are wearing some bright colors and holding their votes in their hands. Each person has a speech blurb next to them with a check or x mark representing their vote.

Voting is a crucial tool for bringing about change, especially for people with disabilities. In October of 2020, we asked voters with disabilities in communities across the U.S. to tell us what voting means to them. Here’s what they said!

“I was one of the first children to get polio in the State of Texas. I survived a number of years in the iron lung and a five year hospitalization. My father was always struggling to make a living for all my brothers and sisters. But one thing that he always did and encouraged all my neighbors and family to do was Vote. Voting was a struggle because the majority white population had imposed a poll tax that everyone had to pay in order to cast a vote. My father saved his pennies and/or borrowed money to pay the poll tax in order to vote. This meant that money that was generally used to buy food or my medicine was being spent on a discriminatory practice to keep poor Mexican people from voting. His determination to always vote and voice our determination for justice at the ballot box has always been my motivation to vote and work to teach others especially persons with disabilities the power we can demonstrate by voting in every election.”

~ Luis

“I’m voting this year because we need more elected officials who are listening to their [constituents] vs big business and lobbyists.  I truly believe that the disability community can sway elections!”

~ Jenn

“I live with a mental health diagnosis, and my daughter lives with disabilities too. I vote, and expose her to the democratic process, to protect the environment and world we live in, and to support inclusion and accessibility for people with disabilities.”

~ Chelsey

“Voting was extremely important to me. Being a black, Deaf, woman, my voice is often disregarded. For that reason, creating communities that celebrate our differences fires my motivation. I want to be a part of solution oriented ideas that propel people forward. I want to have access to conversations that affect [my] and my [children’s] lives. I vote because there isn’t any other option. We can’t remain stagnant! We have to push for equality and growth across the board.”

~ Kei-Che

“I vote to promote self-determination and the independent living movement. I want to promote higher educational opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and career opportunities.”

~ Kenneth

“I vote because every vote DOES count and because people have fought and died to give me and all of us that privilege. I vote, too, because I feel it to be a responsibility of every American, who is of age. I vote because I can do so (at least in Oregon) secretly and independently, thanks to “by mail” or, in my case, as a blind person, online voting.  I vote to let my voice be counted toward bringing sanity, equity and fairness into the government, both in its foreign policies and its domestic ones.  I urge everyone to vote.  Voting Matters!”

~ Sharlene

“The first time I voted independently was in 2006 and I cried.  To me, a secret ballot is one of the privileges of being an American and I finally had it. The almost forty years before I’d voted independently, I had to ask someone else to mark my ballot for me because I’m blind. I could either ask a friend or have one Democratic poll official and one Republican poll official help me. When the two officials plus one guide dog and I were all crowded into the polling booth it felt more like a convention than a secret ballot. Because of the Help America Vote Act of 2002, we’re guaranteed a secret ballot.  For the 35,000,000 voters with disabilities, the path to voting may still be filled with obstacles. Can the voter get to the polling location?  Is it really accessible to them? If they choose absentee balloting, who will help them fill out the ballot if they cannot read regular print?  If they use the “[accessible]” machine at the polling place, does it work, or do they have the time and energy to wait until someone comes to fix it? Are the poll workers knowledgeable about voting rights for people who do not speak, use sign language, etc. or does the person have to educate/fight for their right to vote? How do they get information on candidates and issues? Are the candidates’ websites accessible to screen reader technology? In the last few years, there’s been increased interest in the “disability vote.” As you would guess, there is no monolithic one issue voting bloc, but issues around social and health care safety nets are often key issues. Access to public transportation, housing, climate change, and police violence disproportionately affect people with disabilities.  Candidates with lived disability experience, although they’re few and far between, have great appeal, as do candidates who at least consult with Americans with disabilities, and hire them to work in their campaigns and offices. Vote, work for candidates, run! Together we can keep democracy strong!”

~ Katherine

“I vote because, it is my civil rights, I am a [constituent] of the US, with a Disability, I vote for justice, equal opportunity, for Healthcare for All, for Disability Rights, for Affordable, Accessible housing for All, To be treated as anyone else/Abled person. I vote for Resources in our communities. I vote for public transportation in the community. I vote for education for those with learning and Intellectual Developmental Disabilities.”

~ Pilar

“I vote for change in housing for persons with disabilities all over the world especially in the state of Michigan. We want to have more than just one opportunity in our search for housing and not just Senior homes. More job opportunities and equal respect when getting hired so that we don’t have to spend so much time in isolation, more [accessible] voting so that we don’t have to depend on others getting us in and out. As well as an increase in SSI benefits especially for those that can’t work or constantly being laid off even reduced hours because of limited ability. Safer transportation and insurance I [also] desperately want changed.”

~ Brion

“As a person with PTSD and Bipolar I know voting means to have those in power to recognize that mental health needs to be addressed and not ignored. I want to see politicians that realize that even with mental health issues we can still be productive citizens and only need the proper resources to get help.”

~ Althea

“Why do I vote?  I vote to protect my rights as a woman, citizen, and disabled person. I consider it my duty.”

~ Candy

“I have a disability and use a wheelchair, but I was a dedicated voter long before I became disabled. My mother taught me that voting is sacred and important. Today more than ever, I vote not just for myself, but for my community. I believe a government should be judged by how well the most vulnerable people are doing. I vote with the needs of immigrants, children, people with disabilities, and senior citizens uppermost in my mind. I’m very fortunate and privileged. I’m white, educated, and able to keep working despite my disability thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Now that its protections are in danger once more, voting is more important than ever. If the ACA is struck down by a new Supreme Court justice, I may have to give up my independence and choose poverty and public assistance, just to maintain access to health care.”

~ Patricia

“My husband and I are both disabled and live on a strict budget. Healthcare is very important to us because we are [at] high risk for long term illness. It is important to have support for not only healthcare but for climate change and addresses ways to improve our environment for the future. We need someone who cares for immigrants and would open the cages of children and reunite families. Voting in my state is important to get McConnell out of office so bills on his desk for months can go through the correct process. Many of those bills would enhance the quality of life for the disabled and many others who are suffering from the pandemic such as small businesses. The only weapon the ordinary person has is voting in people who would help the population[s] who [have] been forgotten. The poor, people of color, the chronic ill, the disabled. Please use the weapon that [was] hard fought for by other ordinary people, often with their lives.”

~ Tina

“I vote so that my family keeps our health insurance through the Affordable Care Act so that my son with autism can keep his therapy services and continue making progress.”

~ Tonya

“I vote because, at my core, I really do believe that we can make this a better country — a country that honors the dignity and worth of every person; we have a hard history — a history of violence, exclusion, and oppression; and now, power and wealth are being controlled by a very few. But we have the power to change this. We do. And more than that, we have the moral obligation to change it. Voting is a direct and essential way of bringing about that change. Voting says ‘I believe in something better, and that something better is possible!’”

~ Lisa

“I was fortunate to work at the National Organization on Disability in the early 2000s, when we worked with the Harris Poll to document both the size of the disability vote, and the obstacles that many people with disabilities faced when trying to vote. My disability does not affect my ability to vote in a traditional manner, but it sure is front and center when I think about for whom I will vote. If a candidate demonstrates a commitment to the ADA and disability rights and opportunities, that candidate has my attention. Disinterest or antagonism to our rights is a deal breaker for me. This year I took my 86 year-old mother, who has recently developed mobility limitations, to vote early and curbside in Fairfax, Virginia. The workers at the poll made it easy for my mother to vote from inside our car. She has voted in every Presidential election since 1956 and she was not going to let a disability stop her streak now. She and I agreed that this year, there is one ticket that makes sense for people that care about disability rights and civil rights, and that makes sense for us and people like us to support.”

~ Brewster

“For families with sons and daughters with disabilities and special health care needs, including mental health needs, access to affordable, comprehensive health care is a critical issue. Many of our families are finding that they are underinsured through employer health plans and although they do have insurance coverage, it is inadequate to provide what their child/youth needs. Medicaid funding through waiver programs can help fill gaps for some of these families as does the “buy in” program for working families. It is critical for us, as families, to discuss healthcare issues with candidates and share specific experiences and stories and to make sure that candidates for offices at both state and local levels understand the importance of accessible and affordable health care.”

~ Lisa

“I vote for me! It took busting political story after story, debates, town hall meetings for the scales to tip and fear to lose out.  I had spent years being fearful that my registering to vote would end up in endless jury duty summons and worse – being totally stumped come election day and not be able to use the voting machine without help. Until one day in late October 2016 when I decided, “America Needs Me!” and I joined the record number of young adults registering to vote that year. My experience at my polling place is what kept me coming back. I was greeted by the sweetest little ladies who even offered me cookies, tea and coffee, see I get to cast my vote in the basement of a church and they like to provide snacks for the busy voters. Even more motivating [than] cookies were these words, “Well you are the record breaker!”. They had to turn the page in their book – they exceeded their normal polling volume thanks to me. I went to the machine empowered thinking- ‘America needs my vote and I can turn the tides.’”

~ Catherine

“Voting matters to me because disabled people like Michael Hickson have been killed by their doctors who decided that their lives weren’t worth living. I’m voting to help put an end to Filicide, torture, involuntary sterilization, electroshock torture, and other abuses committed against us.”

~ James

“I am deaf and have cochlear implants. Voting is so important to protect Medicare, the ADA, and other life supporting programs. But more so, we need to return our country to respect science, to take control of the Pandemic and not pretend it will go away by itself. VOTE!!! Our lives depend on it!!”

~ Arlene

“My vote is one of the most powerful tools I have to help create a protective, secure life for myself and other disabled Americans. Our rights to work, live independently, and have healthcare are in the control of the leaders we are able to vote in office. We are an often [overlooked] voting block and we need to ban together to vote for candidates who will support inclusion of not only the disabled but also blacks, [LGBTQ folks], and women.  ‘Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.’ – Franklin D. Roosevelt”

~ Tina

“Today, like most, I wanted to make sure my vote counted. I waited in some of the longest lines ever. Until this moment, I don’t think people understood the importance of voting. While I waited I talked to people of all ages older and younger people. My 96 year old grandmother had to complete paperwork to vote because she was one of the many born during home births. She never had an official birth certificate, just a piece of paper with the midwife, state, city, and date of birth. How many [men] and women fought and died for the right to vote. How so many dismiss the bad actors who are trying to disenfranchise [people’s] ability to vote.  Now although the line was long and I [could have] mailed in my vote I wanted my words to be clearly heard.  Someone said to me in line “If you don’t vote, you cannot complain”. I think that is well said although it was hot and I arrived 11/2 hours before the [polls] opened it is important for my vote and everyone’s vote to be counted. As a young person I knew how important voting was and have made it my mission to vote in every election. At age 45 I’m teaching my children the importance of voting. I’m showing them this is how you make real change. I don’t know if I would not be here without the National Institute of Health. Some of these things would not exist without people first voting for things to help Americans.”

~ Chris

“It is important to vote for a candidate who will help those who can’t easily help themselves. Government is supposed to help the citizens being governed with either direct subsidies or creation of a strong economy with good paying jobs for all who need a job. I have a younger brother who is mentally challenged. I am physically disabled (foot amputation). We both need healthcare and living expenses help. I live in a small rural community. Many of my neighbors are poor, and need food and healthcare assistance. Some are homeless and need an affordable place to live. I will be voting…this year to assure needed programs for the poor are implemented, and access to them is easy and streamlined.”

~ Kathleen

“For me voting is [the] best way I can hold my elected officials accountable. Voting is my way of protecting my rights and getting the needed service, which [helps] me to live independently. Voting is choosing a President who has all [Americans’] interests in the plans for this nation…When I’m voting, I’m not voting just for myself – I’m voting for each and every member of the disabled community. I’m thinking about healthcare, about employment, about housing, about long-term care, about transportation, about income and salaries. It’s all of these issues and more that affect my day-to-day life, and the lives of so many others with disabilities, in a very specific way. Disability issues go beyond just access to healthcare (although, of course, that’s important too). It’s recognizing the specific needs that people with disabilities have – during a pandemic or not – and addressing them. So when I cast my vote…, I’m thinking about who will best protect and promote the rights of the disabled community. And when you make your list about the people in your life that you’re voting for, I hope that you think of me and the disability community too.”

~ Denise

“It’s vital to vote so that more people, especially underserved populations aren’t left out of legal decisions, or ignored/further disenfranchised by the President or Congress.  Change must happen!”

~ Janine

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