Making Voting Accessible Means Millions More Votes

Lilian Aluri, REV UP Voting Campaign Coordinator

This blog was originally posted by US Vote Foundation on their blog and reposted with permission as part of a series of blogs. The US Vote Foundation recently published their Resources for Voters with Disabilities initiative in honor of Disability Voting Rights Week.

Vote Banner

38 Million. That’s the number of eligible voters with disabilities in the U.S. This week, September 12-16, is Disability Voting Rights Week. Learn why the disability vote matters and how you work to build the power of the disability vote with us.

Disabled voters make up one of the largest voting blocs in the country. Many politicians and lawmakers prefer to think of us as passive members of society, content to be left out of the political process. But this could not be farther from the truth.

Disabled people are activists and organizers, candidates and voters, caregivers and recipients of care, community leaders and volunteers, patients and doctors, employees and CEOs. We have many reasons to care about elections and how they impact our lives. The people and policies we vote on impact our access to transportation, employment, healthcare, community, privacy, and so much more.

Even though voters with disabilities have many reasons to vote in elections, there is still a 6% turnout gap between voters with and without disabilities. This means that fewer people with disabilities are voting than non-disabled people. Our community has less of a say in the very policies that impact our lives. This doesn’t mean that disabled voters are less politically engaged than voters without disabilities. Access barriers create this turnout gap.

Some barriers that keep disabled voters from participating in elections include inaccessibility at every part of the voting process, discrimination from others, exclusion from the political process by candidates and campaigns, and social isolation from digital and physical access barriers to the community.

Disability Voting Rights Week, September 12-16, 2022, - on the right of the text is a blue and white and red ballot box with a blue fist on one side.

In 2016, the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) launched the REV UP Voting Campaign and Disability Voting Rights Week to address this gap in voting outreach and advocacy. REV UP builds the power of the disability vote through grassroots coalition building, voting outreach to disabled voters, and advocating for more accessible voting.

Closing the 6% voter turnout gap between people with and without disabilities would mean close to 2 million more votes from people with disabilities. Learn how you can join REV UP in making sure disabled voters are registered and ready to vote and have access to the ballot in 2022 and beyond!

Find REV UP at and on social media at @RevUPCampaign.

AAPD President & CEO Maria Town’s 2022 AAPD Gala Remarks

Good Evening Everyone, thank you all so much for being here today. Thank you Jane for being such a wonderful emcee. Thank you to our sponsors for making tonight’s event possible.

Thank you to the AAPD Board of Directors for all of your work to support AAPD and ensure our organization is strong and effective. Thank you as well to our incredibly dynamic and dedicated staff – without you, none of our work would be possible. Speaking of staff, I am so glad you all got to hear from Jasmin Bailey tonight.

I met Jasmin when we worked together in the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, when she was an AAPD Summer Intern. It has been my honor to be part of Jasmin’s journey as she has grown from a stellar AAPD intern to a consummate professional who is involved in every step we make to move AAPD forward. Her story is emblematic of so many of our alumni: our Summer Internship Program participants, our Hearne Awardees, and our media scholars, many of whom have now started their own organizations, become experts in their fields, created opportunities for others with disabilities, and who push our movement forward. 

The long-term outcomes of AAPD’s programs highlight the importance of investing in individuals, both to advance disability employment and develop disabled leaders in order to  build a more just and equitable society. To maximize the impact of these individuals, we work to catalyze collective action and foster systemic change. We engage in advocacy and policy work to remove the structural ableism that exists within every US institution and system.

Through our REV UP program, we are ensuring that every candidate for state, local, and national office knows – that every issue is a disability issue. Over the past year, we have supported and partnered with 8 new REV UP and disability vote coalitions, for a total of 22 disability vote coalitions, organizing across the country. The REV UP network, in collaboration with many partners, is doing the vital work that Congress has so far neglected to do: prevent the further erosion of voting rights, especially for people with disabilities and disabled people of color. 

Of course, our ability to advance ideas like accessible voting rely on the maintenance and enforcement of existing civil rights laws – like the Americans with Disabilities Act. That’s why I remain proud – and relieved – that AAPD played a leading role in organizing disability organizations and advocates to convince CVS that preventing the erosion of Section 504 and the ADA is in all of our best interests. How amazing, how phenomenal, that only a few months later, AAPD was able to proudly support the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman nominated and confirmed to the Supreme Court, who has a solid record on disability rights.  

Within the legislative branch, we successfully advocated for investments in accessible, green infrastructure and the expansion of affordable broadband to help close the digital divide faced by people with disabilities. I am so excited that the bi-partisan infrastructure law provides opportunities for disabled people across the country to directly shape the physical and digital landscapes of our communities.

Technology plays such a significant role in our daily lives and this role will only continue to increase as new tech is created and evolves much more quickly than our regulatory and policy frameworks can keep up. While tech has the power to create a more inclusive society by providing greater autonomy, economic opportunity,  for historically marginalized groups all too often, it instead exacerbates existing discrimination and the structural barriers faced by historically marginalized groups, and especially those who experience intersecting forms of oppression. AAPD works diligently on issues related to disability bias in artificial intelligence, particularly in hiring, and have embarked upon efforts to get public interest and government organizations to be more inclusive and center disability within technology. 

I would be proud of our accomplishments no matter what, but I am even more proud of what we have done when you consider the context in which we have had to work. For the past three years, disabled people have been dehumanized and our lives devalued at every turn. We’ve seen our neighbors rejoice in freedom from wearing masks, even though they know that such a move endangers disabled and high risk people’s health and safety. We’ve had regulators and associations actively acknowledge the critical importance of diversity in corporate governance, but still choose not to include disability in their definition of diversity.

Against the backdrop of rising cases and our community being at-risk, our nation’s leading public health experts have declared that the pandemic is over multiple times, and said things like, it is encouraging news that 75% of all COVID deaths of vaccinated people were people with multiple disabilities, because we “were unwell anyway.” We are currently witnessing a continued refusal by Congress to act and invest in the supports and systems that would help shift the institutional bias in the United States and save disabled lives. 
In the face of any of this, let alone all all of this, it would be so easy to give up. But we don’t.

We keep fighting – not only for ourselves, for our families and friends, but for the individuals who are new to the disability community, like those who have been disabled by Long Covid. We fight for the infants and kids born with disabilities in the hope that they will have more readily apparent role models and have no doubt can live the lives they choose for themselves. We fight for those aging into disability who deserve to continue living in the homes they love.

When I think about what we have accomplished in a context of constant dehumanization, it makes me think – can you just imagine – how much we could improve if we did not need to spend so much time justifying our humanity?

It’s going to take all of us insisting that disabled people are not disposable. It’s a refrain that is all too familiar because we have been saying it for decades. At AAPD, we work every day to ensure that this our organizational programs, our national policies, and our collective societal beliefs reflect what we know down in our aching bones, in our neurodivergent minds, and in our non-compliant organs, to be true: Disabled people are beloved.

As much as we need community, our communities need us, too. Our contributions, lives, and stories make our communities richer and better.

Beloved colleagues and friends, I am grateful to be with you as we support one another in the struggle, and I hope we will continue together in joy and solidarity for many years to come.

Thank you. 

My Hopes For the State of the Union

By Rachita Singh | AAPD Policy Associate | February 28, 2022

On March 1, 2022 President Biden is set to deliver his first official State of the Union address.

He gives this address as we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearing a million COVID-related deaths, and yet people are still unsure of guidance on masks, vaccines, and quarantining. While Congress did pass some significant legislation this year, like the American Rescue Plan and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, other vital pieces of legislation, like the Build Back Better Act, have stalled in negotiations. Americans have been left to wonder if there will be further action taken to enhance and expand access to home-and community-based services, as we continue to see overwhelmed waitlists and underpaid direct support staff. We have been left questioning what the future of our democracy will be as states continue to make efforts to suppress the votes of disabled people and of people of color. President Biden will also deliver this address as Russia continues to invade Ukraine and force a mass displacement of Ukrainian people. President Biden should deliver an address that provides clarity on many of these issues and presents a series of actionable solutions his administration plans to pursue. As a disabled Brown woman, here are my hopes for what President Biden will highlight in his first State of the Union Address: 

  1. Home- and Community-Based Services (HCBS) 

The fight for full and appropriate funding for home- and community-based services (HCBS) has been decades in the making, and President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda provided significant hope that we would see progress in reducing HCBS waiting lists, increasing direct support worker wages, and improving the quality of available services. Although this priority may be stalled in Congress, it is of vital importance to the disability community. Progress towards this goal is essential to rebuilding our economy and to giving people with disabilities, direct support workers, and our families a fair shot. Expanding access to HCBS will help close to one million people with disabilities and seniors who are waiting for this money in order to come off the waiting lists and receive the support they need in the homes and communities they love. Furthermore, care providers and direct support professionals deserve the wages and benefits that the funding includes. We’ve waited decades for this necessary support – in his address, the President needs to signal that he’s listening and that we don’t have to wait any longer.

  1. Prioritizing People with Disabilities in Continued Pandemic Response

The COVID-19 virus and its variants have now resulted in almost a million deaths, an unknown number of new disabilities from Long COVID, and damaging economic, mental, and social impacts that people, particularly multiply-marginalized people, have endured. While no one has gone completely unaffected, the disability community has definitely borne the brunt of the pandemic – not only because we are more vulnerable to the virus, but also because of existing inequities in our healthcare, workforce, and education systems that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.  COVID has been and continues to be a mass disabling event. Long COVID has caused people across the nation to have to learn how to navigate the world in completely new ways. A lack of access to regular health care during the pandemic, has caused many conditions to decline or treatable diseases to go unchecked. All too frequently, Americans have noticed that their mental health worsened during the pandemicThis is especially true for young adults and children, and we need to make sure that we are addressing these needs in our nation’s responses to COVID-19. I want to hear President Biden prioritize the disability community, when he discusses how his team has handled and will continue to handle COVID-19. I will not be satisfied with a single mention of “disability” in the State of the Union address, nor will I be satisfied with a single sentence. I want to hear how disabled people are being centered in the COVID response as we expect students to go back to school in person without having the option to continue remote education as an accommodation. I want to know what considerations will be made for the disabled people who are now expected to safely be able to interact in our communities without the presence of mask mandates, expected to utilize telehealth despite the lack of accessibility on telehealth platforms, and expected to struggle in the workplace with symptoms of Long COVID because they cannot access disability benefits.  

  1. Addressing Racial Justice, Police Violence, and the Rise of Hate Crimes

When discussing systemic discrimination and marginalization, race and disability cannot be separated. While the Biden administration has done better than others in hiring people from diverse identities as federal appointees, more significant action must be taken to protect Black, Indigenous, and other poeple of color from further discrimination and violence. During the first year of the Biden administration, Black and Brown communities have continued to encounter police violence. Asian Americans and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Americans continue to experience hate crimes at unprecedented rates. State legislatures across the country have and continue to institute new legislation suppressing voters of color, yet critical legislation to address voting rights at the federal level has repeatedly failed or stalled in the Senate. Given the prevalence of disability in every community, these issues are not just racial issues, but disability justice issues as well. I want President Biden to discuss how he will direct his administration’s energy into addressing criminal justice reform and protections for these communities, openly condemn white supremacy, and commit to move forward with efforts to end voter suppression in order to protect the voting rights of millions across the nation.

  1. Eliminating Subminimum Wage and Promoting Disability Employment 

I am sure that a core message of President Biden’s address will be the need to grow the economy for the lower and middle classes, a message that was essential to his campaign. In 2021, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was still more than twice the rate of people without disabilities (10.6% compared to 4.9%). Not only do people with disabilities participate in the labor force at lower rates, those who are employed experience lower rates of pay compared to their non-disabled peers. One of the reasons for this gap in pay is Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Through 14(c), employers are allowed to pay subminimum wage to employees with disabilities, i.e. they can pay however little they choose to. It has been more than 80 years since the Fair Labor Standards Act was signed into law, and despite the development of disability employment civil rights protections and enormous advancements in accessibility, this discriminatory rule is still in place. Even today, the allowance of subminimum wage reinforces stereotypes that people with disabilities are inherently less productive and diminishes our skills and contributions. I desperately hope to hear President Biden say that as part of his plan to strengthen the economy for average Americans, he will finally eliminate subminimum wage on behalf of all workers everywhere. 

  1. Acknowledge The Link Between Disability, War, and Supporting Refugees 

War and disability are inherently linked. War creates disability – not only through those who become injured and disabled during the conflict, but also through the trauma that war creates as civilians live through war, witness destruction and bloodshed, and are often forced to flee their homes. This should be a consideration in the support that the United States provides Ukrainian refugees. We already know that more than half a million refugees have fled Ukraine in the wake of Russian violence. The nature of their displacement will cause many of these refugees to become disabled. For those who are able to flee, women will be at greater risk for gender-based violence, and children will face physical harm and severe emotional distress. While the United States has already committed money to aid in the response to the Ukrainian humanitarian crisis, I want to hear President Biden speak to how U.S. aid will foster greater accessibility of refugee shelters, how it will help ensure access to healthcare that is responsive to refugees with complex medical needs, and how it will keep families connected, regardless of an individual’s communication or access needs.

Black (Disability) History: Past, Present, & Future.

By Rasheera Dopson, AAPD Intern

Today marks the final day of Black History Month. Understanding and celebrating Black history is an integral part of truly understanding American history. Commemorating Black history dates all the way back to the early 1900s. Previously referred to as “Negro History week,” the practice of formally celebrating and acknowledging Black history was initiated as a movement to acknowledge Black achievement. President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, calling upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Since then, the celebration of Black history has grown into a full 28 days and is recognized in the United States as well as abroad in countries such as the United Kingdom and Canada. 

The line of achievement among Black Americans is a crucial thread that holds the American fabric together. Black American achievement and excellence is even more remarkable when considering how it has occurred against a backdrop of structural and interpersonal racism and anti-Blackness, oppression, and harm. In preventing the erasure of Black history, the continued fight for visibility and representation of the Black American experience remains a priority. 

From states attempting to pass legislation banning the teaching of Black history in schools to the recognition of racism as a public health issue, the invitation to honor Black history and Black presence in our society is louder than ever. In lifting up a few of the many examples of Black history and leadership that should be celebrated, I wanted to create a space where Black voices are amplified and a spectrum of black experiences are shared. To honor Black history, today I am highlighting “Black Disability.”

Black Disability is what I like to refer to as a subsection of the Black experience that not only looks at disability through a Black lens, but also illustrates the intersection of a double minority identity that is often hidden within the Black community. This group of golden gems deserve to have their stories told and for their experiences to be recognized by the Black community as a whole.  Here at AAPD we’re recognizing Black Disability History by honoring its “Past, Present and Future.”

1. Fannie Lou Hamer – Born in Mississippi in 1917, Fannie Lou Hamer, daughter of sharecroppers, found her path to activism from her lived experience. Hamer had polio as a child and became further disabled following a brutal briefing in a Mississippi jail. She also faced a form of medical abuse that was committed against thousands of other black women at the time and countless disabled people throughout history when she became a victim of forced sterilization. Later, Hamer attended a civil rights meeting held by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), where she became involved in the voting rights movement as a community organizer. She went on to co-found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) in 1964, helped organize the Freedom Summer of 1964, and in 1971, helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus. Her grassroots work left an indelible mark on Mississippi and paved the way for voting rights for hundreds of thousands in her local communities and nationally. AAPD also has an initiative named after Hamer, the Fannie Lou Hamer Leadership Program. This program is designed for young (ages 18 – 30) Black disabled advocates who are committed to boosting voter registration and civic engagement across Black communities leading up to elections.

2.  Donald GallowayBorn in 1938 in Washington, D.C., Donald Galloway became blind in an accident in his early teens. Despite his injury, Donald found pride in his disability, and molded his experiences into tangible leadership roles, becoming an advocate for disability rights. He became a junior member at the NAACP, and also served as a junior member for the National Federation of the Blind. Galloway received his master’s degree in social work and became heavily engaged in Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living. From his time spent in community activism, Galloway rose through the ranks to become a leader at the Center for Independent Living branch in Washington D.C. One of the most landmark moments in Galloway’s activism was when he advocated for representation in the D.C. Superior Court. After receiving a jury summons, Galloway was dismissed from consideration as a juror on the grounds that he was unable to fulfill his civic duty because he could not see. Galloway fought back, filing a lawsuit against the District, which found in 1993 that dismissing a juror on the basis of disability was unconstitutional. His advocacy efforts challenged systems and enabled the voices of those most vulnerable to be heard in an impactful way. 

3. Brad Lomax– Born in 1950 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Brad Lomax was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis during his freshman year of college and became a wheelchair user. He quickly discovered that many buildings were inaccessible to him. He also got involved with the D.C. chapter of the Black Panther party and helped organize the 1972 Africa Liberation movement on the National Mall. In 1973 he moved to Berkeley, California, where, after encountering issues to access public transportation, he decided to get involved in the local disability movement. He advocated for more resources for Black people with disabilities — partnering with the Black Panther party to bring resources to Black communities in east Oakland. In 1977, he was among the activists who executed an historic sit-in at the San Francisco Federal Building to urge Section 504-Rehabilitation Act of 1973. His actions ensured that activists were clothed, fed, and provided adequate shelter during times of protest, an effort which the Black Panthers and other grassroots organizations contributed to during the Section 504 sit-in. His commitment to the disability rights movement helped set the stage for major transformation and actionable change for generations to come.  

4Claudia Gordon- Born in Jamaica in 1972, Claudia Gordon is the first known deaf Black woman to earn a Juris Doctorate in the United States. Gordon lost her hearing at the age of eight and was removed from school to do chores at home. Growing up in Jamaica, Gordon faced significant discrimination at young age due to her deafness. She immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 11 and returned to formal education at the Lexington school for deaf in New York City.  She later went on to attend Howard University where she received her B.A. in political science, and to American University College of Law. After her law school graduation, she worked as a senior policy advisor for the Department of Homeland Security. Her notable work began to gain traction as she advocated for disabled people during Hurricane Katrina. She was then called upon by the White House to serve as a public engagement advisor working with the disability community. Gordon continues to blaze trails for black and brown disabled people across the nation. In 2002, she was a recipient of AAPD’s Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award. 

5. Tatiana Lee– is an award-winning actress, model, and activist born with Spina Bifida. Growing up in Coatesville Pennsylvania, Lee felt underrepresented in media and entertainment, and began to utilize social media strategy to  In being vocal about disability visibility Lee has leveraged social media to not only raise awareness but to expand her platform for other disabled artists. She is the voice of the AccessibleHollywood brand, Lee’s award-winning work can be seen in films such as Footloose, Jade, and Together & Better. Her modeling campaigns can be seen in ads at Target, Zappos, and more. Her commitment to creating a more inclusive Hollywood has created opportunity for and awareness of other emerging disabled entertainers. She continues to speak, advise, consult, and educate others in film and media, including with companies like Netflix and The Walt Disney Company. 

6. Dr. Feranmi OkanlamiDr. Feranmi Okanlami’s – also known as “Dr. O” – journey in disability advocacy began unexpectedly. During his 4th year surgical residency at Yale University, Dr. O was paralyzed during a swimming incident that caused his life to take a drastic turn. Now, as an advocate for disability inclusion, and especially diversity and inclusion in the field of medicine, Dr. O makes it his mission to ensure that the conversation of disability and diversity are at the table when talking about the experiences of doctors, medical students, and patients. He currently serves as faculty member at Michigan Medicine at the University of Michigan and speaks to medical students and practitioners across the nation. 

7.  Wesley Hamilton– Wesley Hamilton founded the non-profit organization “Disabled but Not Really” after becoming disabled when he survived a shooting that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Facing a long journey to recovery, Hamilton made the decision to pivot and use his newly acquired disability status to make a difference for others. Now serving as an advocate in the disability community, Hamilton’s aim is to ensure that individuals with disabilities have access to inclusive fitness training. In launching his own accessible fitness program, he uses his platform to not only advocate for more inclusive fitness programs for wheelchair users but has also become a champion in speaking out on black disability representation and inclusion and ADA compliance. 

8. Leon Ford– Born in 1993 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Leon Ford became paralyzed in a tragic injustice in which he suffered a case of mistaken identity and was shot by the police five times during a routine traffic stop. At the young age of 19, Ford was brought into the disability community by an act of police brutality. He has since grown and used his platform to speak out against racial injustice, disability discrimination, and to bring a greater understanding of cultural competency and training to law enforcement across the country. He is a recipient of the President’s Volunteer Service Award from President Obama and was named one of Pittsburgh’s 40 under 40. Ford’s activism highlights the specific injustices experienced by black and disabled people alike. 

9.  Andraéa LaVant– Andraéa LaVant was raised in Louisville Kentucky and diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at the age of 2 years old. She is a communications expert. impact producer, culture creator, and does it all while displaying iconic fashion and accessorizing. She is the founder and President of LaVant Consulting, a social impact communications and strategy consulting firm that helps brands address disability in a confident and competent manner. LaVant has been an active and critical voice in disability advocacy for more than fifteen years, and recently helped produce and led the campaign for the award-winning Oscar-nominated documentary “Crip Camp.” After, as she self-described, spending half her life “running away” from the identifier of disability, today, LaVant leads the way in bringing disability to mainstream media while breaking down our culture of othering and ostracizing disabled people, especially disabled people of color. 

10.  Haben Girma– Born in Oakland California in 1988, Haben Girma is the first deaf-blind woman to graduate from Harvard Law School. Her journey to fighting for the full access and inclusion of individuals with disabilities began in her journey during her undergraduate studies, where she had to advocate for access to her school’s cafeteria lunch menu. After graduating from Harvard Law School, she has written a memoir and consulted for globally recognized companies such as Apple, Microsoft, GE, SXSW, the New York Times and more to improve their accessibility. She believes and states often that “disability is an opportunity to drive innovation”. Girma uses her platform not only to advocate for accessibility, but to create long lasting solutions that benefit the disabled and non-disabled communities as a whole.

AAPD Summer Internship Program Long-Term Evaluation

Please Participate in the Long-Term Evaluation of the AAPD Summer Internship Program 

In Summer 2022, the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is excited to celebrate 20 years of the Summer Internship Program. It began in 2002 as a transformative opportunity to bring young people with disabilities across the country to Washington, DC to work in Congressional offices. Throughout the 20 years, AAPD has placed nearly 400 alumni in Congressional offices, federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, and private companies. We are thrilled to continue this important work in cultivating a strong community of disabled leaders.

In January 2022, AAPD contracted Third Sight, LLC to conduct evaluation services of the Summer Internship Program. Third Sight will assess the program effectiveness and guide continued program improvement for the next 20 years, including program expansion.

The feedback gathered from our alumni, supervisors, mentors, and partners is crucial in expanding the program’s impact on our various stakeholder groups. With this in mind, the goals of the study are to:

  1. Learn about the outcome and impact that the AAPD Summer Internship Program had on the professional career trajectory, education and studies, and personal growth of program alumni.
  2. Understand how the program may have benefitted sponsors, placement site supervisors and employers, and mentors who have supported the Summer Internship Program.
  3. Identify the strengths of the Summer Internship Program and areas for improvement.

The evaluation team will reach out to Summer Internship Program alumni and partners to participate in the study through surveys and interviews. You will be contacted by Third Sight, LLC from with a link to the survey. Please check your inbox for emails from Third Sight. Your responses will be anonymous and kept entirely confidential. 

If you do not receive an email by the end of March, please contact to ensure you are included in this evaluation to share your feedback about the Summer Internship Program. 

We hope you will provide your open and honest feedback to the evaluation team so AAPD can continue to meaningfully improve our program to impact future generations. 

AAPD plans to release the findings in a long-term evaluation impact report in Fall 2022. Please check back on this page for updated information.

Reflecting on January 6, One Year Later

By Maria Town, AAPD President & CEO

Today is a solemn day as America and the world reflect on the violent, anti-democratic actions that took place at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021. The forces behind the January 6th insurrection represent some of the most evil tendencies in American life. 

It is not a mistake that these forces drove an assault on our democracy. More people than ever voted in the 2020 election, with more than 158.4 million people turning out to cast a ballot during a global pandemic. This increase in voter participation is thanks in large part to the organizing efforts of diverse communities asserting their right to participate in American democracy. There was a 6 percentage point increase in the turnout among voters with disabilities in 2020 compared to 2016, which translated to an additional 1.7 million votes from the disability community.  The historic violent attempt to overturn the results of a democratic election was driven by people who view diverse coalitions increasing access to the ballot as a direct threat to their own power. 

Although this assault on our democracy failed, the threat it posed persists. It is critical to recognize the weight and threat of this moment. 

The disability community intersects with every other voting bloc: gender, race, nationality, and of course, partisan affiliation and political ideology. The disability vote is evenly split between Democratic and Republican parties. Our interest in maintaining access to the vote for disabled people is not out of allegiance or antipathy to any particular party or politician.  Rather, it reflects our commitment to democratic government, the survival of which is integral to the rights and well-being of our community. 

We must remain resolute in our community-wide rejection of the actions and the spirit of what took place on January 6th, 2021. That’s why I wanted to share three things I think we as a community can do together in the year ahead to keep protecting democracy: 

1. Reject Attempts to Use Disability to Explain Insurrectionist Actions 

Over the last year, several of the insurrectionists have attempted to evade accountability for their criminal actions by citing disability diagnoses. On behalf of the disability community, AAPD rejects these attempts and calls for these individuals to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Let me be perfectly clear: having a disability diagnosis does not lead someone to violently attempt to overturn a democratic election. Weaponizing stigma against disabled people to avoid accountability for such heinous acts is unacceptable. We do not believe that disability should be used to minimize the culpability of those who attacked our democracy on January 6th.  

2. Don’t Limit Our View to Only That Day 

January 6th was a terrible day, where unthinkable actions took place. Worse still, it was not an isolated incident. It is easy to condemn specific violent acts on a specific day. It can at times feel harder to articulate and address the broader political environment which enabled those specific, violent acts. In recent years, people with disabilities have been one of many marginalized groups concerned by a growing climate of intolerance. 

People of color, women and gender-nonconforming persons, the LGBTQ community, Jews, Muslims and other religious minorities, and many other groups have been subject to hateful and often criminal acts designed to discourage their rightful participation in American political life. Individuals who are multiply marginalized experience compounding voter suppression efforts that make casting a ballot require a herculean effort. A recent research from the Election Assistance Commission and Rutgers University found that Black disabled voters experienced wait times at polling places more than twice that of white voters with disabilities. 

As an organization, AAPD is committed to monitoring threats to inclusive democracy. We will continue to fight attacks on our democracy, whether they come in the form of violent insurrection or bans on curbside voting in Alabama or efforts to restrict voter assistance in Montana. We are profoundly concerned by the close to 500 bills to restrict voting access that have been introduced since the 2020 election.  And, this  is why our team, along with the disability organizations and advocates in our REV UP Network, are dedicated to increasing voter access in the 2022 midterm elections. We also continue to urge the Senate to advance the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and to amend and pass the Freedom to Vote Act before the 2022 midterm elections. Such efforts need not be partisan – they simply protect the fundamental rights of all Americans.

3. Stay Engaged in Civil Society

Civic engagement extends far beyond the act of voting. A society that excludes disabled people from the broader community cannot sustain a truly inclusive democracy. In recent months, the disability community and our allies have fought for expanded access to home and community-based services. These supports are vital for keeping members of our community free and included in all aspects of American life. That effort has been characterized by unprecedented collaboration with the labor and gender justice movements. Our shared advocacy efforts to increase wages, enhance employment benefits, and improve quality of life for children and families will ultimately support the creation of a democracy that works for every American. I want to bring more of that energy into the year ahead.

Building lasting, meaningful relationships, built on the recognition of our shared mutuality, is a joyful act – one that safeguards and sustains our democracy. In the coming year, I hope you will join AAPD for an event, protest, community conversation, or policy action as a sign of our shared commitment to staying engaged in civil society together.

Our Sponsors