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.
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!
Glenneisha Darkins, better known as Glenn, is a Black quadriplegic artist and mouth painter from Miami, Florida. She was involved in a fatal car accident in 2010 that caused her quadriplegia, and soon after she became determined to change how the world viewed her disability. Two years after her accident, she learned how to mouth paint from other young Black artists on Youtube. By operating breathing controls, navigating brush strokes, and mastering oil painting techniques, her efforts turned into a full-fledged business! She finds inspiration for her paintings from many sources: her childhood, difficulties she experiences, navigating life, and her surroundings. She later received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology with an emphasis on Women and Gender studies from the Florida Int’l University in 2018.
Glenn’s goal is to inspire and motivate others through her personal story and art. She hopes to educate the world on dismantling the misconceptions of individuals with disabilities and help others feel the courage and strength to discover their purpose and share their stories.
I met Glenn on the audio-based social app ClubHouse; while listening to her perspective on the lack of visibility on black disabled artists, I recognized how her story could positively impact others.
M: What advice would you give other disabled artists and creatives?
G: I would strongly advise other disabled artists and creatives to please keep going— keep creating and keep sharing your story. Throughout my journey as a disabled artist, I learned discipline and consistency is very much needed. When my purpose looked slow, bleak, I stretched whatever strength I had to find ways to stay creative. All sorts of challenges and obstacles definitely found its way to me, but I also found a way to make it work in my favor. I personally don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me or my situation so I strive to be better than I was yesterday. I look at myself as a source of motivation to keep creating what I want and what makes me happy. I found that those same challenges and obstacles makes for a beautiful story to share. You never know who’s watching!
M: What are you looking forward to in the future?
G: I want to continue to create so I’m able to be a household name in museums, in celebrity homes. I want to share my journey on a TedTalk. I honestly just look forward to expanding my art business and staying healthy!
M: What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?
G: I schedule days to be in nature to see how colors complement each other. I listen to music and other creatives via podcasts or Youtube. I’m always looking at tutorials or documentaries on color mixing and oil painting portraits. I’m very motivated by other artists and when I see my earlier work, I challenge myself.
M: Thinking about the things you have created, is there something you hated but the public may have loved – and perhaps purchased?
G: Yes, all of my Nipsey portraits. As I’m painting, I see it one way but at a distance, I second guess everything. Instant cringe. I want to do better when I capture him. I’m working on doing practice pieces with only him.
M: Has rejection ever affected your creative process? Explain
G: No, but criticism has definitely fueled my motivation to prove others wrong. I’m very sensitive when it comes to my art. Sensitive in a way that I’m motivated and inspired to prove to myself I am a real artist. I’m working on being more confident in art that isn’t what people want, but what I like and see as a masterpiece. So critics and negative comments has definitely affected how I approach my work.
M: In your opinion, how can black disabled creatives stay connected to each other?What is missing? What’s already there?
G: As of now, I found social media platforms such as Instagram, TikTok and Twitter are most effective in connecting to disabled artists. I utilized Clubhouse as well. I’m still learning myself but I know that browsing social media sites has connected me to some very dope disabled creatives. I also learned that getting into local events as a vendor helps as well. So, establishing yourself on social media and participating in local events, in my opinion, can help disabled creatives to stay connected.
M: Anything else you’d like to share?
G: Do things for the greater good. Your purpose is bigger than yourself. Stay creative and never give up!
A Milestone for the Disability Vote: Advocates Meet with the Vice President
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 accessfor 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…
In Case You Missed It: Highlights from the 2021 Disability Vote Summit
By Alexa Berry | September 15, 2021
Yesterday, the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) hosted the Disability Vote Summit. The goal of the virtual Summit was to provide advocates with information and strategies to further their advocacy as well as provide policymakers with information to better understand the disability community and their impact on elections. The Disability Vote Summit was part of National Disability Voter Registration Week, a larger effort by AAPD’s REV UP Campaign. In case you missed it, this blog shares some highlights from the event.
The summit opened yesterday with Curt Decker, President of NDRN, speaking about the power of the disability vote. There are over 38 million eligible voters with disabilities, but despite being the largest minority voting bloc, candidates for public office rarely speak about disability issues or speak directly to voters with disabilities.
Over 400 attendees—advocates, activists, and policymakers—tuned in to learn from experts about accessibility and the experiences of disabled voters during the 2020 election. Attendees also learned strategies to shape their advocacy to increase enfranchisement and combat voter suppression. Conversations during the 4-hour event on Tuesday focused on voter turnout, election accessibility with a particular focus on language and information access, and the importance of coalitions and working together in the fight for voting rights.
The data presented by Rutgers University, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), Self Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE), and NDRN confirmed what the disability community already know: that voters with disabilities are engaged and motivated to vote, but face many more barriers to the ballot than voters without disabilities.
Dr. Douglas Kruse and Dr. Lisa Schur of Rutgers University presented data from their study, Disability and Voter Turnout in the 2020 Elections, an in-depth look at how voters with disabilities cast their ballots. Mirroring trends for all voting in 2020, voter turnout for people with disabilities surged in 2020; 17.7 million people with disabilities voted, accounting for 11% of all people who cast a ballot. Dr. Kruse and Dr. Schur attributed this record turnout to states’ shift to mail-in ballots and the urgency of the 2020 election. Dr. Kruse and Dr. Schur also found that people with disabilities are twice as likely to experience barriers to voting than people without disabilities. Among voters with disabilities, Black voters with disabilities experienced waiting times that were twice as long as non-Black voters with disabilities. Their data gave insight into the differences between voters without disabilities and voters with disabilities, and voting disparities within the disability community.
Additional data presentations from Jeff Kaloc and Lou Ann Blake from NFB and Essie Pederson and Diana Mairose, from the SABE Go Voter Project, showed how voters with certain disabilities were affected by barriers to vote. From the NFB 2020 Blind and Low-Vision Voter Survey, Jeff Kaloc and Lou Ann Blake shared that based on their data, they found poll worker training to be lacking. The NFB surveys found that federal election after federal election, one-third of respondents said that their polling place’s accessible voting machine was not running when they arrived to vote. Essie Pederson and Diana Mairose from SABE presented the findings of their GoVoter 2020 Voter Experience Survey, sharing how people with developmental disabilities (DD) voted or didn’t vote, and why. Their presentation focused on the disparities between Black voters with DD and all other survey respondents. A finding that garnered many reactions from the audience was that of the survey respondents, 7 out of 10 Black voters said the reason they did not vote was that they were told they could not vote, compared to 5 out of 10 of all voters were told they could not vote. In addition, the majority of first-time voters that filled out the survey identified as Black or Asian American. Jack Rosen from NDRN made the final data presentation, speaking about the Election Omnibus Findings from Lake Research Partners and The Tarrance Group that explored political preferences and issues that were important to voters. The survey found that disability issues affected more than just voters with disabilities; while 15% of survey respondents identified as having a disability, an additional 25% of survey respondents reported having a close family member with a disability. Despite this large swath of voters connected to disability issues, of all the voters surveyed, over two-thirds did not recall hearing any mention of disability issues by the candidates running in 2020. Disabled voters in swing states, which are often inundated with ads and candidate messaging, were least likely to hear candidates mention disability.
The two panels during the Summit included speakers from across the spectrum of the disability community. The first panel, moderated by Sarah Blahovec of the National Council on Independent Living with Kriston Pumphrey of Communication Service for the Deaf, Terry Ao Minnis of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and Ben Jackson of the Election Assistance Commission centered around access, particularly language access, for the deaf community, people with cognitive disabilities, and non-native English speakers. Speakers stressed how important it is for people with disabilities to be involved in all the aspects of elections, including becoming poll workers and working on the language for ballot initiatives, in order for voting to be more inclusive and accessible. Ben Jackson said, “…a lot of the decisions that are going to be impacting voters with disabilities, and voters generally, are going to be happening on a local level.” His point is particularly significant in 2021, as many states and local municipalities will be having elections this year that will decide governors, city council members, and ballot initiatives that affect the day-to-day lives of disabled people.
The second panel, moderated by Marlene Sallo of the Disability Law Center, with Cedric Lawson of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund, Teresa Moore of Self Advocates Becoming Empowered, and Gaylon Tootle of Walton Options, focused on the importance of coalition building, community, and relationships in the fight for accessibility ballot access and accessibility overall. Gaylon Tootle said it best: “What we need from everybody is to understand we’re in it together… So if one section of the community is being discriminated against, then all of us are. And if that is what we’re here to do, to improve the lives of folks with disabilities, then we implore you to get out there with us and make sure they enforce the ADA, Title II… It’s the law. And if we do it, as Cedric said, in mass as a group, we can get it done.” Both Cedric Lawson and Gaylon Tootle also encouraged attendees to contact decision-makers, whether it be in their community—faith leaders, youth and student groups, etc.—or at the national level and advocate for themselves and their rights.
Attendees also received video messages about the power and importance of the disability vote from Susan Diegelman, AAPD Board of Directors Chair, Rebecca Cokley, Program Officer for the U.S. Disability Rights Portfolio in the Office of the President at the Ford Foundation, Wade Henderson, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights interim president and CEO, Donald Palmer, United States Election Assistance Commission Chairman, Cedric Richmond, Senior Advisor to the President and Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, and the Honorable Kim Wyman, Washington Secretary of State. In his video, Wade Henderson said “Disability rights are civil and human rights. We need the collective power of our coalition more than ever as state lawmakers turn their backs on voters and create egregious barriers to the ballot. This is our moment to act right now.”
Maria Town, President and CEO of AAPD, closed the Summit by driving home the importance of voting for the disability community as voting gives people with disabilities the opportunity to self-direct their own lives. As she stated in her closing, “Voting is a way that says we are here. We deserve to be here and we deserve to be in a world that works for us and with us.”
The recording and transcript for the Disability Vote Summit will be publicly available soon.
REV UP During National Disability Voter Registration Week
By Lilian Aluri | September 14, 2021
This blog was originally published on September 13 by the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) and can be found on AUCD’s blog.
Roughly 1 in 4 American adults has a disability, and over 38 million people with disabilities were eligible to vote in 2020! Unfortunately, disabled voters turnout to vote less frequently than voters without disabilities. A 7 percentage point turnout gap persists between disabled and non-disabled voters, which amounts to over 2 million fewer votes cast by people with disabilities. Much of this turnout gap comes from the increased barriers that disabled voters, and especially disabled voters of color, face. These barriers exist throughout the voting process, from registering to vote to casting a ballot. This year, hundreds of bills in state legislatures threaten access to the ballot, and some of these bills have already passed.
This week is National Disability Voter Registration Week which lasts from September 13th to September 20th. While the REV UP network is active all year, this national week of civic engagement initiatives builds excitement and momentum in our advocacy around the disability vote. During National Disability Voter Registration Week, Organizers across the country host voter registration drives, voter trainings, and other activities to get out the disability vote.
REV UP stands for “Register! Educate! Vote! Use your power!” Founded by grassroots organizers in Texas, REV UP is a part of a movement to build the power of the disability vote in our communities and nationwide. REV UP is now led by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and is made up of a national network of individuals, organizations, and election officials. These REV UP organizers work to both increase civic engagement in the disability community and ensure people with disabilities have access to the ballot.
We “REV UP” during National Disability Voter Registration Week, because we know how our vote impacts every part of our lives, including access to healthcare, work, housing, financial security, education, and more. By hosting National Disability Voter Registration Week, our goal is to get more voters with disabilities registered and ready to vote and to call attention to the issues impacting our communities, including access to voting.
We invite you to be a part of the 2021 National Disability Voter Registration Week happening now and join organizers across the country as we build the power of the disability vote! You can sign up as a partner here. You can also follow us on social media (@aapd on Twitter, @DisabilityPowered on Facebook, and @aapdofficial on Instagram) to participate in our 5 actions that you can do to make sure you and your community are registered and ready to vote. We hope you will join us for the events and activities throughout the week as we REV UP the disability vote together!
Check out all of the activities taking place this week at aapd.com/ndvrw and…
5 Ways to Build a Better and More Inclusive Democracy This Week
By Lilian Aluri | September 13, 2021
Today marks the first day of the 2021 National Disability Voter Registration Week (September 13-20)! Throughout this week, organizers across the country are hosting voter registration drives, voter education events, and more. The goals of National Disability Voter Registration Week are to increase civic participation in our communities and showcase the power of the disability vote.
At the REV UP Voting Campaign, we recognize that voting connects to every part of our lives. Our votes are powerful as voting is one of the ways we create the world we want to live in. The systems around us, from policing and minimum wage, to healthcare and taxes, are all shaped by our ability to cast a ballot.
We also believe that our democracy will only work for us when our communities have access to the ballot. People with disabilities, people of color, and disabled people of color face compounding barriers to the ballot box that limit our freedom to vote. Our work through REV UP this week and every week centers building our political power as voters with disabilities, advocating for full access to voting both in-person and remotely, and getting our communities actively engaged in the political process.
Here are 5 ways that you can build up the disability vote this week:
1)Register to vote or check your registration. Go to weall.vote/revup and enter your information to begin registering to vote. This link will allow you to check your registration information and go to your state’s official voter registration website. Even if you think you are registered to vote, take a few minutes and check and make sure your information is up to date.
2) Learn more about the disability vote. Register today for the virtual Disability Vote Summit on Tuesday, September 14 from 12-4pm EST, and learn more about how you can get out the disability vote in your community. The Summit will include presentations and panels on voting access, the 2020 elections, and the future of advocacy around the disability vote.
3) Reach out to one person in your life and make sure they are registered to vote. Each of us has relationships in our lives—friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, people we know on social media. Choose one person and ask them when was the last time they updated their voter registration and share this online voter registration link with them: weall.vote/revup.
4) Find out the dates for your upcoming elections. Visit vote411.org and enter your address to learn about upcoming election dates and what will be on the ballot. In 2021, there are thousands of local, state, and tribal positions up for election, and many elections have already taken place. Make sure that you are ready for any elections in your area. Remember every election matters and every year is an election year!
5)Contact your Senators and ask them to protect your freedom to vote. The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. This law would prevent states from trying to pass bills that would make voting inaccessible for certain communities, such as disabled voters and voters of color. Now it is up to the Senate! On Friday of this week, we will be sharing an easy way for you to contact your Senators about access to voting, so follow us on social media and sign up for our emails to receive Friday’s action alert!
Whether you can join us every day or for a few days, we invite you to participate in National Disability Voter Registration Week with these daily civic engagement actions. To learn more about National Disability Voter Registration Week and all of the events and activities this week, check out our website at aapd.com/ndvrw.
Lastly, I will end with this quote from Justin Dart which has become a rallying message for REV UP:
“Vote as if your life depends on it—because it DOES!”
Check out all of the activities taking place this week at aapd.com/ndvrw and…