What it was like to vote while disabled 50 years ago, compared to now.
With all the progress that’s been made in America, the “Land of Opportunity,” it’s hard to believe the right to vote wasn’t always a given for everyone — including the disabled.
But if we take a look back at American history, we can see that there was a time not too long ago when people with disabilities did not have a say in any election, let alone a presidential one.
It wasn’t because of someone’s personal beliefs against voting, or even religious beliefs. There were simply no laws in place for the disabled to make their voices heard, which caused a longstanding battle of discrimination and prejudice. In fact, people within the disabled community were (and still are) often denied the right to vote despite steps being taken to grant them that right.
In the 1960s, the disabled community got real about prejudice during the disability rights movement.
Before that, if you had a disability, you probably couldn’t vote. The polls weren’t accessible.
The movement sparked radical change for more than 54 million Americans by ensuring that polling places — as well as the actual voting process — would be made accessible. This includes having ballots printed in Braille for the blind or visually impaired.
I have cerebral palsy and use a motorized wheelchair, so I’m one of those 54 million people who can now vote more easily.
I’m not ashamed or embarrassed to be a statistic in this demographic because it’s a group that often has to fight a little harder for what they want and what they believe in.
I’m also not ashamed to say I’ve voted before. In fact, it was one of the first things I did when I came of age. My older brother went with me to help, and at this particular time, I didn’t have my motorized chair. I just had my manual one that I use in case of an emergency or if I’m going somewhere for a short period of time.
My brother lifted me (and my chair) out of the car and pushed me into our local polling place. The room was fairly large, and there was a woman waiting at a table to check my voter registration card as we came in the door. I pulled the card out of my wallet and showed it to her.
“It says here you’re 18?” She asked immediately (because I didn’t look 18).
“Yes ma’am,” I replied.
My age caught her off guard, but I could tell by the surprised look on her face and her body language that my chair did, too. I don’t know which one surprised her more, but I wasn’t really bothered by it. I’m used to getting that reaction from people, and I understand it’s part of having a disability.
For the most part, voting for the first time was a hassle-free experience for me — except the booth was almost too high for me to reach from my chair.
It made for some difficulties, but I decided not to make a big deal out of it because it wasn’t a matter of someone doing that on purpose to prevent me from voting. It was minor compared to some of the challenges I’ve faced in my life. If anything, I was just proud to cast my vote.
For me, voting for the first time mattered because it made me feel like I was a part of something bigger than myself.
This year, disabled Americans will be turning out in droves to vote, given Donald Trump’s blatant mockery of disabled folks. That means it’s even more important for every voting booth to be accessible.
In fact, according to the American Association of People with Disabilities, people with disabilities will account for about one-sixth of eligible voters in the 2016 election — 34.6 million people.
In 2016, there will be 62.7 million eligible voters who either have a disability or live with someone who has a disability, more than one-fourth of the total electorate. And in 2012, 56.8% of people with disabilities voted, compared to 62.5% of people without disabilities.
This election will be a milestone not just because of its magnitude, but also because of what it represents, as well as what’s at stake. And for the first time, I think people with disabilities will be on a level playing field like never before.
Changes have been made to include the disabled community in voting, and that is a huge step forward.
But our progress can’t — and won’t — stop there. If we have something to say, Nov. 8, 2016, is the time to say it.
It’s our chance to counteract the embarrassment that Trump has inflicted on so many people with disabilities and to start righting some wrongs, too.
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