As the United States continues to move closer to Election Day, American citizens are constantly being reminded how important it is for their voices to be heard through their vote, because actively participating in our democracy is the clearest path to change. Many people have the luxury of not needing to be concerned with access to said vote. But, one often-forgotten minority group has not always been so fortunate: Though they represent 26 percent of the adult population in the United States, Americans with disabilities have not had guaranteed access to the act of casting a ballot for nearly as long as many others in this country.
Thankfully, Americans with disabilities do have their access to voting protected under law today. This is all thanks to the Help America Vote Act, or HAVA for short, which requires polling places to provide whatever accommodations are necessary to a voter with a disability. This might include ample accessible parking, tactile aids for the blind and visually impaired, as well as ramps, elevators, and unobstructed pathways for those with limited mobility, among many others. Since disability can be defined as a condition that limits a person’s ability to perform certain tasks, it makes sense that most disabled voters would likely find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to cast their ballot without these measures in place. However, HAVA was only passed in 2002. That was less than two decades ago; 18 years to be exact. In other words, if HAVA itself was an American citizen, this is the first election in which it would be eligible to vote.
As a disabled American myself, I was absolutely flabbergasted upon learning this. Even though I should have no problem casting my own ballot in future elections, it is absolutely unthinkable that a group of which I proudly consider myself a part was excluded from a fundamental system of American democracy for so long. Even for those who are not a part of this community, it is extremely important to recognize that until HAVA was passed, nearly a quarter of potential votes remained uncounted. There is no explanation for the absence of these votes other than the simple fact that the able-bodied majority of America did not think to accommodate those who should have been casting them.
Now that HAVA has been put into effect, it is vital to remember that the immense burden of ensuring the accessibility of voting cannot be placed solely upon the shoulders of a singular disabled person, nor even the disability community as a whole. Able-bodied individuals also need to be aware and committed to making voting accessible in order for it to remain that way. Speak up and speak out. Whether it is something small, like educating others on the accessibility of voting, or something big, like contacting your local Supervisor of Elections Office about lack of access at a particular polling place, use your voice in whatever way you can. Remember that ignorance, though often unintentional, can have the most lasting consequences.
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