Voting Should Be Accessible to All!

Accessible Voting

With the 2020 elections less than a month away, Disability Scoop has reported that the number of eligible voters with disabilities has increased by 20 percent this year. One reason for the increase, which impacts voters of both parties, seems to be the uptick in mail-in voting which removes some voting accessibility issues.

On the other hand, Disability Scoop cited a recent audit by software accessibility company Deque Systems, which revealed that “43 states’ applications had some level of digital inaccessibility – making them challenging or impossible to complete by many people with disabilities.” This barrier is especially concerning for voters with blindness or low vision.

Voting accessibility isn’t a new concern for Americans with disabilities. In fact, 30 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed “activists and advocates say people with disabilities are still facing barriers exercising a fundamental right: the right to vote,” according to a U.S.A. Today article. Backing up that claim is a survey from the Government Accountability Office published in 2017 that looked at 178 voting polling places during early voting and on Election Day 2016, and “found that 60 percent (107) had one or more potential impediments. The most common were steep ramps located outside buildings, lack of signs indicating accessible paths, and poor parking or path surfaces.” This was an improvement from 2012, though, when approximately 73 percent of poll places had similar barriers.

Despite these ongoing issues, 2018 was a record year for voting among people with disabilities. A study from Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations reported that voting by people with disabilities was up by 8.5 percent in 2018 with 14.3 million voting in the November 2018 midterm elections.

“If people with disabilities voted at the same rate as people without disabilities who have the same demographic characteristics, there would be about 2.35 million more voters,” the study authors predicted.

So, what can be done to make voting easier for the 20 percent of American voters with disabilities? The American Civil Liberties Union offers these suggestions:

  • States should automatically send mail-in ballots to all registered voters.
  • States should ensure that election websites are fully accessible so individuals with disabilities can easily obtain all the information they require to create their voting plans.
  • Voters with disabilities should be able to receive electronic ballots which can be marked with accessible equipment they have at home, then printed out and mailed in.
  • Since voters with disabilities may have difficulty providing consistent signatures, signature matching requirements should be waived for these individuals.
  • States that have requirements for witness signatures or notarized ballot envelopes should discontinue them. During a time when social distancing is strongly recommended, these requirements prevent unnecessary health risks.
  • Election officials must be thoroughly trained on issues pertaining to accessible voting.
  • We should all spread awareness about accessible voting options.

If you have questions about accessible voting, click here.

Politicians Take Heed: People with Disabilities are a hugely important voting bloc!

Image of "VOTE" pins

Is it our imagination or are people with disabilities receiving more attention from politicians this election season? From the Republican and Democratic conventions where both parties included speakers and performers with disabilities, to more muscular efforts to make voting accessible to individuals with disabilities, at long last, politicians and those working to get them elected are finally recognizing the power and size of this important group of voters. That’s not to say that the job is done. Far from it.

The Numbers

According to RespectAbility, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded in 2013, that works “to end stigmas and advance opportunities for people with disabilities … America has 56 million people with disabilities, comprising the largest minority group in America, and the only one that, due to an accident or illness, anyone can join at any time.” That’s powerful! In addition, says RespectAbility, “35.4 million people with disabilities will be eligible to vote in the November 2016 elections, representing close to one-sixth of the total electorate. That’s an increase of nearly 11 percent since 2008.”

Despite the prevalence of disability among eligible voters, statistics show that voters with disabilities have historically been less likely to vote. In a white paper she authored for the Presidential Commission on Election Administration in 2013,” Lisa Shur, J.D., Ph.D, found “that there would be 3.0 million more voters with disabilities if they voted at the same rate as otherwise-similar people without disabilities.” Obviously, the voices of too many Americans are not being heard.

The Issues

In order to educate voters about the positions of  presidential and down ballot candidates on issues of concern to people with disabilities and their friends and family members, RespectAbility has released 51 state voter guides. The guides explain candidates’ plans on a variety of issues affecting people with disabilities and their loved ones including “employment, stigma, education. criminal justice, independent living, sexual assault, housing, transportation and adaptive technology.”

Voting Accessibility

Although many states are taking steps to increase the likelihood that voters with disabilities can access their polling stations and voting booths without difficulty, they still face significant obstacles. According to a recent report by National Public Radio, during the 2012 presidential election, “almost a third of voters with disabilities reported having trouble casting their ballots — whether it was getting into the polling place, reading the ballot, or struggling with a machine.”

On the bright side, it appears that every four years, since 2002, when the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), was enacted, the situation has improved. HAVA requires “states to make polling places accessible ‘in a manner that provides the same opportunity to people with disabilities for access and participation’ as is provided to non-disabled voters,” writes Shur. “This includes accessible parking and paths of travel. Each polling place is also required to have at least one direct recording electronic voting system for people with disabilities.”

According to the NPR report, which focused on voting in the Washington D.C. area, the city “has acquired new voting machines that are adjustable to accommodate residents using wheelchairs. The machines also have instructions in Braille and attachments, like sip and puff tubes and control pads, to help voters cast their ballots.” Additionally, poll workers are now receiving training on how best to assist people with disabilities at the polling places.

To date, not all polls are equipped with these accommodations. To be apprised of your voting rights, visit For additional information, check out these tips for voters with disabilities from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. To find out about accommodations in your area, visit U.S.A. Gov’s list of state and local election offices.  Most importantly—To change conditions for people with disabilities for the better, be sure to vote!