There used to be a series of ads for a cell phone company featuring the same dialogue. The character would walk around different places and say into the phone, “Can you hear me now? Good.” It made the point of being connected and heard no matter where you went.
Like our cell coverage, our lives are better when we’re heard. As a person with a disability, I learned it’s important to voice my needs and concerns as well as my gratitude as I go about my days. Family and friends (love you guys) already care and take the time to understand my disability. But what about the people who don’t know us, but still hold partial control of our activities–namely, our elected officials. Financial and regulatory decisions are made by these people. Do you make your values known?
As a kid, I loved Election Day. They still had the big metal voting booths with the lever that controlled the fabric curtain for privacy. Mom or Dad usually let me crank the big lever back after they selected their candidates. I pushed the handle with all my strength and the machine noted the votes and pulled back the curtain. A satisfying ding similar to a cash register would sound, signifying a completed transaction. My biannual experience was positive so it encouraged me to register when I turned 18.
Despite moving a few times and despite my low vision, I keep my voter registration current. My district provides accessible voting machines as well as early voting and absentee voting. It’s important to me, it’s something I was taught to value. While at times, the politics of campaigning irks me, I still recognize the privilege I carry in America to vote, to have my voice heard. I will not waste it.
I heard an interview on the show Disability Matters with Ted Jackson, the Community Organizing Director at California Foundation for Independent Living Centers. He manages California’s Disability Organizing Network which “supports community led campaigns for access where people with disabilities live, work, learn, shop, play and vote.” He discussed a lot of interesting things and is passionate about increasing voter registration and getting out the vote in the electorate with disabilities. As he put it:
“As citizens of the United States the act of voting is probably the most basic way that we can exercise our rights and become decision makers…The quest for equal access to an independent and private vote has produced a lot of groundbreaking assistive technology standards, systems are in place. Not everything is completely accessible, but it’s certainly a lot more accessible than years before. “
It’s a basic idea: as more people with disabilities register for and participate in elections, the more political power we gain. Our voices matter but no one–in Congress, in State assemblies, on a local school board–listens if we’re not making our voices count by voting for candidates who support the rights of the disability community. Jackson explained that in the 2012 elections, 37 million people with disabilities were eligible to vote. Only 15 million voted. There’s plenty of work to do to get out the vote and people like Ted Jackson are already working on it. Like any voting block, when the disability community follows through and votes, candidates listen. If you need more information about voting in America, here are some resources organized by state from the nonpartisan organization NonprofitVOTE.
I’m a registered voter. When Election Day in 2016 arrives, as a constituent with a disability, I’ll be ready. I will be saying, “Can you hear me now? Good.” with my electronic ballot. Will you?
Do you regularly vote in elections? What encourages you to correspond with elected officials? Have you encountered barriers to voting? Do you know which accessibility options your polling place offers? If you are not American, what are elections and the voter registration process like in your country? Tell me about it.