Voting Rights & Accessibility for Adults With Disabilities

Demonstrating our voting rights is fundamental to democracy, and yet, not everyone is invited to the party. For decades, individuals with cognitive and physical disabilities have been excluded. Long lines are problematic for people who suffer from chronic pain. Narrow pathways make it difficult to maneuver a wheelchair or walker. And voting machines without audio or large-print ballots make it virtually impossible for someone with a vision impairment to vote independently.

Voting accessibility—or lack thereof—has been a longstanding challenge for individuals with disabilities. But things changed in 2020. Due to the pandemic forcing much of the population indoors during the presidential election, city officials had to ensure voting accessibility measures were ramped up. As a result, 17.7 million voters with disabilities cast their ballots, a significant increase from 16 million in 2016.

Why the surge in participation? Politics aside, as states passed pandemic-driven reforms to make voting safer and easier for everyone, they inadvertently made voting more accessible for people with disabilities. In this article, we explore how to vote for adults with disabilities and how we can maintain inclusivity in this fundamental human right.

Voting with a Disability: How to Cast your Ballot

When considering voters with disabilities, it’s important to keep in mind that accessibility is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Depending on each individual’s situation, they might consider one of the following:

  • Absentee ballots are mailed in advance of an election by a voter who is unable to be present at the polls. The voter simply makes their choice and sends the ballot to their election office. It’s important to read the instructions and ensure your ballot is completed and sent by the deadline.
  • Curbside voting enables people to vote from their vehicles when a polling place is not accessible. Election officials will bring curbside voters a roster (to sign), a ballot, and any other voting materials necessary to vote privately and independently. If an individual cannot enter their polling place due to disability, Wisconsin law requires that curbside voting must be available.
  • Accessible voting machines make voting accessible to people who have blindness or low vision. While someone with a visual impairment may choose to vote absentee—in which case a trusted friend or family member would fill out the ballot per their request—they may also wish to attend a poll location and utilize the accessible voting machines. These specialized systems offer touch screen technology (to enlarge print size or enhance contrast) and audio ballots.

How Cities can Make Voting More Accessible

People without disabilities often take for granted the ease of accessing a poll location or reading a ballot. There are several steps cities can take to improve accessibility to all individuals, including but not limited to:

  • Installing wheelchair ramps
  • Ensuring adequate spacing between lanes
  • Enabling curbside voting
  • Offering absentee ballots
  • Implementing accessible voting machines

Further, all poll workers, volunteers, and elected officials should be trained on how to use accessible machines so they can be helpful to others.

Nearly 62% of people with disabilities voted in 2020, up from 56% in 2016. By being proactive and building accessibility into the voting process, we can maintain this upward trend.

Covey Cares about Voters’ Rights

One of Covey’s core values is inclusivity, and we strive every day to help individuals with disabilities share their thoughts, talents, and skills with the greater community. We believe that everyone has a right to voice their opinion. Voting is not only a privilege, but a constitutional right that all Americans should exercise.

At Covey, we are happy to provide resources to individuals with disabilities interested in casting their vote. On October 21, 2021, we will be hosting a free virtual How to Register to Vote event. Visit our Facebook event page or contact Beth at efabisiak@covey.org or (920) 292-1121 to learn more!