Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Why the Disabled Don't Vote, and what we can do about it

Over the past year, I've been invited to a few sessions about the problem that the disabled don't vote.  The able-bodied people in government can't figure out the problem themselves.
If we don't vote, that means we're not voting out politicians who want to cut Disability checks and services to the disabled.  Yes, thousands of us show up on the front lawn of the State Capitol every year for Disability Capitol Action Day, to prove to the legislators (who are used to seeing us in onesie-twosies representing individual diseases) that the disabled as a whole are a large voting bloc.  But are we really?  How much of a voice do we have if many of us don't actually vote?
One of the issues brought up repeatedly was inability to get to the polls.  We don't drive or we can't afford a car.  My local polling place was moved from across the street to a building several blocks away where I would actually have to walk further to take the bus than I would to walk there directly.  Out in rural areas, it's even worse -- no buses at all.
Yes, you can vote by mail (and for the homebound, that's the only option).  But charities and clubs could provide free rides to the polls if they realized there's a need.  Call some in your local area and suggest it.
Check with your local voter registration office whether you can register as a Permanent Absentee Voter, so you will always get your ballot by mail, or whether your local law requires you to request an absentee ballot each time.  Then once you have the ballot, make sure you mail it back in plenty of time to be counted.  Sign the back of the envelope to prove you're you.  Put enough stamps on it.  If you can't get out to put it in the corner mailbox, hand it to the mail carrier and ask him to take it to the post office for you.
In my state, a few weeks before an election, we're sent a booklet with the full text of all the propositions, brief candidate statements, and a sample ballot.  You can take your time going through it, use a highlighter to mark up the sample ballot, and then when you have your real ballot (whether vote by mail or at the polls), it's a simple matter to just transfer your choices from the sample ballot to the actual ballot.  You don't have to strain to read the fine print while you're at the polls.  This information is often available online, for those who use a screenreader or need to increase the size of the print.
Did you know that there are now computerized voting machines for the disabled?  Bring your own headphones, and your own puff straw if you're paralyzed, and cast your secret ballot.  But you may need to know that it's there, because the pollworkers may not know they have such a machine tucked off in the back corner, and you may need to know how to use it, because the pollworkers may not know enough to teach you.  At the Secretary of State's workshop, we were each given a one-on-one demo specific to our own disability, but they wouldn't let us bring one home so we could teach others, so all I can teach you is to ask if there's a machine available.  Again, you'll have to call your own state's Secretary of State or county Registrar of Voters to find out if these are available and if they can show you how to use it.  Maybe they'll bring one to your next support group meeting.  Don't wait till just before the election when they're busy with preparations -- invite them for a few months before when they have time.
If the pollworkers are helpful, send an e-mail to the Registrar of Voters to thank them.  If the pollworkers are rude because of your disability, send an e-mail to the Registrar of Voters explaining the problem and requesting sensitivity training.
Don't think that politics is boring -- politics is what decides whether we get a cost of living increase (which we won't for 2016) or a 20% benefits cut (which was threatened) combined with a huge increase in Medicare premiums (they were threatening to increase it 50% while simultaneously reducing benefits by 1/5).  Politics determines everything about how the disabled are treated. 
You don't need a lot of money to have an impact on politics -- it costs nothing to go to a campaign office to volunteer your time (and you'll often get fed while you're there), and almost nothing to get a campaign button/bumper sticker (sometimes free, sometimes a dollar or two), T-shirt (a few dollars), or lawn sign (I paid $10 for the last one, and they installed it for me).
You can call their offices for free.  You can e-mail their offices for free.  We may not have a lot of money, but we do have time.
And you can vote out the people who threaten to reduce our benefits and services, refuse to enact expanded Medicaid for the working poor (which is a lot of the disabled), or any of the other things that politicians like to do in hopes the disabled will just go away.

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