Election Universe

The inclusion imperative: why elections need to be more accessible to disabled voters

The inclusion imperative: why elections need to be more accessible to disabled voters
October 04 2016, 12:34

Persons with disabilities (PWDs) have always been consigned to the fringes of society and generally do not enjoy the same access to services as more able-bodied citizens. Even in the exercise of the right to suffrage, PWDs are fighting an uphill battle for inclusion.

On such PWD in the United States, Katy Hoel, has decided she’s had enough. After a traumatic brain injury 35 years ago, Kathy Hoel had been forced to move around in a wheelchair. With limited use of her right side, no use of her left side and the inability to write or handle papers, Hoel has found it extremely difficult to vote.

Now Hoel is now a voting rights advocate for the National Council on Independent Living, a disability advocacy group. She laments the way PWDs have largely been relegated as afterthought with polling centers not being designed with the disabled in mind, and poll workers generally not being helpful to the disabled.

“I’m entitled to a private, unassisted ballot. But sometimes they stick me at a machine in the middle of the room, with no privacy curtains,” Hoel said.

With Election Day fast approaching, the initiative to make voting more accessible to PWDs has become imperative. A study by Ruderman Family Foundation revealed that as many as 3 million PWDs could get inconvenienced, or even disenfranchised on Election Day due to impediments to entering polling locations, difficulty obtaining absentee ballots, inadequate training of poll workers, a lack of privacy while voting, among other problems.

The study went on to propose several measures to address the problem, which include the following:

  • Standardize poll worker training
  • Better access to polling centers (including publicly available transportation)
  • Have modifiable polling stations and accessible ballot options
  • Encourage voters with disabilities to file complaints when they encounter problems to voting access
  • Simplify the complaint filing procedure and ensure enforcement of and compliance with already existing laws
  • Have a range of options available
  • Ensure that all government websites and online materials are accessible for all assistive devices
  • Raise awareness through (social) media to change general attitudes.