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Organization Spreads Voting Rights Information to People with Disabilities

The majority of people with disabilities over the age of 18 have the right to vote. That's a fact that many in the community--including their guardians--are unaware of. Even if a person can’t read or write, he or she is still allowed to vote, unless a probate judge suspends that right, but it's rare.

While it's too late to register for the upcoming November 6 election, one group is registering people with disabilities for the next election and making sure they know their rights at the polls. The non-partisan, non-profit group All Voting is Local spreads voting rights information to organizations across Cuyahoga County with a program they started in July.

“We saw voting rights for people with disabilities as a major area where more information was needed, so we began talking with local providers for people with disabilities about how we could reach out and engage people with disabilities,” All Voting is Local State Director Mike Brickner said.

Each polling place must have at least one accessible voting machine.

“There are a couple great things with technology that are happening with elections. So, in polling places across Ohio, at every polling place, there should be a special machine for individuals who have a disability to be able to vote independently,” Brickner said.

All voting places must be physically accessible too, although that’s a challenge Shannon Van Huss dealt with when he voted in the last election.

“The polling area was too small, and I couldn’t get in there,” Van Huss said.

Even if a building is ADA compliant, temporary barriers like wiring to electronic voting machines may get in the way.

Some people with disabilities choose to vote early or absentee so they don’t have to deal with barriers to voting on election day. But some members of this group haven’t voted before and didn’t know they have the right to vote.  

“I learned that you are allowed to vote if you have identification,” said Rasheen Wilder of the disability advocacy group “Stir One Up Program.”

Anyone can bring in a family member or support staff to help them at the polls. If a person needs help but wants to go to the polls alone, a Republican and a Democrat will work together to ensure the advice isn’t partisan.

Antonio Binion exercises his right to vote, and wants to make sure people know his disability won’t get in the way.

“I can walk, I can speak, my eyesight’s garbage,” Binion said. “I had an ID, I was registered-- I’m a registered citizen.”

Brickner says physical barriers may pose challenges for people with disabilities, but “attitudinal” barriers may also get in the way.

“You have a person who just maybe has never interacted with a person with a disability or isn’t certain how they’re supposed to help that individual cast a ballot or accommodate them, and so it’s really important that people who are working our polls, that are out in the community, understand that people with disabilities are voters and are in our community and deserve to be treated with the same respect and accommodation that you would give any other voter,” Brickner said.

lisa.ryan@ideastream.org | 216-916-6158