In February, members of ANCOR’s Communications Community of Practice were treated to a guest presentation on supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to vote. Our guest speaker, Stephanie Patrick, is Executive Director of Disability Rights Center New Hampshire and has spent her career improving access to voting and other civil rights among people with diverse abilities.
During the call, Stephanie shared several helpful insights about how to best support people to vote, as well as some ideas for how to engage people with disabilities in other civic processes. Designed to be a resource for disability providers, direct support professionals, family members and more, this article shares eight of Stephanie’s tips.
First, Stephanie says, help people understand why it’s important for them to vote in the first place. Often, this requires getting people to open up about what issues they care about, and it’s important to keep in mind that people with disabilities care about far more than disability-related issues. Furthermore, it’s helpful to remind people that many elections are decided by only a few votes, Stephanie says. Reminding people of this important fact can help them overcome the feeling that their vote doesn’t matter.
Second, it’s important to be as inclusive as possible. This may seem obvious, but how to achieve a higher level of inclusion may not be quite so evident. If you are participating in an event hosted by a campaign, for example, consider reaching out to the campaign to ask about whether the event venue is fully accessible. If not, ask them how you can work together to ensure the full participation of anyone who wants to join.
Stephanie also suggests that you may consider hosting a candidate forum or town hall if you’re not seeing a lot of events in your area or if those events aren’t fully accessible. This is an especially helpful approach for down-ballot races; presidential candidates may not come to your local community, but candidates for mayor, city or county council, or others may very well accept your invitation. You’ll want to keep in mind when extending invitations that you should invite all candidates, irrespective of their party and follow all other laws for non-partisan voting events. This is especially important because despite depictions of people with disabilities as a monolithic voting bloc, the disability community occupies a wide swath of the ideological spectrum.
Finally, Stephanie also noted that people with disabilities may need support in preparing to go to the voting booth. One way to help people prepare is to download a sample ballot from your local board of elections website and share it with the people you support to help them get a sense of what the ballot will ask. The board of elections website is also a great place to find information about early voting and absentee voting. Early voting is often ideal for people who need the support of others who aren’t available on election day. For example, a Direct Support Professional who may be unable to leave their post on a Tuesday may very well be able to support people to vote on a Saturday, which is made possible thanks to early voting. For early or absentee voting, be sure to help voters understand that an early vote is final, even if circumstances or candidates change before election day.
If you are not sure about the voting laws for people with disabilities, want non-partisan voting information or discover voting barriers, consider reaching out to the protection and advocacy agency (P&A) in your state. Find your P&A today.
We hope these tips are helpful as you work to increase the capacity of people in your community to engage in their civic duties. But of course, we also hope that you’ll keep in mind that just as each person is unique, so too are their support needs, and the best supports are those that are tailored to the needs of the individual. To learn more about how you can help support people with I/DD to engage this election cycle, and to help get out the vote, visit ANCOR’s 2020 Election Center.