Why Should Disabled People Register and Vote?

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Andrew Pulrang

July 15-19 is National Disability Voter Registration Week. It’s a time each year when we encourage more people with disabilities to register to vote. But why? What do politicians and elections have to do with the real-life problems we face as disabled people?

Does any of this sound familiar?

  • You need help every day with basic self-care. But it seems like it’s easier to get into a nursing home than it is to put together enough home care to live independently in your own home.
  • Or, you have the home care you need, but state funding cuts and administrative changes threaten your health and independence.
  • You are on Social Security Disability, but you work part time. You have the chance to work a few more hours at a higher rate of pay, but you have to turn it down because your increased earnings would be less than the benefits and health care coverage you would lose.
  • Because of the opioid crisis, it’s getting harder and harder to get the pain medication you really do rely on to function every day with your chronic pain. Your own doctor is afraid to refill your prescriptions, and everyone treats you like an addict.
  • You work hard every day at a sheltered workshop. You have quotas to meet. You have to be at work on time every day. You can’t go to the bathroom without permission. You get a paycheck and pay taxes out of it, just like everyone else. But you are paid far less than even Minimum Wage. Everyone agrees it would be nice if you could be paid more, but figure it’s better than nothing, and without that job you’d just be sitting alone at home watching TV. Sometimes you wonder if that wouldn’t actually be better!
  • There’s a small revival of businesses in your local downtown. Restaurants and quaint little shops are opening up in old buildings every month. But most of them aren’t accessible. They have steps and narrow doorways, high countertops, and tiny restrooms. When asked about it, the owners generally shrug, apologize, and say they are “grandfathered in.”
  • Every winter, your city’s sidewalks are clogged with snow and ice, making it almost impossible to get around in a wheelchair or with crutches. People like to complain about property owners who don’t shovel like they should, but nobody wants to actually do anything to make sure pathways stay accessible.

Voting alone won’t instantly solve these problems, even if everyone you vote for wins. But effective solutions to these problems exist. And they all involve policy changes that can only happen with the leadership and cooperation of people we elect … by voting.

Every elected official, from the President and Senator, on down to town councilor and local judge, will have opportunities to either support or block improvements in disability policy … on benefits and employment, health insurance, home care, drug policy, criminal justice, equal pay, accessibility, and more. Let’s face it. Disability activists usually come up with the best ideas, but in the end we all need elected officials to make them work, and sometimes to prevent bad ideas from being rammed through.

The good news is that there are already a lot of disabled people voting. According to a report issued last week by Lisa Schur and Douglas Kruse of Rutgers University, 14.3 million disabled people voted in the 2018 elections. That’s an 8.5% increase over 2016. After some time losing ground on voting participation, the disability community is gaining again.

The bad news is that we still lag behind non-disabled people in voting rates. Schur and Kruse estimate that if disabled people voted at the same rate as non-disabled people, there would be over 2 million more disabled voters. We are missing at least 2 million experienced voices in matters that affect all of us.

That brings us back to good news though, because that’s 2 million more votes we can bring to bear, 2 million more disabled people who could be engaged in making all our lives a bit better, just by registering and voting.

Learn more about registering to vote or checking your registration by following these links:

New York Disability Vote Network

Rock The Vote Voter Registration


Andrew Pulrang spent many years working at the North Country Center for Independence in Plattsburgh, NY, most recently as the Executive Director. He is a co-coordinator with disability activists Alice Wong and Gregg Beratan of the Twitter hashtag, #CripTheVote, focused on discussing the participation and leadership of disabled people in voting, politics, and disability policy.

Published on July 12, 2019