Fighting while Disabled Is an Honor During National Disability Voter Registration Week
By Scott Seeborg
July 13–17 is National Disability Voter Registration Week, a week dedicated to increasing the political power of people with disabilities by sharing resources and getting people registered to vote.
As a person with a disability, when I cast my ballot, I know that I owe my ability to do so to the advocates who came before me. Disability rights advocates have been fighting tirelessly for voters like me since well before I was born. The fact that there is space to celebrate National Disability Voter Registration Week is a testament to their unending advocacy, for which I’m grateful.
And yet, eligible voters with disabilities totaled 35.5 million in 2016 — nearly 17 percent of the voting population. If people with disabilities voted at the same rate as the rest of the electorate there would be about 2.35 million more ballots cast. It’s the job of state and local election officials to make sure everyone has equal access to the ballot. It’s that simple.
I have a genetic condition called Ankylosing Spondylitis. It’s an inflammatory condition that impacts my joints, skin, eyes, and more. When I have the privilege of having health insurance, I take multiple types of immuno-suppressing drugs to keep the inflammation at bay. This makes me more vulnerable to COVID-19 than others.
I can speak from personal experience that polling places in many counties across the United States do not accommodate people with disabilities. In 2016, the U.S. Government Accountability Office observed 178 polling places and found the vast majority of them (107) had one or more impediments, including physical inaccessibility, while only 65 percent of those locations had an accessible voting machine. What good is an accessible voting machine if a voter can’t get inside the polling place?
As an advocate, I’ve fought for 17 years for social justice and voting rights. My fight has been a long, painful, and perilous journey. During the periods of my life when I’ve been uninsured, I’ve come closer to death more times than I care to admit. We live in a country where health care is mostly afforded to those with the means to buy it, and have a political landscape intent on stripping away what critical civil rights and health care are available for people with disabilities. Our election officials should be doing everything in their power to meet disabled voters where they are, provide safe and accessible polling places, and allow the same level of access to our voting franchise that non-disabled people enjoy.
Folks in the disability community frequently say that disability is the only constituency group anyone can join at any time, and they are right. During this National Disability Voter Registration Week, it’s important to me to lift up my people in the disabled community. We have power, we have agency, and voting is a critical part of continuing to build the strength in numbers we will need to improve access to our sacred right — to be heard loud and proud in casting our ballots.
Register to vote here: https://www.whenweallvote.org/aapdrevup/
Scott Seeborg is the Pennsylvania State Director of All Voting is Local.