Voter Suppression and Accessibility
Voter suppression is a hot topic right now. Recently AAPD, American Association of People with Disabilities, hosted a live panel discussing voter suppression and accessibility.
I joined the panel representing SignVote. We had a really rich discussion, but before share my experience, I want to explain a little bit about voter suppression first.
Voter suppression has always been an issue. It is basically any form of barrier to voting. The Coronavirus pandemic has made voter suppression worse. Because of COVID-19, many polling places have closed, or have been significantly reduced.
Some states, as we saw in Georgia recently, have it bad. Some counties had only 1 or 2 polling centers, resulting in insanely long lines and people having to wait for hours to vote. Some voting machines weren’t working and there weren’t enough volunteers… There were a lot of different problems.
This is concerning. because often when these types of issues occur in predominantly black districts, that’s not ok. The good thing is that Georgia holds the record for the number of people that voted by mail. But for the people who went out to the polls and had to give up due to the long lines, lost their chance.
The AAPD panel aimed to take a closer look on how voter suppression affects voters with disabilities. The panel represented various members of the disability community such as the blind those in wheelchairs, those with chronic illnesses and the Deaf (me).
I shared how voter suppression affects deaf people uniquely. Oftentimes, the needs of deaf voters are overlooked. Deafness is considered an invisible disability. One specific example is when a deaf person goes to a polling place, everybody’s wearing masks and staying a safe distance. This is safe, yes, but it makes our experience communicating with poll workers inaccessible.
Are poll workers prepared to make adjustments to communicate with deaf voters? Not only that, but information related to voting places such as closures, polling locations or my state’s mail-in ballot requirements are constantly changing. Is this information accessible in ASL? Most of the time it isn’t.
Even if a deaf voter makes it safely to the polls and is ready to vote. The ballots are not accessible in ASL. Really, all of these issues amount to voter suppression of the deaf.
The AAPD panel was a great dialogue and I learned a lot. One thing I want to share with you is that the Disability community is large. It is layered and encompasses many intersectional identities. I learned that certain communities are more affected by disabilities than others.
For instance, Black, Native American/ Indigenous communities and the poor have higher rates of people with disabilities. Which means that voter suppression is more likely to impact those communities. In the deaf community, we have deaf people who are BIPOC and those who live in poverty. You can imagine the voter suppression that exists within our community. Disability experiences vary. Our voting and accessibility needs vary.
Now, what can we do? I’ll share 3 recommendations.
1. You can contact your state’s “PA” or protection and advocacy system. Their job is to make sure that the civil rights of people with disabilities are protected. You can ask questions or share your concerns with them.
2. You can contact your local media and ask them to pay attention to voter suppression issues. At the same time, you can emphasize considering the subject from a deaf lens.
3. Stay informed. Monitor what your state is doing. Watch how your state is handling voting during COVID-19. Where can you find the latest information? At our website, www.signvote.org. If you are looking for information in ASL, NAD has a national voter hotline that you can use to NAD has a national voter hotline that you can use to chat with a representative in ASL. You can find all of this information on our website.
Voting should be easy. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s not. That’s why it is important for us to support and inform one another to ensure that each of us is able to vote.
Finally, yes! SignVote is coming back soon. We’ve paused our work to focus on the Coronavirus and Black Lives Matter, but now, we’re working on coming back to you soon! So follow us on social media and subscribe to our emails and be on the lookout for new posts soon!