Hands Up Voices Up: A Deaf Voting Bloc For 2022
The 2022 midterm elections are set to be some of the closest in recent history, with 435 US House and 34 Senate seats, as well as numerous town, county and state positions, at stake. Making sure you’re registered to vote ahead of time, and returning your mail-in ballot on time or heading to the polls on Tuesday, November 8th is one of the best ways to make your voice count in our democracy, and helps decide the future of your hometown and the country at large.
But what if there was a way to make the deaf vote even stronger than the many deaf individuals who cast their ballots last year? That’s where the idea of voting blocs comes in.
What’s a voting block?
A voting bloc is a group of voters who are motivated by a set of concerns that cause them to vote together. Sometimes this happens incidentally, like when people of the same ethnicity, gender, or age tend to vote similarly. Other times, it can be an overt strategy used to make the voices of marginalized people heard, like advocacy or religious groups who raise awareness among members and encourage them to vote for or against a specific issue or candidate. Voting blocs can be a good way to bring concerns or new ideas to politicians’ attention, because it is in their best interest to pay attention to larger groups of people, particularly those who are active voters.
What about a deaf voting bloc?
There are millions of deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the US, but we haven’t yet fully leveraged our voting power! Some of the main reasons deaf and disabled people don’t vote include inaccessibility or feeling as if their voices don’t matter. But coming together in large numbers can both strengthen our voices and in turn ensure that accessibility is a priority for candidates and polling locations. If we manage to achieve having a powerful voting bloc candidates will be more likely to caption their ads (hardly any do) and provide ASL interpreters and captioning in their videos, livestreams and at events. Perhaps even incorporate policy proposals drafted by a coalition of deaf organizations that make up Deaf and Hard of Hearing Consumer Network (DHHCAN) as part of their platforms. For deaf people, who share common values but are geographically spread out across the country, forming a voter bloc can be an essential way to make sure our rights and interests are protected at the federal level.
What should a deaf bloc stand for?
The beauty of a deaf voting bloc is that we get to decide what our priorities should be! The following are a few examples of top ticket issues that affect the lives of deaf and hard-of-hearing people.
Protection and enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The ADA has provided deaf people with numerous protections and access to public places, but periodically it comes under attack from political forces who want to dismantle it. For example, the 2018 House bill HR620, as well as the 2021 Supreme Court case CVS versus Doe both sought to significantly diminish ADA coverage. While both were ultimately dismissed, they are a stark reminder that the fight for our rights is not over. A deaf voting bloc could elect candidates that champion ADA protections, and a Department of Justice that prioritizes enforcing the law when it is violated.
Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities
The UN’s Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD), modeled on the ADA, was signed by the US, but the Senate never ratified it. Ratification of CRPD would not only expand on rights for disabled people in the US, but present a gesture of solidarity to disabled people worldwide.
Moving Forward–Transportation, Education and Employment for all
The ADA and CRPD provide “big picture” goals, but the beauty of a voting bloc is that it empowers us to raise the smaller issues that affect deaf people every day to the attention of those who have the power to change them. Beyond a blanket statement of “reasonable accommodations” and “functional equivalency” we can move toward true equity and inclusion. With power in numbers, the sky’s the limit–a deaf voting bloc could highlight the need for more access to early intervention, higher-quality educational programing and transition services, disabled-centric affirmative action opportunities, safe and affordable housing, and accessible healthcare, mental healthcare, and emergency telecommunications.
What’s your dream for a better deaf future? To find out how to make your vote count toward making it happen, subscribe to SignVote’s newsletter, and follow @SignVote on social media for updates.
Written by Sara Nović