10/25/2013 05:40 pm ET Updated Dec 25, 2013

The Disability Vote

In a democratic society, voting is a fundamental right for everyone; however, people with disabilities are often overlooked when it comes to the polling place.

The National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency, created a voting questionnaire for people with all types of disabilities (physical, cognitive and sensory) during the 2012 General Election Cycle, inquiring about their experiences and any possible encounters with barriers at the polling place. NCD received almost 900 responses from 46 states and the District of Columbia, and these findings were analyzed and published in NCD's Experience of Voters with Disabilities in the 2012 General Cycle, released on October 24 and available on NCD's website.

In 2008, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that 27 percent of polling places were accessible for people with disabilities. Four years after GAO's study, the nearly 900 NCD voting questionnaires outlined a similar array of barriers. According to NCD's Report, architectural, attitudinal and technological barriers are still confronted by people with disabilities when exercising their right to vote; no automatic door openers, an absence of American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters, no Braille signs or ramps; narrow doorways and inaccessible voting machines. In addition, voter competency for people with intellectual disabilities was challenged and some people were turned away. As stated from a Massachusetts voter regarding her experience as -- "one of the most demoralizing and humiliating experiences I've had surrounding my disability in a few years. I was terribly ashamed to be an American and in fact felt ostracized by my own country."

As a 20-something millennial with a disability, I've never had any issues with voting and exercising our most important right. But in reflection of NCD's latest findings, I may encounter challenges in future elections if we do not make changes in ensuring accessibility at every polling place. In an effort to achieve full inclusion, we have made dramatic improvements in the polling place with the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (Subtitle A and D). Regardless of these circumstances, the NCD's Report has brought to my mind whether voting is a right or a privilege for people with disabilities. Generally speaking, in an ideal world, if something is a right, then every citizen should have access to exercising that right. However, if we look at today's circumstances, if a community does not have access to a fundamental right, it is still theoretically right, but realistically viewed as a privilege since it is not universal.

Voting access for people with disabilities needs to be viewed by all Americans, including lawmakers. This issue is just as important as other serious civil rights concerns.

I identify with this community. And if there isn't political access for one person with a disability, then there isn't political inclusion for all of us. The disability vote is entitled to a seat at the table.

It's obvious to think that people with disabilities have equal access to the polling place, but sometimes what's obvious is not always guaranteed.

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