Disability community: Voter access more than just a talking point


By Mary Schuermann Kuhlman - Ohio News Connection



COLUMBUS — The pandemic has pushed the issue of voter access to the forefront, but for Ohio’s disability community, it’s more than just another talking point.

Voter turnout for people with disabilities was 6 percentage points lower than that of people without disabilities in the 2016 presidential election. Director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress Rebecca Cokley said one of the biggest challenges is that at least 60 percent of polling places in the U.S. are believed to be inaccessible in some way, shape or form.

And while voting by mail is an important option, Cokley said it’s not a magic bullet.

“For some folks, a mail-in ballot might be the right solution: being able to vote from home, not have to risk compromising your immune system by going to the polls,” Cokley said. “But not everybody is able to read a ballot. It really depends. For some, voting by mail is the best option; for others it is in person.”

Ohio has an accessible remote ballot marking system for voters who are blind or low-vision. Cokley advises Ohioans with disabilities vote in the manner they feel most comfortable, and if possible to vote early and in person.

Today is Ohio’s voter registration deadline; early voting starts tomorrow.

A recent study from Rutgers University found roughly 1.5 million eligible voters in Ohio have a disability, which represents 17.5 percent of the total electorate for the general election.

Cokley said election leaders and candidates need to ensure everyone can cast a ballot.

“The disability vote matters,” she said. “The disability community saved the Affordable Care Act back in 2017. We are a strong community; we are a politically active community. And so it actually behooves them to make voting as easy as possible for people with disabilities.”

Cokley contended the key to ensuring access to the ballot is to have as many voting options available as possible, including policies such as early voting and same-day registration. She said ideas such as making Election Day a national holiday should be thoughtfully considered, as it would actually have a negative impact on the disability community.

“On a federal holiday, a lot of times public transportation lines go on an alternate schedule. Our community disproportionately uses public transit,” she said. “Also, our community tends to be low-wage workers in the eight ‘f’s of disability employment: food, fetching, filing, flowers, folding, festive and friendly’ sorts of jobs — not jobs that tend to get holidays off.”

Voting information for individuals with disabilities is available at on the Ohio Secretary of State website.

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By Mary Schuermann Kuhlman

Ohio News Connection

This story was produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.

This story was produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.