Observations From Below: If You're Not at the Table, You're On the Menu

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While this saying is probably true for most people, it is especially true for most people with disabilities, unfortunately, people with disabilities vote at a much lower rate than the general population. According to a voting document found on Disability Rights NC, only 55 % of people with disabilities voted in NC, compared to 69% of people without disabilities.

There have only been a few notable times when disability was a political issue that the general population paid attention to. Most recently, Hillary Clinton came forward with a wide reaching autism initiative. Donald Trump mocked a reporter who has a physical disability, which garnered attention. Ted Cruz is in support of people with disabilities working. Marco Rubio spoke to his personal experience with his grandfather, who had polio as a child.

All of this being said, The RespectAbility organization released the first ever score card on disability rights issues. The first poll ever to specifically focus on disability issues. According to the poll, Clinton and Sanders scored 100%, Jeb Bush 94%, while Trump, Cruz and Rubio all scored 0%. The scores reflect that they answered 16 disability related questions and have plans, rather than judging them on the content. They each have dramatically different ideas. I am glad there are finally organizations specific to disability issues and I hope that makes a difference.

As Ed Roberts, said many years ago, people with disabilities could have a lot of input and are an untapped source of power. In order to have influence, obviously, more people with disabilities have to vote. In NC, there has been a lot of interest in voting rights, because of the debate around voter identification.

From what I understand, voter identification is not meant to be a hindrance. According to Disability Rights NC, as of 2016, voters will be asked to show a photo ID to vote in-person at the polls, however, no voter will be turned away because they lack acceptable photo ID. Voters may claim a "reasonable impediment" and vote a provisional ballot, which will be counted later. Examples of reasonable impediments include, lack of proper documents, family obligations, transportation problems, work schedule, and illness or disability, among others. Voters will sign a declaration describing their impediment and will provide their date of birth and last four digits of their Social Security number, or present their current voter registration card, or present a copy of an acceptable document bearing their name and address (such as a utility bill, bank statement, paystub, or government-issued document). If the voter does have ID, acceptable forms include a drivers license, a state ID card, a passport, a military ID card, a veterans ID card, a tribal enrollment card, and a drivers license issued by another state.

•The first important step for voting is to be registered. You can check to see your registration status online here. If not, register! The application can be found by clicking here.
•Determine when and where to vote. It is a good idea to call ahead to the board of elections and your polling place to determine accessibility.
•Voting by mail Absentee Ballot Request is also an option.
•If your polling place is not accessible and you would still like to vote in person, rules allow a special option for people with disabilities called "curbside voting." In that case, your car becomes a voting booth and a poll worker will bring the ballot to you.
•If someone helps you vote, that person cannot try to influence your vote or tell anyone how you voted. If that happens, you can report the person to the poll workers or to the local Board of Elections. In Person: you can have any person that you choose assist me, other than your employer or someone associated with your employer. Health care facility and support staff can assist you in-person at the polls. By Mail: you can have any person that you choose assist you, except if you live in a hospital, clinic, nursing home or rest home. The staff of the healthcare facility is prohibited from assisting with voting. *If you live in a hospital, clinic, nursing home or rest home, you need to request that your local board of elections send its Multipartisan Assistance Team to assist you with the voting process. You may request assistance from the local board of elections by checking the box on your State Absentee Ballot Request Form.

It can sometimes be hard to find out about candidates specific standings on different disability issues, but it is important to research all you can about each candidate and make the best choice. One good website is Project Vote Smart.

As a disability advocate, the best way to get a politician's attention is to vote for or against them. Come to the table by being an informed voter or you'll likely end up on the menu.