By: Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC
General Election season is upon us. The major-party national conventions are over, and the Massachusetts primary results are in.
About 20% of eligible voters have a disability, but only 49.3% of individuals with disabilities voted in 2018. And that was an 8.5% increase from previous years among this increasingly important voting bloc. Campaigns, such as the REV UP Campaign by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), have launched voter registration drives, championed for disability rights and policies to be part of the political conversation, and to increase awareness and action to remove barriers that make it challenging for individuals with disabilities to vote.
So how can we help our young people with disabilities exercise their right to vote? In Massachusetts, even individuals with guardianship maintain their right to vote unless the court documents specifically state otherwise. There are many ways to support individuals, but it starts with helping them register. Massachusetts residents can register to vote online, when obtaining or renewing a driver’s license or state ID, or at the local registrar of voters’ office. Notices from MassHealth and the DTA also include voter registration forms.
Absentee/mail-in ballots have been in the news more than ever due to the pandemic. Still, they have long been an excellent strategy for individuals with disabilities who would have difficulty voting in person. Absentee ballots are a great option for individuals who may have difficulty navigating the multiple steps in person or have a lower processing speed.
All citizens are also allowed to bring a person to help them while they are at the polls. Encourage your young person that many people require assistance at the polls, and it is completely normal to have the help available if they need it. Each polling location should also have at least one AutoMARK Voter Assist Terminal, which helps individuals with visual impairments vote independently.
No one wants their vote not to be counted due to errors filling out their ballot. People can request a sample ballot in advance from their local registrar of voters (the Secretary of State’s website can give you the address and phone number of your local registrar). Practicing filling out ballots in advance (even ballots from previous elections) can help a new voter become comfortable with the form and is great fine motor skill practice for those who may need it!
The Massachusetts Secretary of State also creates a voter information booklet for each election regarding the ballot initiatives. These red booklets can be found at many community locations and frequently include the local library, post office and city/town hall. These booklets offer information on what a yay or nay vote would mean and have information from each initiative’s proponents and opponents. Use that sample ballot as a starting point for the different types of elected positions.
Help your young adult find out what the different boards do and why there is an election for things such as town selectman or zoning board. Help your young adult find the websites for candidates running for office and review the candidates’ stances on issues. Ask what issues they want to learn more about and are important to them.
Most importantly, remind them that their voice counts. As many disability rights activists have said, “nothing about us without us.” Individuals with disabilities are greatly affected by the policy decisions that occur in government at all levels. Since many individuals with disabilities have frequently experienced disenfranchisement, there are numerous groups working tirelessly to lessen and remove these barriers. How have you helped your young adult exercise their right to vote?
About the Author
Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC, is an experienced transition evaluator and vocational counselor. While she is well-versed in supporting a wide range of transition-aged youth, she is especially passionate and knowledgeable in helping clients and their families navigate the complex systems of adult services and benefits as well as medical and mental health systems. She is further adept in working individually with students of all abilities to empower self-advocacy and goal achievement.
To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert transition specialists or neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form.
Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.