National Disability Voter Registration Week

Compared to other highly-developed nations around the world, the United States has about 20%-30% fewer registered voters of citizens who are legally eligible to vote. This number might not seem like a lot. However, the importance of voting cannot be minimized, especially for people with disabilities. That is why next week, July 17th through the 21st, is National Disability Voter Registration Week.

Voting gives citizens a voice in their local, state, and federal-level politics. As a constituent, their voice can make a difference. The greater the turnout, the more truly representative our government becomes. This is because voting empowers citizens to communicate their opinions and have the opportunity to influence all levels of government.

While the 19th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act secured voting rights for many historically disadvantaged voters, the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 established the requirement of polling centers to have features that make voting areas accessible for citizens with disabilities. More recently, the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), includes a provision that aims to further ensure that polling places as well as the registration process are universally accessible, whether accessed online or in person. HAVA also ensures that balloting equipment is accessible to everyone, and directs election administrators to train those who work at the polls on how to adequately and efficiently assist voters.

But, why is voting so crucial? It gives citizens a chance to express how they feel about a variety of issues. Whether it is a social issue, or a matter concerning the economy, casting a vote communicates constituents’ priorities to their elected representatives. Accordingly, representatives vote on legislation that matters to their constituents. Essentially, a democracy does not exist without the vote of the people.

Most people believe that the presidential election is the most important election to vote in. Despite that, votes can greatly influence politics at a state and especially at a local level. State and local policy issues are also usually the ones that impact us the most as a community.

As important as it is to vote, one must register first. Registering is a process that is simple for many, but accessibility is still too often a barrier for people with disabilities. The week of July 17-21 is National Disability Voter Registration Week 2017. To learn more and to host a voter registration event, find more information here.

The Disability Integration Act (DIA) of 2017

It has been nearly 20 years since the Supreme Court ruled that individuals with disabilities have the right to live in the community, but even today, not all people with disabilities in the United States are given that meaningful option.

A new bill, The Disability Integration Act (DIA) of 2017, was introduced by Senator Charles “Chuck” Schumer (D-NY) in the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee to combat this issue. This bill would ensure that states are providing long-term services and support (LTSS) to individuals with disabilities In community-based settings, such as the individual’s own home. It also further enforces the American with Disabilities Act’s (ADA) mandate on integration.

Alongside the ADA, court cases, such as Olmstead v. L.C. (1999), have set the precedent for this legislation. The Olmstead ruling states that under the ADA, if placement in a community-based setting is appropriate, and the individual would prefer to live there, the state must comply with their wishes and fulfill those accommodations as those are their civil rights. The Disability Integration Act would help to make certain that every state is securing these rights in a timely manner, and that states are upholding the many details of this ruling.

The Olmstead ruling clarifies that “institutionalization is unjustified when:”

Supporters of the DIA legislation seek to provide a life that is as independent as possible for those individuals who can “handle and benefit” from the choice of living in a community-based living situation. This would allow individuals with a disability to have access to their greater community and have the opportunity to participate in economic, social, and educational advancement. 

The most frequent options for living independently are based on benefits provided by Medicaid. The funds provided to individuals through Medicaid afford individuals the ability to pay for their community-based services, such as personal care assistants, without having to worry about how they are going to pay for housing, utilities, or other additional necessities.

The DIA bill would further reinforce the integration mandate under the ADA, by ensuring that every individual that qualifies for LTSS has a “federally protected right” to become integrated into an community, and would create an extensive “state planning requirement” that imposes objectives to help transition individuals out of institutions. Furthermore, there is a requirement for states to annually publish a public report about the number of individuals with disabilities who continue to be served in institutions versus in their communities, as well as the number of individuals who have made the transition.

 

To learn more about the Disability Integration Act and other public policy topics, and to get more involved, check out our public policy resources.