How the US Deprives Disabled Americans of Their Right to Vote


As Sarah Kim reported in Teen Vogue in 2016, the #cripthevote movement was founded to address accessibility concerns crucial to disabled voters. (Many disabled people choose to self-identify as a “crip,” short for crippled, because taking the word back from being used as a pejorative can be empowering.)

Helmed by co-partners Alice Wong of the Disability Visibility Project, Gregg Beratan of cripthevote.blogspot.com, and Andrew Pulrang of disabilitythinking.com in 2016, #cripthevote focuses on ensuring truly accessible polling places. Some important goals championed by these activists include: ensuring access to affordable medications that improve quality of life; gaining support from lawmakers to provide coverage for essential care; providing direct-support professionals a living wage; and supporting the Our Home Not Nursing Homes movement to keep disabled people out of institutions.

I ask the co-partners for their thoughts on how the movement is going now, six years on. Pulrang responds, “It feels like the issues facing the disability community now are 10 times as complex and important as what we were dealing with in 2016. I think timely coverage of the ongoing battles over voting access is exactly the kind of issue that’s become exponentially [more] important.” He adds, “We need the people working on voter access to continue keeping the #cripthevote community informed.” 

In 2020, voting access improved during the pandemic because mail, absentee, and early voting options were expanded, giving disabled voters more flexibility and methods of casting a ballot. But in the wake of that largely successful election — which had record turnout, even though it took place in the middle of a dangerous pandemic — state lawmakers have taken steps to crack down on voting access. Republican-led directives, which many see as aimed at suppressing the votes of people of color, the disabled, and other marginalized communities, have passed all over the country. The ACLU reported in 2021 that in the previous several years, more than 400 voter suppression and anti-voter bills have been introduced.

With midterms on the horizon, I ask Pulrang, where should disability communities’ focus be in the months to come? “Voting access is critical,” he says. “I think the dual goals of making traditional voting at polling places fully accessible and also preserving and expanding things like no-explanation-needed mail-in voting, which was so valuable to disabled voters, in particular, in 2020. I would also hope to see congressional, state, and local candidates address basic disability issues, like the relationship between benefits, saving, earning, and work — and how the federal government and states should handle COVID risks and how they specifically affect disabled and chronically ill people.”

As disabled and able bodied citizens head to the polls, we would do well to remember the words of former Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “We should not be held back from pursuing our full talents, from contributing what we should contribute to the society, because we fit into a certain mold, because we belong to a group that historically has been the object of discrimination.” 

And in the words of Gloria Steinem, feminist icon, lawyer, and author: “Voting isn’t the most we can do, but it is the least.”

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