Now nothing will get in the way of casting my vote

Erin Hawley outside on a sunny day

Erin Hawley

It started as a regular work day — sitting in my wheelchair at the bedroom desk, checking Thrive’s social media accounts. Then came a knock at the front door.

A young woman was standing there on my porch, armed with a smile and a clipboard. “Would you like to vote by mail?” she asked.

The voting-by-mail option was something I’d thought about in the past, especially since family members have to drive me to the polling station when there’s an election, and I’ve missed a few local votes when a ride wasn’t available. I also missed one election because I was sick.

I take politics and voting seriously. It’s important that my voice and those of people with disabilities are heard. Our collective efforts have made certain laws and programs possible — the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, for example — but Lack of transportation, inaccessible polling stations, health concerns, and other community barriers still can make it impossible for us to vote and take part in this national right.

When I hear people say “there is no excuse for not voting!” it makes me cringe. The reality is people with disabilities often have valid reasons why they can’t vote. And really, this is a truth that is not limited to people with disabilities. Poor and working-class families may not be able to get time off from work to go to their polling places. Single mothers or fathers might have to stay home with sick children. And some people feel uninformed because they don’t have access to resources many of us take for granted. The list goes on.

So I was pleasantly surprised when the young woman knocked on my door. I hadn’t signed up for voting by mail before because I wasn’t sure how to do it. By the time elections rolled around, it was too late to do the research.

But now, thanks to the efforts of this woman and the system in place behind her, I was able to sign up for mail-in ballots by simply reading and signing my name on a form. I experienced a powerful emotion when I signed that form — one of solidarity, of seeing how we can all work together to make sure people with disabilities and other marginalized individuals are included in this democracy. I realize we still have far to go until we are truly included in society, but for that moment, I felt what it could be like — and what it should be like — to have your voice count.

Don’t get me wrong: I did enjoy casting my vote in person, and that should still be an option for people with disabilities. We need to work at making polling places accessible to all, but for now at least I know I can vote in every election, regardless of my health and access to a ride.

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