In mid-September, 140 people with disabilities and their supporters met in a festive hall in Houlton to celebrate democracy and the right to vote. The mission was to merge fun, learning, and activism for people with disabilities, and it paid off.
DRM’s Mary Green, a Developmental Services Advocate based in Caribou, partnered with Christine Torrey and her team at Community Living Association to host a gathering for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities from around Aroostook County. Some had voted before, but for many voting was a novel or even intimidating idea.
People learned about their rights, asked questions, registered to vote, chatted with campaign representatives, learned about ways to become informed voters, and played voting “Jeopardy!”. Everyone had a chance to explore the new accessible voting technology, guided by staff from elections division of Maine’s Secretary of State’s Office. Some of the practice vote questions may have involved choosing your favorite kind of car, or ice cream flavor, but the message was clear. Voting is an option for you. You can do this, and you can make your own choices.
The button making table was a particular hit. People made buttons with activist messages on them. An army of freshly-minted registered voters left the hall sporting messages like “Every vote counts!”, “My vote is my voice!”, and “Rock the disability vote!”
The American Association of People with Disabilities reports that 3 million voters were “missing” in our last national election. If people with disabilities voted at the same rate as those without, 3 million additional Americans, with their unique understanding of personal lived experiences of disability, would be expressing their choices at the polls.
In Houlton, the work of inspiring at least some of those missing voters began to take shape. Instead of society talking about people with disabilities, here the people with disabilities themselves were doing the talking about things that matter to them, and having fun while doing it.
Not everyone at the voting fair knew that there had been an American president who used a wheelchair. But when the screen brightened with an image of FDR, smiling with his granddaughter at his side, one person near me said “wow” quietly to himself. His vote, and his voice, counts this year.
DRM voting fairs and outreach events will continue through Election Day.
For more information, or to request a DRM voter education training, contact Rick Langley at 1.800.452.1948, Ext. 208, or via email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Upcoming Voting Fairs: