CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) – The Tennessee Disability Coalition released a report last week studying the challenges of voters with disabilities in Tennessee – which showed that disabled voters are three times likely not to vote, despite being more engaged in the political process.
The report includes data from over a hundred different sources including academic journals and government agencies – shedding much needed light on an often overlooked voting group.
The TDC report indicates that people with disabilities are more dependent on elected officials to use the power of government to support and defend their interests – but problems such as physical and policy barriers and a statewide shortage of poll workers often stand in the way of them voting.
Jeff Strand, Coordinator of Government and External Affairs, says that disabled voters have protections while voting at the federal level.
“The Americans With Disabilities Act requires that polling places be fully accessible. That includes things like lines, it doesn’t necessarily force election officials to do anything in particular but to accomodate for these potential barriers.”
The problem is alive and well in Tennessee, which found itself with the second-lowest turnout of voters with disabilities in the 2018 midterms – at only 37 percent.
However, Strand says that there is hope for improving this gap in voter turnout among the disabled.
“The state has made steps towards kind of ameliorating these barriers. New voting machines, new training programs, stuff like that. So if they continue in that direction and really invest in allowing voters with disabilities to vote without some of these burdensome obstacles – things can and probably will turn around.”
Strand says that it’s also important to hold elected officials accountable to enact systemic change on behalf of disabled voters.