Raising informed voters with disability pride

Oval blue sticker with waving flag drawing with the words I voted in Weld County with a portion of a faded identical sticker adjacent

I Voted stickers attached to my wheelchair

Vote as if your life depends on it, because it does

Justin Dart, Jr.

As a woman with multiple disabilities ,whose life is dependent on the budgetary whims of state legislators, and funding of community based attendant services, I learned how true Dart’s statement is when I was in my early 20s. I know my vote is important, not just for the big races, but especially the little ones.

Voting is not always easy, I have battled inaccessible polling places, no accessible transportation to polling places, ignorant poll workers, inaccessible voting machines, weather, broken wheelchairs, and the lack of attendant care to vote.  I have never missed a major election in my entire adult live.  (I missed a municipal election — once.) I have been active in party politics in one way or another for most of my adult life because I didn’t want to continue to see my community disenfranchised.

It is natural that I would educate my kids to be informed voters.

Woman who is little person in a wheelchair with teen girl standing next to her, and a young girl in a wheelchair all wearing "People with Disabilities for Obama" t-shirts

Girls ready to go to campaign event

When I was in 4th grade, the 1980 presidential election was occurring, and my school had a mock election.  We learned about the election process. Each student had a ballot, went to a cardboard voting booth, filled out our ballots and stuffed them through a slot in a cardboard box. 1

When Heather was in 4th grade, the 2000 presidential election — the election of hanging chads and decided by the Supreme Court — occurred, and her school also held a mock election, The kids voted and got “I voted” stickers. Kids streamed out of the school showing off their stickers, and waving their ballots at the end of the day. However, Heather didn’t have a sticker, nor a ballot. When I asked her teacher about Heather’s participation in the mock election, I was told the special education students did not vote because “they couldn’t understand what they were doing.” I flipped my lid, wrote letters and made many phone calls, but sadly Heather never got to participate in a mock election. It was clear the educational system would play no part in preparing my daughter to be an educated voter.

Woman who is a little person using a manual chair talking with Sen. Mark Udall who is bent down to talk to her.

Heather talking with Sen. Mark Udall

I subsequently took Heather with me to vote. She watched me advocate for access. We watched political ads on TV and I talked about issues with her.  I talked to her about the importance of voting. I would give her my sample ballot, and have her practice filling it out. I did this with Heather, and I did and do this with her younger siblings. In 2008, the year Heather turned 18, I pulled her from school to attend political rallies. She got stuck in the snow with me to attend our caucus. She tagged along with me as I ran for a DNC delegate position, helping pass out fliers. She attended Dems with Disabilities meetings at the state and national level. She attended the final night of the DNC when it was in Denver, watching Barack Obama accept the party’s nomination. 2  She attended three different state conventions and assemblies in her late teens and early 20s.

An African American woman wearing a blue Black Hills tshirt with a oval blue "I voted in Weld County" sticker on her shirt.

Asiza with her “I voted” sticker

Now my middle daughter is 20 and she too has been active.  I went through the same process with her.  I ensured she, too, was a prepared and educated voter.  She attended the inauguration in 2009, has attended political rallies, met candidates, and attended fundraising events. She registered to vote before her 18th birthday to be sure she could vote in the first election shortly after her birthday. I love that in our town, when the 18 and 19 year old adults vote for the first time, the election judges stop everything and have an impromptu celebration, commending these young adults for voting, and allowing everyone else at the polling place to join in the celebration.  Asiza continues to be so excited to vote every time she fills out a ballot.  She is careful to fill in the ballot bubble completely to make sure her vote counts. Just this week we had a municipal election, and she proudly carried Heather, my and her ballots to the town hall to turn them in.

Asiza too participated in caucus, county assemblies, the state convention, and wanted to be a DNC delegate. While I was undecided about who to vote for, these girls decided on their own which candidate they wanted to support, and Asiza was able to articulate reasons why she chose her candidate.  She has now campaigned for candidates she supports.

Even though my girls may not understand the how vital Justin Dart’s statement is in their lives, they are ensuring their own self preservation by being active and educated voters.  Hopefully their younger siblings will follow suit.

  1. This process is particularly memorable because my parents would not tell me who they were voting for. They told me to make up my own mind. Like every other 8 year old, I was either going to do what my parents did, or what my friends did.  I voted for Ronald Reagan like all my friends.  I learned two very important lessons.  First, don’t just do what your friends do.  Second, give your kids some guidance as to the correct path.
  2. I think, like most 18 year olds,  she was most excited about the celebrities we were sitting with, and the attention they paid to her during the speeches and performances.
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