Incapacity and the democratic course of



January 4, 2021

Image description:Maureen van Stone (left) and Bonnielin Swenor share a common interest in the link between health and the democratic process and see this link as a key element in changing societal perceptions of disability. Van Stone is the director of the Maryland Center for Developmental Disabilities at the Kennedy Krieger Institute and the founding director of a comprehensive health, education, legal and legal partnership, Project HEAL, which provides legal and civil law services to children with disabilities and their families. Swenor is an epidemiologist and director of the Johns Hopkins Disability Health Research Center, which focuses on addressing health inequalities and improving inclusion for the disabled community. Her work is motivated by her personal experience with disabilities.

picture recognition: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University

This election season highlighted the double inequality that the disabled community faces in order to participate in the democratic process as this group fights for the right to vote and access to voting at the same time. These barriers to voting are largely due to the ubiquitous negative attitudes towards disability, which call social inclusion into question. The paradox is that breaking this cycle of exclusion will require the election of civil servants who will work to establish policies to include people with disabilities – a challenge when voters with disabilities are not fully involved in the democratic process.

Although the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, and the subsequent ADA Amendments Act of 2008, provide that people with disabilities have “full and equal choice,” barriers to voting persist for this community. These barriers include voter registration forms or ballot papers that are inaccessible to people with visual impairment or blindness. Lack of access to the ramp preventing access to polling stations for people using wheelchairs or other mobility aids; Election workers who prevent people with intellectual or developmental disabilities from voting; in some states, signature compliance requirements that unduly affect people with degenerative physical disabilities; and the restriction of voting rights for persons under guardianship. During the 2016 election, the Government Accountability Office examined polling stations in the United States and found that 65% had inaccessible voting results, and recommended that federal and state agencies update existing guidelines and guidelines on voting accessibility. While it is too early to know whether the 2020 elections have overcome these obstacles, there is a clear need for ongoing data that will ensure ADA compliance in order to ensure the full inclusion of people with disabilities in the democratic process enable.

Recent data shows that there are approximately 38.3 million eligible voters with disabilities, which is one in six voters in the United States. This estimate reflects a nearly 20% increase in the number of voters with disabilities since 2008, and outperforms that population’s 12% increase over the same period. However, disability policy issues affect not only people with disabilities, but also their family members and carers. A total of 67.7 million or one in four voters are affected. These estimates show that the disability vote is an important and growing constituency.

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The democracy project

Johns Hopkins scholars share their thoughts on American democracy, looking for signs of danger, threads of hope, and perhaps a shared vision for a better, broader future

However, we are seeing progress. Since the 2016 presidential elections, the focus has increased on the inclusion of people with disabilities in the democratic process. More and more candidates have developed and disseminated disability platforms so that voters are informed of their positions on issues that directly affect people with disabilities, their family members and carers. We hope that this dynamic will continue and lead to better inclusion of the disabled community in society. A more inclusive and accessible democratic process is needed to maximize the health, equity and inclusion of people with disabilities.

About the democracy project

The future of democracy as a system of government is becoming increasingly uncertain. With the rise of populist forces worldwide and many existing democracies in regression, freedom itself seems to be under attack. In the United States, degraded or distorted democracy could have far-reaching implications for the franchise, the rule of law, education, the application of science, immigration, citizenship, and longstanding social norms that we take for granted.

Both before and after a 2020 election that seemed to shake many of the governing principles of democracy, a number of Johns Hopkins experts share their greatest hopes, deepest fears, and sound insights into the state of the democratic experiment in America. Read more from The Democracy Project

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