Column

COLUMN: Creating platforms for people with disabilities to participate in elections

Francisco Diaz, Assistant County Clerk-Recorder, writes that it's important to serve people with disabilities in elections.

This column was written by Assistant County Clerk-Recorder Francisco Diaz. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors. BenitoLink invites all community members to share their ideas and opinions. By registering as a BenitoLink user in the top right corner of our home page and agreeing to follow our Terms of Use, you can write counter opinions or share your insights on current issues.

 

One in four people in the United States are living with some sort of disability. These may range from vision, hearing, or cognitive, to challenges with mobility, self-care tasks and living.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guaranteed persons living with disabilities, equal protection under the law in access to employment opportunities, public accommodations, transportation, and education. The ADA has provided enormous opportunity for persons with disabilities to participate in American society.

Despite the progress made since the ADA was signed into law, people with disabilities are still limited in their access to full community life. People with disabilities are often excluded from social relations, community participation, leisure activities, and employment.

The Elections Department has sought to remedy this disconnect by creating inclusive, diverse platforms. The most powerful platform created is a place for dialogue, community building, and personal learning.

The Voting Accessibility Advisory Committee (VAAC) was established to advise, assist, and provide recommendations to the Elections Department as to how voters with disabilities can vote independently and privately.

VAAC members have been influential in assisting with numerous projects, including the production of an Election Administration Plan for the Voter’s Choice Act. The Voter’s Choice Act modernizes elections in California by allowing counties to conduct elections under a model which provides greater flexibility and convenience for voters. VAAC members helped raise awareness of disability issues through their involvement and production of the Election Administration Plan.

By taking the time early on to determine the community’s interest, commitment, and foreseeable challenges, the Elections Department has been able to avoid misunderstandings. This includes listening to members of the deaf community like Eric Heckman. Eric lends his experiences as a member of the disability community, VAAC member, and returning poll worker. His willingness to share life experiences has helped election department staff rethink poll worker training, written material, and most importantly, its communication.

In addition, election department staff work with advocacy groups like Disability Rights California, an agency designated under federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, and to determine the needs of people with disabilities in San Benito County. This collaboration creates a space for dialogue to select the type of activities to engage with people with disabilities.

The Elections Department draws its best practices from the active participation of volunteers, members of the public, local organizations, and advocacy groups. If you are a member of the disability community, we urge you to join us and participate in our VAAC meetings. We’re always looking to improve our services and make the
electoral process as seamless as possible for all members of the community. Our VAAC meetings are every Tuesday of the month via Zoom.

Francisco Diaz