MI disability group: Tips for more inclusive political campaigns, elections
With the 2022 elections nearing, groups in Michigan are working to educate political campaigns on how to become more accessible to voters with disabilities.
Across the nation in recent years, voters with disabilities have cast ballots 6% less often than their non-disabled peers. And Dessa Cosma, executive director of Detroit Disability Power, said it's often because of systemic barriers.
That may mean inaccessible voter information, polling places or ballot-marking devices, and because candidates don't always target this group of voters or speak to disability issues.
"So, we need to design our campaign culture," said Cosma, "as well as the way that we communicate with voters, with a disability consciousness, accessibility and inclusion at top of mind, if we actually want to reach the most people."
In 2020, 11% of voters with disabilities said they experienced difficulty voting.
Cosma added the guide has information not only on disability voters and issues, but also how to set up a campaign from the ground up. She said it walks readers through setting up a budget, creating a message and even understanding the opponents.
In a large city like Detroit, Cosma noted it can be challenging to ensure all polling sites are accessible, and that all poll workers have accessibility training.
She said polling places are required to have ballot-marking devices, known in Michigan as VATS - voter-assist terminals - and poll workers receive training on how to use them.
But she added that the training is often done quickly, and may not be seen as a priority.
"This has happened to me," said Cosma. "I show up to vote, and no one at the precinct knows how to use the voter assist terminal. And then I'm the one who has to suffer - from either not being able to cast my ballot, or wondering if my ballot actually counted - because no one was there who really knew how to use the machine."
About one in four adults in the U.S. has a disability, and when including families, friends and caregivers, that's millions of Americans who care deeply about these issues.
Cosma said she hopes the guide will help campaigns bring more members of the community into their coalitions.
Support for this reporting was provided by Carnegie Corporation of New York.