Hidden Disability and Voting Options

Is a hidden disability or chronic illness creating a voting barrier for you this election?

It’s 4 years later, and in 3 DAYS we will have the opportunity to vote in the United States 2012 presidential election.

US Presidential 2012 Election

image: freedigitalphotos.net

According to the Rutgers school of management and labor relations website fact sheet.

In 2008 131.1 million people voted, and of that population, 14.7 million people had disabilities.

The voter turnout rate of people with disabilities was 7 percentage points lower than that of people without disabilities.

It doesn’t appear that people with hidden disabilities or chronic illness were counted in those statistics.

Living with a hidden disability I am concerned at the possibility that people with hidden disabilities are not included in these stats.

Allow me to share my 2008 election story…

It was an awkward experience.

I headed to the polls in the evening when the visibility was terrible (bad idea!).

I waited in the lengthy line, and when my turn was up I was standing at the voting booth feeling yucky!

I looked over at the disability and senior section and saw accessible tables.

I walked over to one of the election poll reps and asked if I could use one of the accessible tables. She said something along the lines….

“This is for seniors and the disabled.”

I quickly froze and said, “I have a hidden disability”.

She paused. I blurted out,” I have a balance disorder”.

She looked puzzled, and said “OK,” and let me sit and vote.

I DON’T BELIEVE she was being malicious or obstructive. She was protecting those accessible tables for the disabled and seniors.

People find it to be difficult believing I have a disability. There are no visible indicators. (At the time, I was not wearing prism glasses or using a walking stick.)

The simplicity of waiting in long lines and voting can pose difficulty for someone with a vestibular disorder.

People with vestibular disorders are dealing with vertigo, dizziness, imbalance, spatial disorientation, vision disturbances and a myriad of other symptoms.

I didn’t want to deal with the awkward experience again this election year, so I made sure to vote by mail.

My Vote By Mail Pamphlet

However, I started thinking of ALL THE FOLKS that are reluctant or will not attempt to vote because of chronic illness or hidden disabilities.

I reached out to a few sources and received a response from the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerks office.

I want to THANK THEM for their willingness to answer my questions.

Hope you find this information helpful…

If you have a hidden disability, what is the best way to communicate to the polling place that you need to use an accessible table?

We understand that disclosing a disability is a personal decision and some people may not feel comfortable making others aware of it.  However, certain level of disclosure is necessary to receive a reasonable accommodation especially if the disability cannot be directly inferred from observation.

When and if voters choose to inform the poll worker that they have a disability, they should do it in a way that is comfortable for them. Some people may feel comfortable with talking openly to the poll worker to request special accommodations and explaining that they have a hidden disability.  Voters do not need to be specific on the type of disability they have but they should be clear and specific on the type of accommodation they need. On the other hand, some people may not feel comfortable disclosing in a public setting that they need a special accommodation due to a disability. In such case, voters can hand out a brief written message to the poll worker where they explain that they have a hidden disability and request that they are provided with special accommodations (e.g. using a wheelchair accessible voting booth, a magnifier, the audio ballot booth, etc.).


Is it required that there be an accessible table available to seniors and the disabled regardless of state and county?

We provide accessible voting booths and an audio ballot booth, as well as a number of assistive devices to serve voters with a range of and varying degrees of disabilities. We also have curbside voting.  Poll workers will do their best to accommodate voters’ needs when they identify that a special accommodation is needed or as soon as the request is made to them if the disability is not visible.

We try to provide a private and independent voter experience for all voters.  We do not provide tables…we provide accessible booths.  Tables do not provide a private voting experience for voters.  For these voters we have curbside voting.

* I was given an opportunity to sit and vote in 2008, but, based on this response this may not be the “standard” option. I believe I may have been using the wheelchair accessible booth and was given a chair to sit in.

Not everyone with a disability is issued a disability parking sticker. Will the hidden disability voters still be allowed to pull up to the front for curb side voting without a disability parking sticker?

Any voter who is unable to enter the polling place can request to vote curb side.  You are not required to have a disability license plate.


Can you explain how curb side voting works?

When the voters arrive to their designated precinct, they may inform election officials of their need to use curbside voting by pressing the button on the curbside call box. An election official (i.e. poll worker or inspector) will respond to the request for assistance by carrying a ballot outside the polling place and providing it to the voter. The voter is then able to make his or her choices in the comfort of his or her vehicle.

Is there a national phone number that the individual can call if they run into disability discrimination and they are not permitted to sit and vote because they “don’t look” disabled?

I was not provided a national number, however,  I was given local numbers.

I live in California and here are the numbers for Disability Rights California

North California: 1-888-569-7955

Southern California: 1-888-733-7565

Before or after election day call: 1-800-776-5746

If you DO NOT LIVE in California, and need to report a problem call 1-866-OUR-VOTE

You can find more information via the  866ourvote website.

Final Thoughts:

Find out how your state handles pre-election day voting. In the future I would suggest voting early.

If, you HAVE NOT taken advantage of pre-election day voting options don’t be discouraged.  Take advantage of curb side voting.

Helpful links provided by the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerks office:

What is the law

Assisted registration

Is Your Poll Accessible? On-line Feedback Form

Accessible Voting Options

Whom to Contact

Election Guide for Voters with Specific Needs

Additional links I suggest you check out (national information)

Election Protection: You Have The Right To Vote

Register To Vote And Request Your Ballot Using The Form Your State Prefers

Rutgers- Disability and Voter Turn Out Facts

Disability Vote Project (I was unable to get a response, but the information on the site is solid)

National Disability Rights Network

Much love,

PS: Voting should be an equal playing field, and regardless of ability we deserve the opportunity to exercise our right to vote!