2020 vision for disability rights

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If you survey the freshmen in Crossroads on the best part of being an adult, you’ll get a range of different answers, such as driving without restrictions or living without nagging parents.

My answer? The ability to vote.

Ever since I accompanied my dad to the polling booth one chilly Tuesday in 2008, I have been waiting to cast my ballot. Having a say (even a small one) in the policies that govern me is such an empowering feeling, and it’s one that has long been fought for.

As a female-identifying person of color, I am well aware of the sacrifices and struggles of those before me who gained me the right to perform this basic civic duty. As a disabled female-identifying person of color, I am well aware of the struggles that people with various impairments still face every voting season, and I know that it will take time to mitigate these hardships.

While disabled people legally have the right to vote, there are a lot of practical challenges. Polling stations may have steps to enter or lack nearby handicapped-accessible parking or accessible public transportation stops. Accessible voting machines are frequently not set up, turned on or functioning. In situations like these, disabled people are often forced to rely on poll workers to fill out their ballots, which breaches their privacy.

These problems have no easy fixes, but simple thoroughness has proven effective. In the early 2000s, Disability Law Colorado went to each and every county in the state to evaluate the overall accessibility of its polling stations and to provide guidance on the improvements to make and finding the resources to do so. In 2016, 69% of registered disabled voters cast a ballot.

Though there are still many difficulties, I am so eager to perform my civic duty in November 2020. The leaders I elect have the power, for good or for bad, to affect every aspect of my life.

I have an impairment that insurance companies dub a pre-existing condition.” These are medical conditions, ranging from mental health issues to drug addiction to muscular dystrophy, that have historically been used by insurance companies to deny or limit coverage or to hike premiums. They have also been allowed to limit coverage based on medical history. No joke — when my dad was a child, he injured one of his toes playing sports, and that toe was not covered by his insurance plan.

While it is unlikely that my dad will face medical issues from that toe in the future, our family health insurance could have easily denied me coverage too because of my spinal muscular atrophy or my past hospitalizations. I am incredibly privileged that my parents’ companies have provided them a range of insurance plans to choose from and that those plans offer me coverage. But not everyone can say the same. That’s why the inclusion of pre-existing conditions in the Affordable Care Act is so important. Without that, millions of Americans who have additional health concerns could be forced to pay out of pocket for their care, with some treatments in the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The expense associated with my condition is astronomical, even with coverage from my insurance plans. To live by myself, I hire attendants for at least 15 hours a day and pay them a starting wage of $18 an hour. That’s $270 of help each day or nearly $30,000 over the course of a single semester. Fortunately, most of that amount is covered through government benefits. Many politicians attack welfare programs such as the one I use as “entitlements” that ought to be cut because of their frequent abuse. But programs such as these have allowed me to leave home and pursue an education at this university. It has given me the ability to work toward a meaningful career and pursue hobbies and other activities alongside my peers.

My life, and the lives of so many other disabled people, hinges on decisions made about health care, welfare and so many other political issues, which is why it’s so important for our community to be involved in the civic sphere. The #CripTheVote campaign co-founded by activists Alice Wong, Gregg Baratan and Andrew Pulrang aims to do just that, creating dialogue around disability-related issues using a simple hashtag that encourages civic awareness and participation.

Of course, you don’t need to be disabled to care. The campaign’s website lists the disability-related policies of each presidential candidate for easy access for everybody, and many of those platforms include elements that pertain to a larger population. I recommend glancing through — you just may find something of interest.

The 2020 presidential election has seen disability rights become a campaign priority. While we still have a ways to go, politicians are beginning to understand that our issues also affect those in mainstream society and recognize us as a powerful voting bloc. I’m hopeful that this newfound understanding will help shape electoral and social policies and make our country a more equitable and inclusive place for everyone.

Vyoma Raman writes the Monday column on how mobility disabilities affect college life. Contact her at [email protected].