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When OTs Wore White Shoes

Voting and Disability

Published November 3, 2014 2:19 PM by Debra Karplus
With election season here, most of us take our right to vote for granted.  You simply drive or walk to your nearby polling place, cast your ballot, and stroll away smiling, touting with your new "I voted" sticker.  For people with disabilities, the right to vote has been made more accessible as the result of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of the early 1990s.  There are voting booths that are positioned lower for people who use wheelchairs.  Voters who are blind or visually impaired must have special accommodations for their election ballot or can bring a person into the booth with them and trust that their helper selects the candidate or issue that was intended.

But what about those people diagnosed with a cognitive disability?  Curious about this issue, I did an online search using key words "mental retardation and voting", and discovered some information that rather surprised me.  "Keeping the ‘Mentally Incompetent' From Voting" was an article from 2012 that popped out first on my web search.  I read a little of the article and that looked to see what other information I could find elsewhere.  I learned that thirty states have legislation that limits voting for those who have a known mental deficit.

This issue really started me thinking.  Though mental retardation and memory loss are disabilities that come with a diagnosis from a physician, their symptoms do fall on a wide continuum, from very mildly impaired to essentially non- functional.  I pondered other situations that might fall into the category of "temporarily impaired".

Sometimes short on quality sleep, a function of doing many tasks much most of the time, I might put myself into that category of temporarily impaired.  Or what about the voter who shows up at the polls a bit inebriated after an end-of-day happy hour or under the influence of some drug, legal or otherwise.  How clear headed might this person be to vote responsibly?

There have been many elections when, I admit, I have not been as well informed as I should be.  Certainly this is the case for some of the local referenda or lesser publicized political races such as judges or school board candidates.  Am I any more a "better voter" than the person with a mild mental impairment?

I'd be curious to hear from blog readers, their spin on this issue and any experience they might have had with any of the clients they serve, particularly those diagnosed with some sort of mental impairment.


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