Written by Nicholas M. Lind, 2014 Policy Intern
New York Disability Vote Network (NYDVN) Strengthens Individuals with Disabilities
Empire Justice Center is proud to announce our partnership with the New York Disability Vote Network (NYDVN), a project of the Center for Disability Rights. NYDVN strives to build, solidify and unify a disability voting bloc in New York State. The network – the first of its kind in the State – will serve as a vehicle to promote a nonpartisan disability-friendly agenda initially focusing on health care, housing, transportation and employment.
NYDVN is developing at a time when voting rights for individuals with disabilities have come under attack. In Los Angeles, the Disability and Abuse Project recently submitted a Voting Rights Act complaint to the U.S. Justice Department when officials limited the voting rights of individuals with disabilities who enter into conservatorships, legal arrangements in which parents or guardians are appointed to make certain financial or medical decisions. 
Bruce Darling, CEO of the Center for Disability Rights, commented in a statement released by CDR that, “People with disabilities have to fight for their civil rights every day. Now New York will have a coordinated effort to ensure that the same people are also fighting for their rights in the voting booth as well.” Kenyatta Dacosta, a community member, was also quoted in the report, remarking, “This project is important because it will allow elected officials to easily see how many people are affected by issues concerning disabilities.” 
Organizing a Disability Voting Bloc
A national movement led by the American Association for People with Disabilities has arisen in response to wide gaps in voting patterns between individuals with disabilities and individuals without disabilities. In addition to New York’s campaign, similar voting and political networks have been created in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, North Carolina and California. 
Click here for a list of easy ways to make a difference and get involved!
Researchers that have studied political and voting participation of individuals with disabilities found that from 1992-2002, voter turnout for people with disabilities was 14-21 percentage points lower than that of people without disabilities who had similar demographic characteristics. 
One factor leading to lower voter turnout may be persistent barriers to accessible polling places. A review conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that in 2000, 84% of polling places had potential impediments to access, and by 2008 that number had only fell to 73%. 
Even when physical barriers to participation are overcome, social and psychological characteristics of disabilities sometimes hinder voter turnout by decreasing an individual’s social capital and identification with mainstream society.  Reaching out to voters not only informs them of the issues at stake but also counters feelings of segregation.
Despite these barriers, it appears that the movement to improve turnout of voters with disabilities is having an impact. In 2008, the participation gap fell to 7% and by 2010 it had slid to 3%.  NYDVN will work to cement the progress made in voter accessibility, and will turn toward the next step of political organizing: solidifying the disability voting bloc. Importantly, statistics show that voter turnout among people with disabilities is positively correlated with developing group consciousness with a political party or organization (such as NYDVN), commitment to specific policies and involvement with formal or informal networks of like-minded peers. 
Making Progress: Gaining a Unified Voice
Political organizing efforts similar to NYDVN have proven effective at gaining the attention of policymakers. Former Congressmen Bob Dole (R-Kansas) and Tony Coelho (D-California) agree that “one of the biggest challenges [within the disability community] is uniting around common identity and common struggles. When the community does unite, however, there is no stopping its strength and power.”
“It is estimated there are more than 65.7 million family caregivers, supporting relatives with disabilities and seniors at home,” Dole and Coelho write. “Add to this the millions of direct-care workers, other professionals and friends who care about loved ones with disabilities. You start to get the picture. This is clearly an important constituency!” 
For more information, please contact Jessica Thurber, Voter Rights Coordinator at the Center for Disability Rights at jthurber@cdrnys.
 Michael R. Blood. (2014, July 10). “Disabled people denied voting rights, group says.” Associated Press. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory/ap-exclusive-disabled-banned-voting-24499436.
 “New Website Geared at NY Voters with Disabilities” Press Release, The Center for Disability Rights (CDR). Retrieved from http://www.justicecenter.ny.gov/sites/default/files/documents/pressrelease_NYDVN_websitelaunch.pdf.
 Each source provides information on voter organizing within a specific state. See “Ohio Disability Vote Coalition Seeks People to Join its Voting Bloc” (2012, March 15). Disability Rights Ohio. Retrieved from http://www.disabilityrightsohio.org/news/odvc-vote-bloc-mar-2012.; “Protection and Advocacy for Voting Access for Americans with Disabilities”. (2014). Services: Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania. Retrieved from http://www.drnpa.org/about-drn/services/. ; “Wisconsin Disability Vote Coalition” (2012). Retrieved from http://www.disabilityvote.org/.; “Rhode Island Disability Vote Project”. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.ridvp.org/PDF/ridvpbrochure2011.pdf.; “Vote 2012! Your Right. Your Voice.: A Guide to voting for North Carolinians with Disabilities”. (2012). Disability Rights North Carolina. Retrieved from http://dev.disabilityrightsnc.org/sites/default/files/2012-VotingGuide_0.pdf.; and “All About the Disability Organizing Network”. (2014). DONetwork. Retrieved from https://disabilityorganizing.net/about-donetwork/.
 “Voting,” in Gary Albrecht, ed., Encyclopedia of Disability (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2005). By Lisa Schur, Todd Shields, and Kay Schriner. And also see “Enabling Democracy: Disability and Voter Turnout,” Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 1, March 2002, pp. 167-190. By Lisa Schur, Todd Shields, Douglas Kruse, and Kay Schriner.
 “Voters with Disabilities: Additional Monitoring of Polling Places Could Further Improve Accessibility” (September 2009). Report to Congressional Requesters, United States Government Accountability Office. GAO-09-941. Retrieved from http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-09-941.
 “Enabling Democracy: Disability and Voter Turnout,” Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 1, March 2002, pp. 167-190. By Lisa Schur, Todd Shields, Douglas Kruse, and Kay Schriner.
 See “Fact sheet: Disability and Voter Turnout in the 2008 Elections,” by Lisa Schur and Douglas Kruse, July 2009. And “Fact sheet: Disability and Voter Turnout in the 2010 Elections,” by Lisa Schur and Douglas Kruse, June 2011.
 See “Voting,” in Gary Albrecht, ed., Encyclopedia of Disability (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2005). By Lisa Schur, Todd Shields, and Kay Schriner. And also see “Enabling Democracy: Disability and Voter Turnout,” Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 1, March 2002, pp. 167-190. By Lisa Schur, Todd Shields, Douglas Kruse, and Kay Schriner.
 Bob Dole and Tony Coelho. (2012, September 16). “Disabled voters possess untapped political power”. Politico. Retrieved from http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0912/81268.html.