The Right to Vote and Autism

vote

The Art of Autism encourages those on the autism spectrum to vote. For many on the autism spectrum, disability funding is in essence decided through the voting process. Many candidates have disability platforms. Below is an excerpt from an article about disabilities and voting called Election Day Equality: Access is Critical from Little Village Magazine. The Voting Guide referenced below although created for Iowans has useful information for those on the autism spectrum no matter where they reside. It includes a dictionary of voting terms, what to expect at the polling place, and questions that many on the spectrum may ask. More resources including the new ASAN Voting Guide is included at the end of this blog.

By Lauren Shotwell

Invisible barriers

Some barriers to voting may not be immediately visible to poll workers. Shannon [Rik Shannon, the public policy manager for the Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council and ID Action] said they’ve found the number one barrier to voting is that people are overwhelmed by the amount of information out there or uncertain how to access that information — whether it’s information about the voting process, how to register or information about where the candidates stand on policy issues.

For those on the autism spectrum, the challenges can include feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information available and becoming anxious about the need to navigate the social aspects of the voting process when voting in person, said Heather Hanzlick-Jaacks, an autism spectrum consultant with Tanager Place who helped organize a voting guide specifically for those on the autism spectrum.

“We’re not crazy, not lazy, not begging for attention,” said Joel Shrader, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s (which in 2013 was folded into Autism Spectrum Disorder) when he was in his twenties. “We don’t want pity and we’re not doing this to annoy you or to cause problems. We just want to have our voices heard and this is hard for us. We’re not asking for special treatment; this is just us asking for equal opportunities to be heard.”

Shrader helped work on the voting guide, pulling from his own voting experiences. Shrader was selected as a delegate for John Kerry during the 2004 Iowa Caucuses and canvassed for Obama during the 2008 elections.

“Do what you can,” he said. “At those times, in 2004 and 2008, I did what I was capable of. You don’t have to be a delegate. You can do other things to participate.”

The voter guide works to break the voting and registration process down into easy-to-follow steps. The guide also encourages individuals on the autism spectrum to continue their civic engagement post-election by sharing information about how to communicate with elected officials and government agencies.

“I hope people read it and decide to vote,” Mike Dierdorff, an autism self-advocate who also helped with the voting guide, said. “I hope they get the word out that although you have a disability, you can vote and your voice can be heard because I think a lot of times we don’t think our voice is heard.”

The voter guide specifies what individuals can expect to see on Election Day and offers advice about how to reach out to friends, family or poll workers to get help or support when casting a ballot. Because each precinct location is set up differently on Election Day, it can be hard for individuals on the spectrum to prepare.

“It may be easy for neurotypical individuals to come in and sit back and view the lines and the interactions and pick up on the social cues, but that’s not the case for everyone,” Hanzlick-Jaacks said.

She said many of the advocates involved in creating the voter guide had tried to Google voting tips for individuals on the spectrum, but couldn’t find anything online and decided to create a guide themselves.

The creation of the guide and a meeting to present the guide and other information about political participation were supported through a grant from ID Action and presented by Tanager Place, the Corridor Autism Resource Expo and the Regional Autism Assistance Program. The guide is available online for anyone who is interested.

“Everybody’s voice should be heard,” Dierdorff said. “That’s how this country was built. If your voice is heard you feel like you are part of the process.”

Click here to read the entire article titled Election Day Equality: Access is Crucial for People with Disabilities.

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More information on voting for autistic people can be found here:

ASAN: A Know-Your-Rights Guide for People with Mental Disabilities and Advocates

Disability Positions of the Four Presidential Candidates

Rooted in Rights: Videos about Voting

Tips to Make the Voting Process Go Smoothly

Know Your Right to Vote: The ARC

Check out your voting place – Iwillvote.com

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Other blogs you may like:

The Politics of Autism
Autism Speaks revamps its Mission Statement
An Interview with Steve Silberman

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