Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Different Angle on Disabilities

Tonight will be the first Sunday in a while where I haven't watched The Walking Dead.

I'm not quite sure why I like that show.  Two years ago, regularly confined to the upstairs of my home for two weeks following ankle injury, I explored Netflix and binge-watched all the early episodes.

It is the most-watched show on TV, so there's that.  It's fairly mainstream to be watching a show about zombies.

There are plenty of Facebook posts where viewers can determine what character they would be in the show based on a series of random questions.  The questions have little to do with anything--other than a clever way to generate page views on a site for advertisers--and our family members have taken many of those, including the test for The Walking Dead.

As viewers, we often identify with characters.  My character in the show was Glenn, and he's a noble and good guy.  I was okay with that.

I also was Veronica Salt in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and my wife was Charlie, so I'm jealous.  (Then again, that's exactly how Veronica would feel).

Thing is, we find community in sharing something as silly as television and movie viewing habits.  And it's human nature to be drawn to shows where we can project ourselves as one of the characters.

The series finale of How I Met Your Mother drew cable-eseque ratings according to USA Today (how insulting, rather than flattering, that statement would have been 25 years ago, by the way).  Long-term stable couples identify with Marshall and Lily, love-seeking urbanites might identify with Ted, and I'm thankful I don't know anyone who identifies with Barney--but I'm sure many do.

What's this have to do with an election blog?

Plenty, I believe.

If it's human nature to identify with others who reflect something about ourselves, wouldn't that carry into other aspects of life besides television?  Aren't we drawn to colleagues, friends, and partners who  share similar values or characteristics as us?

If so, why would voting be different?

If conventional wisdom is that older persons vote, is it any coincidence that election workers are older?

If conventional wisdom is that women vote more than men, I point out that there isn't a League of Men Voters.  Maybe some men see voting as something guys don't do--at least in local races.

I raise all of this as my response to one of the items in the Presidential Commission on Election Administration's recommendations.  Specifically, the Commission recommended more effort be made to make voting accessible for persons with disabilities.

"Persons with disabilities" is incredibly broad and I believe a comprehensive plan should break down those disabilities and address them granularly.

In fact, when we begin our evaluation process of our next-generation voting system, we will we ensure we have representatives from various disability stakeholder groups in recognition that disabilities is more than a buzzword.

But I am intrigued at the notion that people might vote more frequently if they see others like them at the polling place, just as we will watch a television show if we know others are watching it as well, and the way we will continue to watch the show if we see a piece of ourselves in one of the characters.

I'm not quite sure how, but I want to increase the level of election worker participation among persons with disabilities.  In turn, I believe, the polling place welcome mat will be more visible to others with disabilities and they might feel more comfortable voting at the polls.

There is some level of rationality here, I suppose.  Election workers who are disabled, themselves, may require more accommodation, resulting in more cost.

To that, I say, so?  Elections are about inclusion.

We had a young worker who is wheelchair-bound work during the 2012 election cycle.  It really wouldn't have been appropriate to have him motor around outside to place signs but inside he was able to perform all tasks at the polling place.  He received high peer-review remarks.

Back to "not quite sure how," but I feel strongly that inclusion of persons with disabilities as election workers, not just voters, has to be an ongoing strategic imperative.  Workers at our polling places should reflect the voting population.

If we want more young people voting, get more young people to work at the polls.  Our student election worker program has been very successful.  We can have one high-schooler, by law, at each polling place and we turn away more than 100 students in even years because the interest is so high.

That means, as an aside, that more than 10 percent of our election workers aren't even old enough to vote.  Hopefully, that statement will guilt some to consider becoming an election worker.

What if 10 percent of our election workers had a disability?  Maybe that's already the case, in fact, because disability, as I typed, has a broad definition.  At the very least, it would be good to evaluate and measure this.

Some who are disabilities are logically homebound.   Heck, I was disabled for a period with my broken ankle.

But what if some who are disabled simply worry that they wouldn't be welcome at the polls, that they would stand out, or be a bother?  Would they feel better coming into the polling place, greeted, and assisted by someone who compassionately understands because that person may also have a similar physical limitation?

I think so, and I'd like to test that hypothesis.