Getting to the Polls

If you’ve read the last installment of the Social Science Room’s blog, you’ll know the fight for free, fair and accessible voting rights is not over. Barriers still exist, like poll taxes, in the altered form of lines to vote (in predominantly urban poor communities) so long that voters must choose between voting and missing a day’s work and pay.

There are many voting rights advocates making sure every American has the same opportunity to get to the polls and execute their right to vote, but for some this is more difficult than others, if not physically impossible. If you’re curious about the laws protecting the rights of Americans with disabilities, here’s a quick guide from the ADA.

One in six people eligible to vote in America have a disability (

In 2016, the U.S. Government Accountability Office observed 178 polling places during early in-person voting to examine any impediments to access at the polling facilities. They found that 60% of those locations had one or more impediments to entry. Anything from steep ramps, rough pavement in the parking lot or lack of signage for alternate entry can stop someone from being able to enter a polling facility. 

In 2012, more than 1/3rd of voters with disabilities reported difficulty voting at a polling place (compared to 8% of voters without disabilities) (Schur 2017)

Historically, the public policies have excluded those with disabilities from civil duties out of some misguided effort to protect them, but during the 20th century, a movement formed for disability rights. Throughout the 1990s through 2010s, Americans with disabilities achieved great political gains (beginning with the Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA]), but still statistically exercise their right to vote less than those Americans living without disabilities. 

Many states have expanded access to voting by mail to extend the right to vote to those with disabilities, and voters with disabilities are more likely to vote if such options exist. Check out early voting across the states and see how they compare. 


Still, many researchers are puzzled by the persistence of voters with disabilities turning out at lower rates with all the changes to early voting options and curbside voting. Some others have ideas:

“Polling place accessibility is a basic factor that can affect political participation. Inaccessible polling places may reduce turnout not only by making it more difficult for citizens with disabilities to vote, but also by sending the message that they are not fully welcome or expected to exercise the most basic rights of citizenship.” (Schur 2017

The ADA Checklist for Polling Places states clearly

"Voting at one’s polling place allows voters the chance to interact with neighbors and candidates who talk with voters outside the polling place, and to ask questions of or receive assistance from trained poll workers inside the polling place. Simply put, voting in person at a local polling place is the quintessential American voting experience.” 

Missouri’s accessibility standards do not require every polling place to be accessible; instead you may vote curbside outside of the facility or request a new, more accessible facility. 

Take these ideas with you to the polls this March and all through the 2020 election year.

  • Has your performance of your civic duty improved because of policies expanding voting access? 
  • Take a look around- is your polling place, if you vote in person, accessible to those with disabilities?
  • Do you feel like your civic duty experience includes Americans with and without disabilities in a way that reflects the general population?

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission, created by the Help America Vote Act of 2002, was enacted with the specific purpose of helping voters access the voting system following the 2000 election. The EAC has resources for assistance with everything from registering to vote to giving feedback on your experience. They also have links to resources for voters with disabilities, including state-by-state provisions, and updates from the blog

While you're here, brush up on the history and current dialogue of the disability rights movement. 

Here are a few suggestions from the Social Sciences Room:

For a complete overview of the history of disability in America, A Disability History of the United States, spans Columbus to 2012. The chapter "I guess I'm an activist. I think it's just caring" briefly covering the disability rights movement of the late 21st Century.

Go more in-depth into disability on a personal level with the book of essays Disability. This collection features multiple essays about the Americans with Disabilities Act and its implementation as well as other often-debated topics relating to disability.

Explore the wide range of what it means to have a disability with the complete essays of the Disability Series from the New York Times, About Us. These essays, which began publication in 2016, have brought forth discussion about the dialogue around disability. It echoes throughout the disability rights movement's refrain "Nothing about us without us."

Read the stories of disability and the barriers, physical and mental, disabled individuals have to overcome to seek inclusion with Pia Justesen's From the Periphery. These stories "increase the understanding of the lived experiences of people with disabilities, their responses to oppression, and the strategies they use to fight for empowerment."

Check out these and other titles related to voting or disability at any St. Louis Public Library branch or online at

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