Meet the Activist Mobilizing People with Disabilities to Vote

Supermajority Education Fund

October 9, 2020

People with disabilities constitute the largest minority group in the U.S.; one in four Americans — people of all genders, ages, races, classes, and backgrounds — have a disability. Yet politicians have historically failed to represent or pay attention to the needs of this group. 

Take the 2020 election, for example. People with disabilities are uniquely affected by some of the most pressing issues our country has faced this year — from the coronavirus to rising rates of unemployment to police brutality and racial injustice. For people with disabilities, the results of this election and its far-reaching ramifications — like the appointment of a new Supreme Court Justice — could be a matter of life or death. 

That’s why disability advocates across the country are mobilizing and organizing their communities to get out the vote this November. Among them is award-winning actress, writer, and advocate Emily Kranking, who lives with cerebral palsy. Emily is also a Communications Consultant at the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD) and a Strategic Communications Fellow at DC Developmental Disabilities Council.

Supermajority News sat down with Emily Kranking to discuss her disability activism and the impact of the upcoming election on the disability community.

So, Emily, how did you get involved with advocating for voting rights for people with disabilities? What have been some initiatives that you’ve worked on?

I started as a Policy Fellow at RespectAbility, where I talked to governors about disability employment issues. Then, when NACDD hired me as an intern, they knew I was already into politics. When they told me about One Vote Now, [a non-profit organization that helps people with disabilities practice their right to vote], I immediately became excited. With One Vote Now, I manage the website, update it with new resources and blog posts, design graphics, and run the social media accounts. I also do a weekly talk show on Facebook Live with people in the disability community who advocate for voting rights.

How has your life been impacted under the current administration, and what do you hope will change under a new administration?

Well, aside from curling up in a ball and crying every night because we have a dictator, it hasn’t affected me at all (just kidding/not just kidding!). But I just got Medicare, and new laws could affect my Social Security Disability Insurance. If Joe Biden wins, I hope he keeps his disability promises because he has an excellent plan to protect health care and provide funding. It would be nice to have a compassionate president. If Trump wins again, I hope he does a better job with health insurance, noticeably [managing the spread of] COVID. If not, I could just move to Canada. [Nervously chuckles]

In your opinion, what are the most pressing challenges leading up to the election for voters with disabilities?

Definitely voting by mail, since Trump is trying to jeopardize it for everyone so that he can win. I need to vote by mail so that I don’t get sick. And if people do vote [at] the polls, I hope they get all of the accommodations they need, like computers. My co-worker will be a poll worker, and her boss [as a poll-worker] does not care about the Americans with Disabilities Act at all. According to her boss, “We have non-disabled people here, so it doesn’t matter.” So be prepared for anything.

How do you think the pandemic will affect voter turnout, especially in the disability community, this year?

There will certainly be a rise in voting by mail, especially for those who live in a disability community and those who have a weak immune system, as I do. If people are from places that have [high rates of] COVID, it’s significantly endangering. My uncle from Florida recently lived in a group home for a while, where everyone had COVID-19 but him. Even though curbside voting will be available, it’s still dangerous.

Do you think the presidential candidates did enough to appeal to voters with disabilities? Why or why not?

Yes and no for both. Trump is doing serious harm to health care in general, and he is mishandling the pandemic. But most of his base are veterans, the majority [of whom] are disabled, and those who are pro-life — and some abortions occur because the fetus is disabled. For Biden, he cares about health care, and he has great promises. But, the video where he stroked the disabled man is a big yikes factor.

Going off of that, do you have a memorable voting experience, either positive or negative, that you want to share? 

Four years ago, when I requested an accessible poll, the poll worker refused my request because I “didn’t look disabled enough,” despite the fact that I am visibly disabled. When I explained to him that I was, he said that I needed an ID, which I clearly didn’t. So, I had to call my mom to get my ID. Then, thirty minutes later, after this whole mess, he looked me up on a database and went, “Never mind, you’re at the wrong place!”

I’m so sorry that happened to you – that must’ve been incredibly frustrating! Before we wrap up, do you have anything else you’d want to add?

Check out One Vote Now and NACDD’s social media sites for the latest voting news and watch me on “Senate 180, Let’s Turn It Around!” on October 11 at 3 p.m. ET on Facebook Live.