Disability, Employment, and Election Questions

By Janet Shouse

As I’m sure you have noticed, we have elections coming up in our state and in our nation. Tennessee has state primaries and county general elections on Aug. 4. Early voting has already started. And, of course, we have our state and federal general elections on Nov. 8, including the presidential election.

Voting ImageAs a family member of a person with a disability, I have seen the impact elections can have on the laws and policies that shape the lives of individuals with disabilities. Consider the Americans with Disabilities Act; the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, its predecessor, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, as well as its successor, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act; and the ABLE Act.

I have just learned about an initiative called #CriptheVote. #CripTheVote is a nonpartisan campaign to engage both voters and politicians in a productive discussion about disability issues in the United States, with the hope that disability takes on greater prominence within the American political landscape.

#CriptheVote offers this checklist:

  • Find out if you are registered to vote. Check out canivote.org to see. (In Tennessee, it’s too late to register for the Aug. 4 election, but you can register until Oct. 11 for the Nov. 8. Election.)
  • Register if you need to, or re-register if you have recently moved.
  • Find out the Primary and General Election dates in your state, where you are registered. (See above.) Put those dates on your calendar.
  • Find out where your polling place is.
  • Visit the polling place location, to note any accessibility problems you might face.
  • If you need some instructions, or want a demonstration of your district’s voting system, ask your Board of Elections.
  • Arrange any transportation help you might need.
  • VOTE in the Primary, and VOTE in the General Election!

#CriptheVote offers many resources regarding voting, including links to all the presidential candidates’ websites, websites on voting, and websites on elections and political news. Check out #CriptheVote. There are also plenty of Twitter chats. If you are more technologically savvy than I am, and wish to join the next Twitter chat on July 24, here’s the link.

   About the Author

janetblog[1]

Janet Shouse is a parent of a young adult with autism, and she is passionate about inclusion, employment of people with disabilities, medical issues related to developmental disabilities, supports and services, public policy, legislative initiatives, advocacy, and the intersection of faith and disability. She wears many hats at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, including one as a disability employment specialist for TennesseeWorks.

Our hope is that this weekly blog will offer information you want to know, so if you have a question you want answered about employment for people with disabilities or other mysteries of the world of work, please email me at janet.shouse@vumc.org.

Another group, the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), which is focused on increasing the political and economic power of people with disabilities, offers additional voting resources.

Here is a video from the Tennessee Disability Coalition, the Tennessee Secretary of State’s Office and Disability Rights Tennessee explaining voting rights, called Accessible Elections for Tennessee Voters. It’s about eight minutes and provides very useful information.

For those of you who want to exercise your advocacy skills, now is an excellent time. I would encourage you, particularly for state House and Senate races, to ask the candidates about their views on matters important to people with disabilities. You may find some candidates have not given much consideration to some of the issues that are significant for us. You may have an opportunity to educate as well as advocate.

Here are some questions that you might share with your candidates. Feel free to pick and choose those that are most meaningful to you or devise your own.

1. Tennessee has been designated by Gov. Bill Haslam an Employment First state, which means integrated, competitive employment is the first priority and preferred outcome for people with disabilities. What are your plans to help more people with disabilities gain integrated, competitive employment? Within state or local government? In private enterprise?

2. Many people with disabilities must rely on public transportation. What are your plans to help more people with disabilities have access to reliable, safe transportation so that they can get to their jobs and other parts of their community, such as the grocery store and their faith community?

3. Many people with disabilities have a limited income and find housing to be financially out of reach. What are your plans to help more people with disabilities to be able to afford housing in their communities?

4. Tennessee just launched on July 1, 2016, a new Medicaid waiver program called Employment and Community First CHOICES, which is designed to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities receive the supports and services they need to become employed and to stay employed. In this first year, 1,700 slots are available. Unfortunately, about 4,000 individuals with intellectual disabilities had already said they need such services, and the number of people with developmental disabilities who need such services isn’t known. Would you support additional funding to expand the new Employment and Community First CHOICES program?

5. Many people with disabilities rely on caregivers called direct support professionals to help them with activities of daily living, such as dressing, eating, and bathing. The current pay structure in Tennessee is such that the majority of agencies employing direct support professionals report they have great difficulties in hiring and keeping caring and qualified staff. The pay is just above minimum wage, and many direct support professionals find they can make more money elsewhere. Would you support a pay raise for direct support staff?

6. Our website, tennesseeworks.org offer lots of information about the importance of employment for people with disabilities, so please feel free to share that link with your candidates.

If you have a smartphone, the state of Tennessee has created an app that tells you who your candidates are, where your polling place is, your current elected officials and more. Check out GoVoteTN. Or you can contact your county Election Commission to get a sample ballot or a list of the candidates in your area.

Many candidates have Facebook pages or websites, and that is one way to connect and ask questions. If you write or post, explain that you live in the district, and you vote.

And please remember when you go to vote, take a federal- or state-issued photo ID.

Any of the following IDs may be used, even if expired:

  • Tennessee driver license with your photo
  • S. passport
  • Photo ID issued by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security
  • Photo ID issued by the federal or Tennessee state government
  • S. military photo ID
  • Tennessee handgun carry permit with your photo

If you have questions or concerns, please feel free to email me at janet.shouse@vumc.org. And if you do write or call your candidates, I would be delighted to hear any responses you want to share.

Just remember—every vote is important!