My Turn: Why people with disabilities must vote

July 12, 2016
The Arizona Republic
Phil Pangrazio

Justin Dart, the man often considered the father of the Americans With Disabilities Act, famously and repeatedly said: “Vote as if your life depends on it — because it DOES!”  For people with disabilities, this is especially true. Every policy decision from employment to housing to transportation, to the funding of programs like CHIP, Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, are influenced by whom we elect.

During this National Disability Voter Registration Week, we at Ability360 encourage all Arizonans who are eligible to vote to ensure they are registered, especially members of our community who identify as people with disabilities. Registering to vote in Arizona is easy; simply visit There, you can even sign up to have your ballots delivered to your mailbox instead of traveling to the polls on Election Day.

Less than half of disabled vote

Voting may be one of the most personal rights we, as citizens of a representative democracy, can exercise. America’s “one person, one vote” system is the ultimate equalizer to a process that within recent history has been exclusionary. Women won the right to vote less than a hundred years ago through the 19th Amendment ratified in 1920; African-Americans were empowered by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It was the barriers to voting experienced by many voters, especially voters with disabilities, that led to the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

According to the Research Alliance for Accessible Voting, in the 2012 election, people with disabilities — PWD — voted at a lower rate than their able-bodied peers (56.9 percent in the able community vs. 48.1 percent for PWD) largely due to barriers of access.

With barely half of our community overall voting in any given election, it is critical that we each take our civic right — and our duty — seriously. Not voting may just be one of the most selfish and irresponsible acts a citizen could commit.

Yet our rights are under attack

In the last legislative session, Arizona legislators introduced several challenges to our civil rights including: identification and access for service animals, a cure period before exercising ADA remedies, restrictions on live-in caregivers and service animals for PWD who live in mobile homes, and restrictions on SNAP (food stamps).

Conversely, Arizona legislators passed the ABLE Act (Achieving a Better Life Experience), which addressed a pressing need for youth with disabilities headed to college or independent living.

These bills, both pro and con for PWD, were introduced and championed by the legislators we elect to represent our voices. Electing people at every level who are friendly to issues impacting people with disabilities is crucial to ensuring our rights remain intact. Better said: Elections have consequences.

The outcomes of the most recent presidential-preference election are a great example of why it’s important that we all vote. It’s easy to give in to the noise and nonsense of the seemingly continuous campaign cycle blasted at us, but we must separate out the gibberish and participate in our democracy.

Maricopa County voters in the presidential-preference election experienced unacceptable barriers to voting, many of which had a disproportional impact on voters with disabilities including exceedingly long wait times, confusion on polling locations, a lack of accessible voting options and a lack of accessible parking. We must work to ensure that every voter can access their polling place and cast their private and autonomous ballot without such challenges — as required by law — and just as important — in a convenient and efficient way.

Phil Pangrazio is the president and CEO of Ability360, which provides programs to empower people with disabilities to achieve or maintain independent lifestyles within the community. Email him at

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