By Carli Friedman, CQL Director of Research
People with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) have the potential to be a powerful voting block that can direct attention to disability issues that both directly and indirectly impact their lives. Yet, people with IDD face a large number of barriers when trying to vote in United States elections. For these reasons, the aim of this study was to explore the experiences of people with IDD in the 2016 United States general election. To do so, shortly after the 2016 general election, 34 people with IDD participated in focus groups that asked about their experiences in the election, as well as any barriers they faced while voting.
Findings revealed participants with IDD in our study actively engaged in the U.S. election process. In fact, they participated in very similar ways to the general population, such as by making decisions by speaking with family and friends, researching candidates in the media, and watching debates. While not all participants experienced barriers voting, those barriers that did exist where often barriers for the general population (e.g., a lack of non-English information, long wait times). However, a few people dealt with barriers specifically related to inaccessibility and discriminatory attitudes. For example, despite informing his provider he wanted to vote and management approving the transportation, one participant’s group home staff did not bring him to vote on election day because the staff did not think it was important.
Our findings reinforced that people with IDD are important constituents who are interested in, and capable of, engaging in the election process. In order to facilitate equity of access to this important form of civic engagement, attention to barriers, such as power inequalities and ideas about competence, is necessary. As one participant said, she voted “because every vote matters. You don’t be missing the vote.”