FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (DC News Now) — The group REV UP Virginia is pushing for people with disabilities to register to vote.
REV UP, which stands for “register, educate, vote and use your power,” was started by the American Association of People with Disabilities in 2016.
Joseph Albert, a volunteer for the group, is autistic and has an auditory processing disorder. He said in 2020 he was overwhelmed by a crowded and loud precinct.
“I went in and it was incredibly packed. The noise was incredibly overwhelming,” he said. “At that moment, I was a deer in the headlights. With all those people there, at that point, if I hadn’t had a family member with me to guide me through that process I probably would have left.”
He said moments such as those demonstrate why voting accommodations are so crucial for voters.
“That would’ve meant a person with a disability not voting. That’s why it’s incredibly important to have things like mail-in ballots, accessible voting and curbside voting,” he said.
For people like Albert, voting has very real consequences – policies can impact his quality of life very quickly.
“I think vote as if your life depends on it. Because it does. The source of change comes in those who represent us. I’ve lived the ill effects of votes, I’ve lived the victories of votes. I’ve seen my life get better and get worse from policies. I know from other disabled people, they’ve had the same experiences. Being able to do something about it is incredibly empowering,” he said.
Benjamin Breaux, 23, of Fairfax, is a speaker and advocate for people with disabilities. Through his aid and a speech device, he told DC News Now that awareness of accommodations is crucial for him to exercise his right to vote.
“I personally need a qualified support person, a trained communication regulation partner to be precise, to help me communicate and vote, and to get me to a polling location. Without the supports and understanding of my competence, I would be unable to vote. So many others are not as lucky as I am in many ways,” Breaux said.
Breaux also said that he wasn’t exposed to the same voter registration resources in public high school as his neurotypical peers were.
“I was not receiving any information on voting or registering to vote from anybody except my mom. If not for her, I would know have been knowledgeable about how to exercise my right,” he said.
On Thursday, REVUP VA will hold an event at George Mason University to elevate voting rights issues among people with disabilities. Fairfax County supervisors will join to sign a proclamation, naming this week Disabilities Voting Rights Week.