By Kiley McLean

In the landscape of American politics, the inclusion of people with disabilities remains a crucial issue, driving forward a more representative and equitable society. Recent legislative efforts highlight a concerted push towards dismantling the barriers that have historically marginalized disabled individuals from actively participating in the political process, whether as voters or as candidates. Among these efforts, three acts stand out for their targeted approaches to enhancing accessibility and inclusivity: The Accessible Voting Act, The Removing Access Barriers to Running for Elected Office for People with Disabilities Act, and The AID (Accessibility and Inclusion to Diversify) Local Government Leadership Act.

The Accessible Voting Act

Senators Bob Casey and Amy Klobuchar introduced The Accessible Voting Act which aims to address the challenges faced by older adults, individuals with disabilities, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and those with limited English proficiency in accessing the voting process. Despite existing laws, significant barriers remain, from physical access issues at polling places to the lack of appropriate resources for understanding and participating in the electoral process. This Act proposes establishing the Office of Accessibility within the Election Assistance Commission, aiming to oversee and support state efforts to make voting more accessible. This Office’s activities will include providing educational resources in plain language to older and disabled adults on their rights and resources when registering to vote and voting. These resources will also be translated for Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and individuals with limited English language proficiency. Other key provisions of the Accessible Voting Act include a state grant program for accessibility improvements, the creation of a national resource center on accessible voting, and expansion of the number of options to cast a ballot.

Co-sponsors:

Senators Klobuchar, Gillibrand, Welch, Van Hollen, Cardin, Merkley, Sanders, Markey, Baldwin, Duckworth, Fetterman, Hirono, Blumenthal

For more information please contact mint_kueakomoldej@aging.senate.gov or michael_gamel-mccormick@aging.senate.gov.

Removing Access Barriers to Running for Elected Office for People with Disabilities Act

Senator Bob Casey is spearheading this legislative effort to ensure that individuals with disabilities can pursue elected office without the risk of losing federal disability benefits. The Act identifies a critical barrier: the potential loss of benefits such as Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability Insurance, and/or Medicaid for those who choose to campaign, which currently deters many from considering a run for office. By amending the Social Security Act, this bill clarifies that campaigning does not constitute work or substantial gainful activity that would otherwise disqualify a person from receiving federal disability benefits, thus encouraging greater participation of people with disabilities in elected roles. This bill is among others seeking to amend outdated SSI savings penalties, including the SSI Savings Penalty Elimination Act.

Co-Sponsors:

Senators Klobuchar, Gillibrand, Padilla, Welch, Van Hollen, Markey, Sanders, Merkley, Whitehouse, Fetterman, Hirono, Blumenthal, Duckworth, Booker

The AID (Accessibility and Inclusion to Diversify) Local Government Leadership Act

This Act, also initiated by Senator Bob Casey, focuses on local governance, recognizing the underrepresentation of people with disabilities in local elected offices. The lack of available funding for necessary accommodations is one barrier to the participation of disabled people in local government. This challenge is particularly true for smaller or economically disadvantaged communities. The AID Local Government Leadership Act proposes providing grants to support accommodations for local elected officials with disabilities and establishing ongoing accommodations funds. This initiative aims to ensure that local governments can meet their obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act and that disabled individuals are empowered to serve their communities effectively. Eligible communities include those that are rural communities, or have a population of less than 10,000 people, or are communities with a population between 10,000 and 200,000 with a federal poverty rate of 18 percent or higher.

Co-Sponsors:

Senators Klobuchar, Gillibrand, Padilla, Welch, Van Hollen, Sanders, Brown, Fetterman, Hirono, Blumenthal, Duckworth

Conclusion

Collectively, these legislative acts represent a forward-thinking approach to fostering a more inclusive and accessible political landscape. By addressing both the voting process and the barriers to running for office, these initiatives promise to significantly change how disabled people can engage with and influence the political process. The support from various organizations and the bipartisan backing in the Senate underscore the broad consensus on the importance of these issues. As these bills make their way through the legislative process, they offer a start and a hopeful vision for a more inclusive and representative political system.

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