Partner Spotlight: Detroit Disability Power

Partner Spotlight: Detroit Disability Power

Our friends Detroit Disability Power (DDP), a social justice organization in Metro Detroit, are on mission to build the political power of the disability community. July is Disability Pride Month, an annual celebration of the 1990 passage of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Despite the ADA’s passage, the disability community experiences disproportionate barriers when it comes to exercising the freedom to vote.

Detroit Disability Power Executive Director Dessa Cosma (left) and Voting Access and Election Protection Fellow Kenia Flores (right). 

For this Partnerships Spotlight, we spoke with Detroit Disability Power Executive Director Dessa Cosma and Voting Access and Election Protection Fellow Kenia Flores about the importance of DDP’s work and what can be done to ensure our democracy works for the disability community. 

Q: Who and what is Detroit Disability Power (DDP)? What is the work that Detroit Disability Power (DDP) does and why is it important? 

Dessa, DDP Executive Director: Detroit Disability Power is a social justice organization working to dismantle systemic oppression and build political power with and for the disability community. Because all issues have a disability angle, we work on a lot of different things, ranging from accessible, affordable housing, to healthcare access, to transportation and voting rights. Currently, people with disabilities are not doing well as a group. We are at the bottom of every quality of life index, especially if we are disabled and Ppeople of Ccolor, LGBTQ, low-income, etc. However, this is not inevitable! Changing mainstream culture’s perception of disability, educating people about ableism (the systemic discrimination of people with disabilities), building power, and organizing our community and allies is how we change the world and our place in it. 

Q: What are some barriers to accessing the ballot that people with disabilities face in our democracy? 

Kenia, DDP Voting Access and Election Protection Fellow: Many of the barriers disabled people face are in regards to polling places themselves. Some of the barriers we often see are lack of accessible parking or entrances, lack of accessible booths for wheelchair users, and lack of accessible voter access terminals for blind voters. Additionally, a significant number of states have transitioned to vote-by-mail. However, they often fail to include an accessible way for individuals with print disabilities to vote privately and independently. Furthermore, some states have begun criminalizing the act of assisting people with disabilities to cast their ballot, making it more difficult for disabled people to participate in our democracy.

Q: How can we be better prepared to accommodate people with disabilities in future elections? 

Kenia: We need to standardize the training provided to poll workers and ensure they feel confident assisting a disabled person on election day. We must also allocate funding to ensure polling places are accessible to disabled voters. We must ensure vote-by-mail policies account for voters with print disabilities. Lastly, we must fight against legislation that imposes additional barriers for disabled people.

How do you see policies like Proposal 2 helping make our elections more accessible? 

Dessa: Because disabilities are so diverse, what members of our community need to access the ballot is varied.  Therefore, when we expand voting options and increase flexibility of how, when, and where people vote, we inevitably make voting more accessible for disabled people. Having more time to vote is critical as many of us rely on others for transportation and other logistics that can make getting to a polling location on a single day challenging. By expanding early voting, accepting different types of identification, funding more drop boxes, and allowing people to sign up to permanently receive absentee ballots, Prop 2 makes voting less of a hassle for everyone, especially disabled voters. 

Thank you, Dessa, Kenia and the entire Detroit Disability Power team for the important work you are doing to empower the disability community in Michigan!

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