I am an individual with a disability, diverse needs, and I am also civically engaged and politically active. I’ve discovered that it is nearly impossible for me to shy away from my civic duties and the issues that affect me the most. You can thank former First Lady Barbara Bush for this, as one of the most defining civic moments was when I was eight, and I gave her a tour of the residential care facility in which I lived at the time. When she asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My response was, “I want to be the first female President of the United States, but I don’t know. I have this wheelchair thing.” Mrs. Bush reminded me that one of our great presidents, FDR, also had a wheelchair thing. She also said that the MOST important thing I could do was register to vote when I turned 18.
This event inspired me to learn as much as I could about the political process and the various levels of governance. On my 18th birthday, I decided to follow the advice of Mrs. Bush and I registered to vote. It is the best decision I’ve made in my life. Ever.
Registering to vote was an uncomplicated process for me. Being informed on the issues and candidates: that was a little more challenging. I don’t speak political acronyms or legalese. Finding people who could explain things to me in an understandable manner, without treating me as intellectually inferior, was dang near impossible.
I heard a saying once that goes like this: “What’s the best way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time, of course.” I promised myself that I would approach political involvement and voting the same. Even today, I take one bite at a time, and one step at a time. I spend months reading and researching issues, ballot initiatives, and candidates so I am comfortable and confident in my decisions.
I continued to pay attention to major milestones in the disability community. In 1990 the ADA was signed into law, the same day I left the residential care facility where I had met Mrs. Bush. I spent the rest of my formative years in a small town (400-ish people) in a very rural state. South Dakota has an approximate total population of 800,000. With numbers that small, I realized that every vote is very important; it all matters.
I continued to play an active part in civics and in 2002 I was very thankful for the passage of the Help America Vote Act. This act provided information, resources and technologies which have made the voting process much easier for me. However, improved access and information does not automatically eliminate ignorance. That’s what humor is for.
In the 2014 US Senate election for South Dakota, I was happy to vote for former governor M. Mike Rounds. I had spent months volunteering for his campaign. I was anxious-nervous, anxious-excited (like a kid at Christmas) as Election Day dawned. I went to vote.
This was the first time I was ever voting in a community that was not my hometown, and in a midsized city in South Dakota. The poll watcher, who was rather elderly, asked to see my driver’s license. No problem. She asked me to sign the register. Then, she stopped herself, “Honey, can you write your name?” “What?” “Do you know how to write?” Uh, yeah. The woman behind me in line, whom I’ve known for years, goes “Kati can not only write her name, she can spell it, too.” “What?” “I’ll have you know the woman you are speaking about is college educated, and intelligent.” “Oh. Sorry.” I signed in, went to vote and didn’t think any more about the issue. The uninformed woman, was effusively apologetic. “I just didn’t know they let your kind vote.” “Really, what kind is that…humankind?” Well, no, uh…
Subsequently, I’ve seen the poll-watcher at various events in the community. I feel like I should write her a thank you note. I genuinely appreciate her. She is a constant reminder for me that while we, as the Disability Community, have come a long way, we still have much work to do to be seen and valued as equals. It is people like this woman who continuously emphasize just how important my vote is, and why it is vital that I show up to the poll.
In the 1990s, there was a movement called ROCK THE VOTE, to register and politically engage young people. With the upcoming presidential election, the time has come to ROLL THE VOTE, to register and politically engage people with diverse needs and disabilities.
Kati is a small town, South Dakota woman who rolls through life. She is simply trying her best to positively change the world. The former governor for whom she voted is now United States Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD), and it is Kati’s pleasure to work for him as an administrative assistant and researcher in one of his regional offices.