Voting Independently With A Disability Is Possible

When I became old enough to vote, I didn’t think I could because I can’t write due to having cerebral palsy (CP). A few years later, I was in an independent living program which taught me many skills that I needed to know in order to live on my own, and one thing I learned is that I had the right to ask a polling person to assist me in filling out my voting ballot. This helped reduce my fears around voting. So, when the next election came around, my boyfriend– Juan, who also lives with CP and needed help writing– and I decided to go vote for the first time. It took us two and a half hours because there was a long line, then when we finally made it to the front of the line, we had to wait for one polling assistants to become free to help us (one at a time). We both were dissatisfied with the process because we didn’t view it as very fair. We felt uncomfortable because we weren’t taken to a private area, so anyone could have overheard our vote. Plus, we were also discouraged when we realized that even if we were taken to a private area, our vote would never be truly private because the person who assisted us would know how we voted. This discouraged us from voting again for several years.

Then, in 2010, I got a job working with the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities. One of the first projects they had me working on was about voting and trying to get more people with disabilities to get out and exercise their right to vote. While working on the project, I learned about a pair of jelly switches– big round buttons that could be plugged into accessible voting machines to help with the process of voting. These buttons are for people with disabilities who don’t possess good dexterity and fine motor control. These buttons can be placed anywhere needed for them to be accessible. One button allows the voter to move throughout the ballot, while the other was to make selections. I discovered these were perfect for me because I could operate them with my feet. I was excited to be able to cast my ballot by myself and in private!

The next time elections rolled around, there were accessible machines at almost every polling place and I was anxious to put what I had learned into practice. So I went into my polling place and told them I wanted to use the jelly buttons to cast my own ballot. They got the polling person who had been trained on the adaptive equipment. She hooked up the buttons, then we figured out that the best place for me to put them was on the foot pedals of my wheelchair. Then, I spent the next 20-30 minutes casting my own private ballot. When I finished, they were as excited for me as I was for myself. As I walked out of the building with my ‘I Voted’ sticker on me, I had tears in my eyes– as I do right now– because it meant that much to me.


Susie Angel has an Associate’s Degree in Communications from Austin Community College and a Bachelor’s in Magazine Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. She has worked as a secretary/office manager for several years and has experience as a job developer/ job coach for people with disabilities. Susie joined Coalition of Texans with Disabilities (CTD) as a VISTA in 2010 and joined the staff as a part-time employee in 2012. She edits and writes for the monthly e-newsletter, co-coordinates Pen 2 Paper, and heads up CTD’s research department. She sits on the advisory boards for SafePlace and the Austin Interfaith Inclusion Network. Susie was raised in Boston and California before moving to Austin in 1987. Her hobbies include creative writing, dramatic performance, mixed-ability dancing, modelling, and watching baseball with her other half.

Roll the Vote

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.