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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

Civil Rights & the ADA

Action Alert: Tell Your of State to Support Use of HAVA Funds for Election Accessibility

Recently, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission secured over $380 million in grants to improve election accessibility and security following the 2016 election. These grants were provided under Section 101 of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which explicitly talks about using funds to make voting more accessible. You can find your state’s grant amount at the Election Assistance Commission website. Each state will have federal funds along with state-granted five percent matching funds to make security updates and accessibility updates can include buying new election infrastructure, making election websites more accessible, or beta testing new election equipment.

NCIL logo - National Council on Independent LivingDue to concerns about hacking, there may be a significant push for these funds to be used entirely for security purposes and to focus less on accessibility. However, inaccessibility is still a major barrier to voting for people with disabilities, and a 2012 report by Rutgers University found that over 30 percent of people with disabilities experienced at least one difficulty in casting their ballots, as compared to only 8.5 percent of people without disabilities. Therefore, Secretaries of State need input and advocacy from the disability community to inform them that accessibility is a priority and still a significant need in election systems across the country. We ask you to call your Secretary of State and advocate for these grant funds to be used on election accessibility, including election website accessibility, buying new election infrastructure, and beta testing new accessible election technology.

If you have any questions, please contact Sarah Blahovec at or 202-207-0334 ext. 1103.

Action Alert: Plan for National Disability Voter Registration Week

Since 2016, the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) have worked in partnership on the REV UP Campaign to increase the political participation of people with disabilities.

The REV UP Campaign, launched by AAPD in 2016, is a nonpartisan initiative that coordinates with national, state, and local disability organizations to increase the political power of the disability community while also engaging candidates and the media on disability issues. The Campaign focuses on voter registration, education, access, and engagement. REV UP stands for Register! Educate! Vote! Use your Power!

Today, NCIL and AAPD are reaching out to invite Centers for Independent Living to participate in National Disability Voter Registration Week (NDVRW) this year from July 16-20, 2018 to get more people with disabilities registered to vote and engaged in the political process in advance of the 2018 midterm elections.

The REV UP Campaign developed a National Disability Voter Registration Week Toolkit to help organizations and advocates plan their involvement in NDVRW.  [Read more…]

Including People with Disabilities in Your Political Campaign: A Guide for Campaign Staff

Although one in six voters has a disability, the disability community is often not recognized as an engaged voting constituency. Citizens with disabilities want to be engaged in the voting process; they want to learn about candidates, show up at the polls, and engage in campaigns. Unfortunately, there are many barriers to civic engagement for people with disabilities. Some of these barriers, such as impediments to voting accessibility, are issues that disability advocacy organizations and the government study and work to improve continuously. However, there’s very little information and few resources available to campaigns related to accessibility and voters with disabilities.

NCIL logo - National Council on Independent LivingCampaigns are essential components of civic engagement. They are where prospective voters can meet candidates, learn about what problems and solutions are being discussed in their communities, and form opinions that will influence their vote. Campaigns must connect with their communities and learn about their interests so that they can understand their voters’ needs. If a campaign isn’t accessible, they aren’t able to connect with their community fully, and many prospective voters with disabilities can experience barriers to learning about or participating in a campaign. Furthermore, campaigns are often powered by volunteers, and if they aren’t accessible, they’re both cutting off essential help and creating barriers to civic participation for people with disabilities who wish to be involved in the political process. It is up to campaigns to make sure that their information and events are accessible to voters with disabilities, and that they are reaching out to the disability community to actively include them.

To assist political campaigns with understanding the access needs, potential barriers, and interests of the disability community, the National Council on Independent Living has created “Including People with Disabilities in Your Political Campaign: A Guide for Campaign Staff.” This guide is a basic resource that campaigns at the local, state, and national levels can use to learn how they can become accessible not only to voters with disabilities, but also to people who want to volunteer with the campaign. It addresses the basics of understanding people with disabilities as a voting bloc; different types of potential accommodations for people with different disabilities; making your campaign website, materials, and events accessible; integrating disability into your policy platform; and including volunteers with disabilities in your campaign.

Including People with Disabilities in Your Political Campaign: A Guide for Campaign Staff:

This guide is a first step to making your campaign accessible, and although we strive to make it as inclusive and thorough as possible, it is not intended to be the one and only way to make your campaign accessible. Also note that accessibility is not a one-time fix, but something that must be continuously considered and integrated to be successful. It is essential for campaigns to reach out to people with disabilities in their community and learn about their interests and needs as voters and volunteers. If you have any questions about this guide, please contact Sarah Blahovec, Disability Vote Organizer, at

Participate in the #DisabilityInclusiveDisasterPrep Video Challenge! 

Prior to their 2018 National Getting It Right Conference in Washington, DC from May 23 to 25, the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies has announced a #DisabilityInclusiveDisasterPrep Video Challenge. They would like members of the disability community to submit short videos (1 to 2 minutes) explaining why emergency preparedness professionals need to include people with disabilities throughout their disaster planning process. The first 20 submissions will receive free registration for the online webcast of the Getting it Right Conference in May. You can find out more information on how to submit a video below and in their Google Document. If you need any assistance or have any questions, please email[Read more…]

2018 Midterm Election, Step One: The Primaries

An Update from the NCIL Voting Rights Subcommittee

NCIL logo - National Council on Independent LivingNow that we’re on our way into 2018, mainstream media is focusing intensely on the 2018 midterm elections, and voting rights organizations across the country are buzzing about the importance of showing up to the polls in November. However, civic participation isn’t just a once-every-other-November event; unfortunately, many Americans don’t understand that they can and should engage in voting-related activities prior to November elections. Furthermore, many people focus solely on the national-level election and don’t pay attention to local and state elections. Here are four ways you or your organization can become informed about civic participation outside of the November general election.

1. Learn about your state’s primary elections. Primary elections are elections held before the fall general election, and they tend to have lower turnout than general elections. These elections vary state-to-state in how they operate, but they help to narrow down the list of candidates that will appear on the ballot in the November general election for each party. Some of these primaries are “closed,” meaning that voters can only participate if they have declared a party affiliation, and they can only vote for the parties with which they are affiliated. In open primaries, voters do not have to declare a party affiliation. To find out more about your state’s primaries, how they operate, and when they will be held, visit the National Conference of State Legislators[Read more…]

NCD Report Examines “Civil Death” of the Rights of People with Disabilities and the Elderly under Guardianships, Calls on Department of Justice to Ensure Full and Fair Due Process Rights

Source: NCD

The National Council on Disability (NCD) – an independent federal advisory body – has released a seminal national report that thoroughly examines guardianship – the process through which an adult can be found legally incapable of making decisions for him or herself and another adult appointed to make decisions on behalf of that individual – in view of the estimated 1.3 million Americans subject to guardianship and the goals of longstanding national disability rights policy.

“Former Congressman Claude Pepper famously said of guardianships, ‘The typical [person subject to guardianship] has fewer rights than the typical convicted felon… It is, in one short sentence, the most punitive civil penalty that can be levied against an American citizen, with the exception, of course, of the death penalty,’” said Phoebe Ball, NCD Legislative Affairs Specialist who worked extensively on the report. “NCD chose to examine this topic at depth given the implications for someone’s civil rights and liberty under guardianship – that an individual is losing the authority to make decisions regarding where to live, whether to work and where, where to travel, with whom to socialize, and how to manage money and property. We need to explore alternatives to guardianship such as supported decision making that enable people to avoid this civil death.”

The findings and recommendations in the report, Beyond Guardianship: Toward Alternatives that Promote Greater Self-Determination for People with Disabilities, are the product of qualitative research on the experiences with guardianship and decision making alternatives of people with disabilities, their families, and professionals within the guardianship system gleaned through interviews; in addition to an extensive review of relevant scholarship and recent studies. Read a summary of findings and recommendations at

Senator Tammy Duckworth and 42 Other Senators Pledge to Protect the ADA!

Yesterday 43 Senators sent a letter written by Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) to Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) pledging to protect the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) from notification bills like the ADA Education and Reform Act (H.R. 620). This letter comes on the heels of House passage of H.R. 620 and some GOP Senators expressing support for seeing a similar bill in the Senate. This group of 43 Senators is large enough to block any similar measure in the Senate.

Thank you to our NCIL members across the country who have contacted their Members of Congress repeatedly and urged them protect the ADA! The most recent efforts by disability advocates to ensure that our Senators know the dangers of bills like H.R. 620 have all but guaranteed that this Senate will not have the votes to gut the ADA.

This letter is a huge win in the fight to protect the ADA. We are incredibly grateful to Senator Duckworth for her leadership on this issue, and for authoring a letter that so clearly states how dangerous and misguided bills like H.R. 620 are – and how important the ADA is. However, if history has taught us anything, we know the efforts to roll back our rights are not over. Bills like this have been introduced for years, and the business community is unlikely to stop trying to chip away at the ADA. We must continue to follow federal and state threats to our rights, and we will keep you updated on this issue and any advocacy needs that arise. NCIL, other disability rights organizations, and disabled folks around the country have long been prepared to fight efforts to undermine the ADA; we now have 43 Senators who have pledged to fight alongside us.  [Read more…]

Pew Charitable Trusts Reports on Guardianship and Voter Disenfranchisement

On March 21, 2018, Pew Charitable Trusts published an in-depth article on the issue of voting rights for people with disabilities under guardianship laws. According to the article, 1.5 million people are under guardianship nationwide, and in 39 states and Washington, D.C., laws allow judges to strip voting rights from those who are determined to be “incapacitated” or “incompetent.” However, there is no set standard to determine who can vote and who is deemed unable to do so. This article discusses the disenfranchisement of these citizens and efforts to create clear standards and restore voting rights to thousands of people with disabilities who understand and wish to participate in the voting process.  A circular button that says "VOTE" and has red and blue stripes with white stars

Pew Charitable Trusts Covers Voter Access for People with Disabilities

Kathy Hoell sits in her wheelchair in front of a cameraman. A woman walks to her right.In a February article entitled “How Voters with Disabilities are Blocked From the Ballot Box,” Pew Charitable Trusts interviewed several NCIL Voting Rights Subcommittee members about accessibility at the polls for people with disabilities, including Kathy Hoell, cochair of the subcommittee, and Michelle Bishop, Voting Rights Advocate at National Disability Rights Network. The piece discusses many of the common barriers to voting for people with disabilities, including poll worker training, physical accessibility, and problems with the setup of the accessible machine. It also profiles West Virginia’s challenge with the gap between voters with and without disabilities, and Colorado’s successes in voting access. Thank you to Michelle and Kathy for their continued voting rights advocacy!

NCIL Senate Letter To Protect the ADA: One More Chance to Sign on Your Organization!

Last year, NCIL sent House leadership a letter signed by 507 organizations urging them to oppose H.R. 620, the ADA Education and Reform act of 2017. On February 15, H.R. 620 passed through the House. Our fight now moves to the Senate, where we must urge them not to take up this dangerous bill!

NCIL logo - National Council on Independent LivingAs a reminder, the original letter was a response to a letter from the business community titled “It’s Time to Restore the Integrity of the ADA” (PDF). Sent on the 27th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, members of the business community celebrated the anniversary by diminishing this historic civil rights legislation and expressing their support for H.R. 620.

Now that the House has passed H.R. 620, NCIL is re-opening the letter for signatories and moving on to the Senate. We have updated the letter, and it will be sent to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chick Schumer.

We encourage you to add your organization as a signatory.

See a list of current signatories. If your organization signed on to the House letter, you will be kept on as a signatory. If you would like to remove your organization from the letter, please contact Eleanor at no later than March 2, 2018.

The deadline to sign on is Friday, March 2, 2018. Please join us as we fight this dangerous bill!