Longtime Buffalo disabilities advocate discusses voting challenges and who ‘matters to politicians’

Oct 12, 2020

Nearly one in six American voters eligible to participate in November’s elections is living with a disability, according to a new report by researchers at Rutgers University. WBFO spoke to longtime Buffalo disabilities advocate Mike Rogers about what that means during an unprecedented election season.

Rogers is co-chair of the VOICE-Buffalo Accessibility-Disability Task Force. He is also living with cerebral palsy.

“Voting is very important for people with developmental [disabilities] and people with disabilities in general,” Rogers said. “As a community, we have been making sure that people know that they can vote [and] how to vote.”

Many states, including New York, have expanded access to absentee ballots in order to help Americans safely exercise their constitutional right to vote amid the coronavirus pandemic. However, mail-in voting still presents challenges for some people living with disabilities. Some individuals, for example, aren’t able to write by hand while others with visual impairments may not be able to read a printed ballot.

Rogers added that some people living with disabilities may also rely on the help of other individuals to access and complete ballots.

“A lot of times it’s difficult with staffing shortages. Like, group homes don’t always put that at the center of something they’re thinking about for a typical week or day,” Rogers said. “So, if someone wants to vote they’ve really got to make that a priority for themselves and make that known to the people who support them.”

Similarly, COVID-19 restrictions are also jeopardizing the voting ability of hundreds of thousands of nursing home residents and people living in other long-term care facilities, an investigation by the nonprofit journalism organization ProPublica found in August.

Still, Rogers said the task force he co-leads has broader goals beyond the November 2020 elections. His work, he said, is advocating for “people with disabilities being recognized in society as voters, as constituents [and] as people that matter to politicians.”

Rogers also said he sees a strong link between securing greater rights for people living with disabilities and the nationwide movement for racial justice sparked by the Memorial Day police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“I think that the recent societal focus on civil rights gives us an opportunity to become part of the conversation, to go out and work with other communities and say ‘We’re part of this too. We’re here to support you. We would love to have you support us,’” Rogers said. “The self-advocacy movement for people with developmental disabilities is a civil rights movement.”