Last week, my 22-year-old autistic son voted for the very first time. It was a momentous occasion for him. Seeing him exercise his right to vote was an emotional experience, and it got me thinking about what we can learn from his voting journey. Here are a few takeaways that I wanted to share. I also sat down with Gavin, and we talked about his experience on a recent podcast episode. You can also read my previous post about tips to help our kids vote by clicking here.
The Importance of Accessibility
One of the biggest barriers to voting for people with disabilities is accessibility. What many of us fail to realize is that accessibility to voting starts at home. It’s so important that we, as parents, talk to our kids about the importance of voting, gauge their interest, and ensure they can exercise their right to vote, should they desire to do so. There are many assumptions made about those with disabilities, including those with autism, and one of those assumptions is that they are incapable of or uninterested in voting. We need to fix that.
While The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures that people with disabilities have physical access to the voting booth, that’s only part of the battle. We need to also make sure that our kids are educated on the process, encouraged to participate if they wish to, allowed to have their own thoughts, feelings and opinions, as well as having a safe space to discuss them prior to voting.
We need to make sure that our kids know that their opinion matters and that we will do whatever it takes to ensure their right to participate in our democracy.
The Power of Community
My son’s disability can sometimes make him feel isolated from the world around him. But when he went to vote, he was filled with a sense of pride and purpose. He felt more connected to the world around him and that’s very positive. He was greeted warmly by the poll workers, who went out of their way to make sure he understood the process and felt comfortable. There were some issues with his signature, and the workers were very patient with him as we sorted through it. We all deserve to feel a sense of community and people with disabilities are no exception.
Being a part of the community is important as is being treated with dignity and respect. As a parent I’m grateful to the poll workers who never made Gavin feel like an inconvenience or a bother because he needed additional help.
The Importance of Representation
We often talk about the importance of representation, but what does that even mean? Representation is much more than one person speaking for a larger group of people and representing their views. It’s so important that people see others who look like them in our government. Everyone deserves to see themselves represented in their government, regardless of their race, gender, how they identify, their sexual orientation, or disability—because when you don’t see yourself reflected in those who are making decisions on your behalf, it can be easy to feel like your voice doesn’t matter. Voting matters and everyone deserves equal access to the polls.
Last week was a special one for our family—my autistic son voted for the very first time! Seeing him participate in our democracy was an amazing experience, and it got me thinking about what we can learn from his journey. From the importance of accessibility to the power of community, there are plenty of lessons we can take away from Gavin’s voting experience. And above all else, it reminded me of how important it is for everyone to have a voice in our government—no matter who they are or what they look like.