By Benjamin Plackett
As primary season reaches fever-pitch, many of us have to worry about more than just who to vote for. Caregivers have to maneuver through the bureaucracy, weigh up the transport options and figure out how to make sure their parents are able to take part in the democratic process too.
These dilemmas are something that caregivers all across the country are familiar with. It's no small problem and not something that anyone should feel alone in facing—experts have the statistics to prove it.
Doug Kruse, a professor at Rutgers University's School of Management and Labor Relations, has studied and compiled a report about the barriers that hampered voter turn out amongst disabled people in the 2012 U.S. elections.
"Somewhere between 3 to 3.5 million more people would vote if they voted at the same rate of non-disabled voters," says Kruse.
He adds that since the challenges in getting disabled people and seniors to the polling place are related, he wouldn't be surprised if a similarly large number of older adults aren't able to exercise their right to vote too.
There are many things that family caregivers can do to help their parents cast a vote. One obvious solution is postal voting, but that's not always as simple as it sounds.
"The difficulty or ease of postal voting varies state by state," explains Lisa Schur, a professor at Rutgers University who works with Kruse. Some states require a reason and proof to allow voters to make their choice by post. "For that reason and others, many people just prefer to vote in person," she says.
Kruse agrees, "I feel that myself. I'm in a wheelchair and frankly I like the fact that people see me in a wheelchair voting. There's a demonstrative value in performing a civic duty. There's a community aspect to it."
So how can you make getting to the polls a less daunting task? Both Kruse and Schur say that preparation is key—try not to leave it too late to get a plan in place, and don't assume it's going to be unworkable.
"More than 40 percent of people in this situation expect problems," says Kruse, "Some of those concerns are realistic but some of that is misinformation." Many polling stations have made accessibility improvements in recent years, making it easier for wheelchair users.
"When we worked on this report," says Schur, "we realized there are several ways to help." Schur recommends taking along a foldable chair to ensure there's a place to rest while in line.
In terms of transport, car service apps like Über or Lyft allow you to choose the size of the car—it's perhaps wise to choose the SUV option so there's room for any mobility equipment. Instead of a regular taxi, it also means you don't have the hassle of settling the bill when you arrive, so you can direct all your attention to helping your parent get out of the car and into the building.
"One of the most common problems people with disabilities faced was understanding the voting technology," continues Schur, "One thing a family caregiver could do is find out what the polling machinery will be used and attempt to explain it or get assistance from a volunteer"
Mainly she recommends doing your home work. "Doing a little extra leg work and going to the polling place ahead of time can make a big difference," she says.
Instead of calling the polling station to ask if it's accessible, try to visit beforehand. A poll worker might think it's accessible, but if they aren't used helping people with mobility issues they may not realize that a small step or the direction a door opens can present significant barriers.
You know best and being able to visualize the space before taking a parent to the polls will help you address challenges before they arise.
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