Understanding how to better communicate with voters with disabilities – regardless of access to the internet – is crucial to making elections more accessible.
For people with disabilities, accessing voting information online can be challenging, so election officials need to improve offline communications with the disability community, according to a new study.
Conducted by the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) in partnership with Rutgers University, “Disability, the Voting Process, and the Digital Divide” identifies both the progress and gaps in accessibility for voters with disabilities.
The national survey found that people with disabilities are less likely to use computers than those without disabilities, with 86% of disabled respondents saying they use some form of computing device, compared to 95% of people without disabilities.
When it comes to finding information on where to vote and the voting process, nearly three-fourths of people with disabilities said they received information on the voting process and where to vote from non-internet-based sources, such as printed mailings from the election office, followed by television and talking to family members, friends, neighbors or colleagues.
When they did turn to the internet for information, people with disabilities said they preferred to consult election office websites, which were trusted equally by people with and without disabilities.
Internet users — both disabled and those with without disabilities — were substantially more likely than non-users to have voted in 2020, suggesting the greater participation of online users may partly result from greater access to voting information, the survey said.
Among those who voted in 2020, people with disabilities were far more likely to have voted using a mail ballot (45% compared to 37% among voters without disabilities).
The study illuminates “the longstanding and critical consequences of the digital divide between people with and without disabilities,” the authors said. To cross the divide, election officials should provide voting information in both online and offline formats to ensure that those with disabilities can obtain the information they need. Additionally, long-term efforts should target expanding internet access for people with disabilities — particularly those with low incomes or who live in rural areas.
“The internet is of large and growing importance in social and political life, but we find that 7.5 million eligible voters with disabilities do not have internet access,” said Professor Lisa Schur, co-director of the Rutgers Program for Disability Research and one of the report’s authors. “The internet provides access to election information and social networks that mobilize voting, and the reduced internet access of people with disabilities contributes to their lower levels of voter turnout…. It is essential to provide election information in multiple formats so that all citizens are able to exercise the right to vote.”