More than 10 percent of Illinois residents are living with a disability, and this week the focus is on making sure they get an equal chance to vote.
It's National Disability Voter Registration Week. Cheryl Jansen, public policy director for the group Equip for Equality, says historically, people with disabilities have been underrepresented at the polls for a variety of reasons.
"The physical inaccessibility of polling places and equipment," Jansen says. "There have also been problems with discriminatory practices and attitudes of poll workers and election officials, guardians and caretakers."
But she says in the past decade, federal protections have helped polling places become more accessible. If someone does notice accessibility problems at a polling site, she says they can help by reporting it to the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Because turnout has been low for voters with disabilities, Jansen is urging Illinois election officials to take accessibility issues seriously, to help turn that trend around.
"It's important that every voter, including voters with disabilities, have full and equal access to the electoral process," she states. "That's part of why these federal laws were passed, to address some of the barriers and iniquities that existed."
Jansen notes the state has recently made changes to help as well. They include setting up same-day and mail-in voting processes.
"There definitely are more options for voters who aren't able to get to the polling place on Election Day," she says. "And under the current requirements for vote-by-mail, anyone can request a ballot in the mail without having to give any kind of a reason or excuse."
Illinois voters can request vote-by-mail applications starting on August 10.