Getting Out the Vote
This year, our country marked the 18th anniversary of the Americans
with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). As a rabbi with a disability, the 18 th
anniversary held special meaning for me. The ADA literally gave new life
to Americans with disabilities by tearing down physical barriers, making
discrimination illegal, and creating new opportunities for education and
employment. But as Senator Harkin (D-Iowa), an original sponsor of the
ADA said at a summer ADA celebration on Capitol Hill, “With the ADA,
we have climbed the mountain and reached the top, but we still have not
fully arrived at the Promised Land.”
In other words, we have much to do.
Among the immediate priorities is making sure that Americans with
disabilities, who number more than 50 million people, get out to the polls on
election day. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was followed by the National
Voting Rights Act of 1965, ensuring that Americans of color were not
prevented from voting. Although the ADA was followed with similar
legislation, greater effort must be devoted to enforcement of the law.
How can we as congregational or community-based rabbis help?
In reality, many polling places are still inaccessible in various ways.
One of the most significant accessibility problems is ill-informed poll
workers who do not know how to use the accessible voting machines or are
unaware some people with disabilities are allowed to have an aide of their
choice accompany them into the booth. It would be a real service if every
rabbi appealed for people to volunteer to be poll workers. Volunteers just
need to contact their local election board. It is not too late for this
November’s election and just about every jurisdiction is still short of poll
All rabbis should read the URJ Commission on Social Action’s “Get
Out the Vote 2008 Guide.” Pages 6 & 7 in the guide are devoted to
assisting voters with disabilities, listing practical suggestions and vital
information. This PDF document can be found at
A crucial first step is encouraging trustworthy people to check in
advance that local polling places are fully accessible to individuals with
disabilities. Keep an eye out for elevators, lifts, ramps, disability-accessible
parking spots, etc. Where such accessibility aids do not exist, contact your
local Board of Elections to address these issues.
Some synagogues have developed a list of volunteers who will drive
people with disabilities and/or seniors to polling places. Now is the time to
create such a list; then, by means of emails, fliers and Web sites, publicize
that rides are available and detail how they can be ascertained.
The number of Americans with disabilities is staggering, an invisible
minority. If these Americans were able to vote, they could have a significant
and tremendous impact on each party’s agenda for the next presidential
administration, as well as on the 111th Congress.
Rabbi Lynne Landsberg
Chair, CCAR Ad Hoc Committee on Disability Awareness & Inclusion
Senior Advisor on Disability Issues
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
URJ Department of Jewish Family Concerns
"Treat no one lightly and think nothing is useless, for everyone has a
moment and everything has a place." --Pirke Avot, Ethics of Our Fathers,