"In 2008 our country reached the 18th anniversary of"
CCAR Bulletin October 2008 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? 1 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 workers. 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 http://rac.org/pdf/index.cfm?id=2850. 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. 2 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. Submitted by: 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 202-237-5620 email@example.com "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, 3:4 3