Ever since the "motor voter law" ... the National Voter Registration Act ... was passed in 1993, getting registered to vote has become as easy as checking off a box on your driver's license application. But the law also contains lesser-known provisions that require human-service agencies to make sure people with disabilities, who may not drive, also get help with registration.
On Aug. 31, the Disability Vote Coalition of PA, made up mostly of the disabled and their advocates, will host an all-day conference in Oakland to raise awareness about the law among social-service agencies, and to offer resources to these agencies to make it easier to comply
The conference also aims to mobilize those with disabilities to put pressure on the agencies serving them.
By law, all agencies receiving state money to serve people with disabilities are required to help clients complete a voter-registration form, unless they decline such help. The agencies must also follow through with their disabled clients, helping them to update their registrations if they move, for instance.
"We're confronting a culture of inactivity," says Paul O'Hanlon, an attorney with the Disabilities Law Project Downtown and one of the conference's organizers. "We need to change that."
Many agencies, O'Hanlon says, either ignore the provision or believe that leaving voter-registration forms in the lobby is sufficient.
But some do much more, like ACCESS Transportation Systems. "The voter registration goes right along with the transportation to enable people to get out and lead as active a life as possible," says company spokesperson Holly Dick.
So far, about 120 people, representing 20 different agencies, have registered for the conference, "Your Vote Is Your Voice." Speakers from national and local groups, such as the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the League of Young Voters, Just Harvest and People for the American Way, will address different aspects of "voterizing" a social-service agency or constituents, as conference literature puts it.
"One of the challenges is that in most human services [agencies], staff are spread very, very thin," says Rachel Freund, who as public education coordinator for the Mental Health Association of Allegheny County is helping to plan the event. "We understand your plate is very full. How can we be a resource to you to make it happen?"
Conference-day registrations taken in the Carnegie Room of the Holiday Inn University Center, 100 Lytton Ave., Oakland; conference begins 8:30 a.m.