By Donald McGuire, Father
As the parent of a son with special needs who is now of voting age, I’ve realized the importance of teaching him about his right to vote and guiding him through the process.
The act of voting is not just a civic duty but a symbol of independence, self-expression, and participation in the democratic process. In this blog post, I want to share my experience and insights that i’ve learned as a parent, while offering a comprehensive guide on preparing individuals with special needs for the important task of voting in the United States.
Understanding the Candidates and Issues
The first step in this journey is helping your voting age child with special needs to understand the candidates and issues. Start by discussing who the candidates are, their backgrounds, and what they stand for. Simplifying their platforms and their potential impact on society could be helpful. Consider using accessible resources like visual aids, simplified language, and audio recordings to make the information more accessible and digestible.
Please encourage them to ask questions and express their opinions. Some individuals may have strong feelings about certain issues, and respecting their perspectives is essential, even if they differ from your own. Remember, the goal is to help them and allow them to form their own opinions and choices.
Navigating the Voting Process
Explaining voting mechanics is also essential to ensure your child can cast their ballot independently. Start by describing the steps involved in voting, from registering to the actual voting day.
Registration: Ensure your child is registered to vote. If they need clarification on their registration status, assist them in checking or re-registering. Emphasize the significance of staying updated and the deadlines for voter registration.
Voting Locations: Show them where their polling place is and explain how to get there. Some may prefer early voting or mail-in ballots, depending on their preferences and accessibility. Be sure they know the options available to them.
The Voting Booth: Many voting sites provide a blank sample ballot that can help individuals familiarize themselves with the layout. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals with special needs who may require extra time to process information. Teach them how to mark their choices clearly and neatly.
Accommodations and Support
Regardless of their abilities, every voter is entitled to accommodations that ensure an accessible voting experience. Before Election Day, inquire about the available accommodations at your local polling place and request any specific assistance your child might need.
Curbside Voting: Some polling places offer curbside voting for individuals with mobility challenges. Ensure your child knows about this option.
Assistive Devices: Many voting locations provide accessible voting machines equipped with features like large print, audio, and tactile interfaces. You can familiarize your child with these machines if they are available.
Provisional Ballots: Make sure your child knows about provisional ballots, which can be used for any issues with their registration or identification.
The Importance of Voting
Emphasize the importance of voting as an individual with special needs. Explain that their vote is a way of participating in the democratic process, influencing decisions that impact their lives, and expressing their preferences. Stress that their voice matters and voting is a powerful way to make it heard.
Encourage Informed Voting
Individuals with special needs should not just vote; they should vote informed… as should all people. Encourage your child to stay informed about current events, policies, and candidates beyond election season. This will help them make more informed decisions and increase their engagement with the political process.
Offer Support and Encouragement
As a parent, your support and encouragement are invaluable. Be patient and understanding, and celebrate their participation in the democratic process, regardless of the outcome. Every vote counts, and voting itself triumphs in independence and engagement.
Helping a voting age child with special needs to vote is a fulfilling and meaningful endeavor. By guiding them through the process, teaching them about the candidates and issues, and advocating for their rights to accessible voting, you empower them to participate in democracy and make their voices heard. As parents, we play a crucial role in ensuring everyone can exercise their fundamental right to vote regardless of their abilities.
So, whether it’s your own child or someone you know, take the initiative to help them prepare for Election Day. In doing so, you’ll nurture their sense of independence and foster a deeper connection to the values that make our nation great.
Donald McGuire is the father of Kieran McGuire. Kieran is an informed voter who encourages all to exercise their right and obligation to vote.