According to a 2016 study, if people with disabilities voted at the same rate as people without disabilities with the same demographic characteristics, there would be roughly 2.2 million more voters. This alarming statistic stems from a variety of factors, particularly non-accessible polling places across the United States. Elected officials make a number of decisions that directly impact people with disabilities, and it is crucial that everyone can participate in the process. On this election day, we want to highlight how one of Triangle’s programs works to change this statistic by enabling people of all abilities to exercise their right to vote.
EPIC (Empowering People for Inclusive Communities) empowers youth with disabilities to be actively engaged community leaders. EPIC cultivates young trailblazers who engage in service projects, community trainings, and support groups that aim to educate the public and encourage open dialogue, especially through their Service Warrior program. In this innovative year-long community service and leadership development program, Service Warriors participate in a variety of trainings to assist them as they transition into adulthood, including goal setting, political advocacy and civic engagement, résumé building, and financial management to better prepare them to reach their personal goals.
All Service Warriors are required to register or pre-register to vote. Additionally, EPIC hosts a political literacy day at City Hall every summer to empower youth with disabilities to take charge of what matters to them. Service Warriors learn about voting accommodations, and sit down with city councilors to ask any questions they want. They can see firsthand the value in using their voices to advocate for what matters. After meeting with city councilors, they meet with someone from the Mayor’s office that focuses on disability services. They also delve into the history of elections, and identify the barriers to voting that people with disabilities have faced over time.
Armed with this knowledge, Service Warriors shift their focus to media literacy. They discuss the different ways information is presented in news stories, and have an open discussion about discerning truth from fiction in the media.
They analyze the various ways that news outlets are able to manipulate information by changing how the facts are presented. Having the understanding to separate fact from fiction in the news allows Service Warriors to formulate opinions and make decisions without being influenced by inaccurate sources.
Having completed this full day of media and political literacy training, Service Warriors are able to tackle the voting process, knowing exactly how to best fulfill their needs and wishes. As Lyndon B. Johnson once said, “A man without a vote is a man without protection.” As a community with a lot at stake in elections, we are glad that EPIC is prioritizing the power of education and civic engagement!