Voters with mental and physical disabilities encouraged to exercise ‘your right’

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One group of voters, who may face physical or mental challenges, are encouraged to exercise their rights

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – It’s just 13 days until the November Election. One group of voters, who may face physical or mental challenges, are encouraged to exercise their rights.

“I think there are probably some misconceptions that people think that individuals with developmental disabilities, intellectual disabilities, may not have the right to vote or they’d be seen as incompetent to vote, and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Bill Whitacre, superintendent of the Mahoning County Board of Developmental Disabilities.

In the state of Ohio, there are only four requirements to vote:

  • You must be a U.S. citizen
  • At least 18 years old
  • Have lived in Ohio for at least 30 days
  • Registered to vote

William Clark has cerebral palsy. He wants others in the disabled community to know their rights.

“They have to be empowered at an early age that you can vote. Regardless of your physical status or your mental status, you can vote,” Clark said.

Whitacre has been working with the disabled community for more than 30 years. He wants people to know they have the right and the ability to make their own decision at the polls.

“It just comes down to, again, that basic fundamental human right as a citizen to be able to express your voice in whatever capacity you have the ability to,” he said. “You get to vote how you want, not how your guardian would like you to. It is still your individual choice as to who or what issues you would like to vote for or against.”

Polling places have requirements and offer resources for disabled voters. These individuals are also allowed to bring someone with them to the polls. That’s what Gene Phillips does because of his vision problems.

“It is very important to vote. I prefer to vote in person on Election Day. My staff goes with me, and I have someone read and mark the ballot for me,” Phillips said.

Disabled community advocates say it’s important not to forget about these people, especially during an election. Their vote matters.

“Pick up a pamphlet, read a book and talk to a disabled person, not in a pandering way. Ask them how do you feel about this election? How does this election affect you? Because there might be things that you, as an abled-body person, don’t know affects a disabled person” Phillips said.

One vote for every person no matter their physical or mental circumstances.

“Nothing separates us at that point. When we all walk into the polls, we’re all equal because we all have the same right to do what we think is best for us and our fellow man,” Whitacre said.

Mahoning County residents will see Issue 2 on their ballots again this year. It is the Mahoning County Board of Developmental Disabilities renewal levy. Here are a few points about the issue:

  • The 3 mil levy is a renewal and will not involve new taxes
  • It was first passed in 2001.
  • The funds generated cover 56% of the MCBDD services for over 1,500 individuals in this community

MCBDD services include:

  • School services at the Leonard Kirk School
  • Early intervention for children birth to age 3
  • Adult services
  • Transportation services
  • Residential needs and home modifications

The MCBDD employs 45 social workers who coordinate these services for people with disabilities.

During the pandemic, the agency has helped people safely return to work and obtain services safely in their homes, provided personal protective equipment to providers to keep everyone safe, and coordinated with food banks to provide meals for our families who are struggling.

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