I still remember my first time walking up to the voting booth. I was nearing the end of my third semester at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). I was tired and stressed from the usual grind of getting through the term. Usually, it took some work before I could make things feel “normal” and “simple.” I was diagnosed with ADHD later than usual, towards the end of my senior year in high school. I had already become accustomed to practically ignoring the norms of how the people around me got things done and simply packed my schedule in a way that fit with my disorganized mind.
But alas, I was finally 18 and this was a presidential election. This was a big deal, and it was important to me to participate. So I was relieved when it felt so normal for me to pop in to my university auditorium on my way to my dorm right after classes and officially vote. A few important things made that possible.
Luckily for me, one morning in the midst of my last-minute rush to breakfast before class, I saw a line of students registering to vote. Groups on campus took the initiative to bring the registration information and forms to the students in order to make it simple to be well-informed and prepared to vote. For me, this was a vital reminder not only of just how much influence we can each have by keeping up with our government but also of how many local groups are already helping and guiding the community to find ways to engage. And even though I am painfully aware of how easy it is to get caught up in the daily grind of everyday life, in today’s world there are always groups of people who have already carved out simple paths for civic engagement.
Similarly, in my own search for resources to help manage my LD, I learned just how much others before me had done — by influencing laws and recent policies — to allow me these opportunities to receive supports and reach out in the ways that I did. Taking advantage of these organizations has made it easy for me to take small actions here and there — calling a local official, signing a petition, or sharing my experience and ideas for improvement — to make my voice heard and contribute to change. And it also prepares me to take steps on my own to work towards putting policies I care about in action in the future.
One in four U.S. adults has a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is incredibly powerful when you think about how influential such a large group of voices can be. At the same time, many policies can be hugely impactful in this community, where their voice can be so easily squandered by small, even well-intentioned, misunderstandings by the majority.
Everyone has a unique voice. Therefore, it is important to vote to put people in office who will listen, and it is also important to use your vote as a way of speaking up and about the things our leaders need hear. This constant discourse is one of the major chances we have at making the needs and pleas of our communities visible. Voting is the first important step to be able to ensure that you have representatives in your government that will hear your concerns. Continued civic engagement keeps the pressure for action in the limelight. Contact your Congressional representatives and keep them aware of the responsibilities they have towards their constituents. Keep up with what major decisions are being made not just in Washington DC, but in your local government as well. Now is the time to get started; it’s our chance to work together to bring our ideas to the forefront of the conversation.
Mayowa Omokanwaye is a 2017 graduate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and a member of NCLD’s Young Adult Leadership Council. Since graduating from MIT, Mayowa has been tutoring and teaching high school and college students, utilizing her interests in computer science and programming to design personalized educational tools for her students.
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