Understanding Voters with Learning Disabilities:
A Resource for Election Support Organizations
Learning disabilities and ADHD absolutely impact voting
• Specific learning disabilities (LD) are recognized under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The most common features of LD are impairments in reading, writing, and math, but other areas of performance can be affected.
• ADHD impacts a person’s ability to stay focused, follow directions, and complete tasks with accuracy.
• Voters with learning disabilities may exhibit the following traits:
• Difficulty following instructions or seeming overwhelmed when too many instructions are given at once
• Struggling to read large amounts of printed text
• Difficulty writing with precision (e.g., filling in the circles completely on the ballot)
• Not being sure how to ask for help (and not knowing what types of help can/cannot be provided)
• Acclimating to a new environment, not being sure how to move from one place to another, and struggling to follow a sequence of verbal directions (sign in, fill out the ballot, check to see that each selection box is filled in completely, move to scanner and insert ballot facing upward, wait for green light to show ballot was successfully scanned, etc.)
LD and ADHD are often “invisible.”
• Unlike conditions that impact vision, hearing, or mobility, LD and ADHD are not likely to be detected by election workers unless the voter discloses this information.
• Voters with LD and ADHD may be reluctant to share their disability status due to the shame and stigma associated with these conditions. That makes it all the more important for election workers to be on the alert for signs of struggle and discomfort during the registration and polling processes.
Providing accommodations is not optional — it’s the law!
• All polling places for a federal election must have at least one voting system that makes voting accessible in a private and independent manner to voters with disabilities.
• Poll workers must ensure that voting systems are set up in an accessible manner. If a system has auxiliary aids that provide or improve access, poll workers must be familiar with their availability and their proper setup and use.
• Poll workers must be trained on the various ways that a voting system can be modified, moved, or set up to accommodate individual disability-related access needs.
• Voters with disabilities cannot be turned away from the polls because a poll worker thinks they do not have the capacity to vote.
• Individuals with LD and ADHD are permitted to have someone accompany them during the voting process.
• Read-aloud technology should be provided (or allowed) in the voting booth.
• Extended time should be allowed as needed.
• Clarification and feedback should be provided if requested.
Like all other voters, individuals with disabilities should be treated with courtesy, respect, and sensitivity
• Voters with disabilities are prevented from voting for a variety of reasons, including inaccessible and uninviting voting locations. To ensure that the voting process is welcoming and stress free, registration and poll workers might want to adhere to these simple guidelines:
• WAIT. Resist the instinctive reaction to launch into a quick response. Individuals with disabilities may need a bit more time to process instructions. Or they may need to have things repeated or explained in a different way, with the opportunity to ask for feedback.
• EMPATHIZE. Pay attention to how the person with a disability is feeling. Anticipate their needs, and be sensitive and courteous in offering assistance.
• LISTEN. Poll workers should remember that individuals with disabilities may have difficulty expressing their needs and asking for assistance. Be especially careful not to make assumptions or value judgments about their participation in the voting process.