Education is the most important part of disability voting rights advocacy, says Bob Kafka, coordinator of REV UP Texas. It is the “E” in the voter registration nonprofit’s name (which stands for “Register, Educate, Vote, Use your Power” Texas) that focuses on disability voting rights and education.
“What we’re trying to do is educate not only our population but educate the candidates on the issues,” Kafka says.
The power of the disability vote hasn’t been tapped since the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, according to Kafka. He and other disability rights activists come up against the challenge of unifying the oftentimes separate communities.
“There are so many definitions … physical, cognitive, mental, sensory learning,” he says. It’s amazing “how diverse the disability community is. The fabric is like a quilt. I think the challenge we have is how do you bring that quilt together into a pattern that covers the whole country?”
Kafka began his work as an activist with the Coalition to Barrier Free Living at age 27. But his social justice journey began when he was a child working alongside his late Grandma Sarah, who was active in the Emma Lazarus Federation of Jewish Women’s Clubs and whose tombstone reads “Rebel with a Cause.”
“There used to be meetings in their basement, and I would make signs, says Kafka, who attributes a lot of his social action to his grandmother.
There’s power and diversity in the disability vote, which is something candidates need to be aware of: They need to see “the reality of the deaf community, the blind community, the mental health community, those with cognitive learning disabilities.”