by Andy Rausch
It’s extremely important for people with disabilities to get out and vote so they can have a say in the legislative decisions that affect their lives. The problem is that most people—particularly people with disabilities who often have a history of being minimized by the political system—believe their votes don’t matter.
“I think the most important thing to remember is that collectively we have power, but it takes every single one of us to comprise that power,” said SKIL President/CEO Shari Coatney. “Every individual vote does in fact come together to make a difference as a voting block. Traditionally we hear about other voting blocks, such as the African-American voting block, the women’s voting block, or the youth voting block. And people with disabilities come from all of those different backgrounds, but together we have to take a stand.
“As we watch currently the politics and how they affect us, we see how important each one of our votes actually are. You can’t complain about being a victim of the process if you’re not willing to take the steps to be heard. Voting is the first step in doing something about those things. Then it’s know your representatives and let your voice be heard. But we have to take the first step by registering to vote.”
Coatney said the biggest issue with the Kansas disability community has to do with the budget. “ It’s difficult for people to see the difference between paying taxes and day-to-day life for people with disabilities,” said Coatney. “The reality is that they’re absolutely connected. Everyone wants to support tax cuts. That’s fine and good, but people need to understand whether or not that actually means a tax cut for you. When the current Kansas administration came in, their whole platform was about cutting taxes. People loved that. People rallied around that. People think that will cut their taxes. The first tax you think of is food subsidized—the tax amount on what you purchase. Then the second tax you think about is when you file your income taxes at the end of the year. The third one is your property tax, where you pay for your tags on your vehicle or whatever. Most of the taxes they actually cut were none of those things. We’re not paying less for our grocery tax. We’re not paying less for our property tax. We’re not paying less when we tag our cars. We’re not paying less on anything that affects the day-to-day lives of people with disabilities or even the working class folks. People have to really learn about what the tax cuts entail. What are we saying when we say ‘tax cuts’? Tax cuts to whom? Who is saving that money?”
Coatney said 330,000 businesses have had tax cuts. “I’m not against that, except when they cut so deep that there’s no money left for people,” said Coatney. “People don’t seem to matter anymore. People have to get involved, because we really do matter. They make it harder for us to get food stamps. They completely eliminated food sales reduction, and that’s a taxation on the poor.”
SKIL is currently looking at ways to improve voter turnout amongst the disabled community. In addition, Lou Ann Kibbee, SKIL Systems Advocacy Manger and K-Loan Coordinator from the Hays SKIL office, recently taught a training class on voting.