Twenty years into her life’s work, Whitney Quesenbery is still surprised when she’s asked whether there are “enough” affected people to justify the effort and expense of developing and implementing accessible voting systems. 

The executive director of the Center for Civic Design points out that when you add aging people with failing eyesight, people with low literacy skills and others that experience barriers to voting, the percentage of the population who benefits from accessible systems grows from 20% to nearly half of the adult population. 

Right now, she says, our election system is built for a highly educated, highly literate, able population of frequent voters, but there are so many citizens out there that don’t fit into that model.  

Quesenbery also believes that disability issues are intersectional with issues like racism when it comes to voting access. “There is value in thinking of widening participation and access beyond the very narrow ways that our election system is set up to work.” 

She said that intersectionality also makes academia the ideal place to think about technical and design solutions. “Researchers are able to consider root causes. That’s harder to do in industry.” 

A Local Partner

This workshop also welcomed guests from the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, the state’s premier organization advocating for disability rights. The coalition’s motto is “nothing about us without us,” and Jose Torres-Vega, their IT director and a non-attorney advocate, explained that the organization doesn’t set limitations around the issues they will tackle. Their work ranges from personal advocacy to systemic issues, and they don’t hesitate to advocate politically at the local or national levels when needed. If the CRCDT pursues any projects related to accessible voting, it will be invaluable to have a group like CCDC to work with, to ensure that any ideas are fully vetted, tested and produced in concert with the people that they seek to help.