This year, Elizabeth Gray voted by mail-in ballot.

“It was stressful, because you had to wait to get your ballot. So I was tracking it, trying to figure out where it was. I just felt disconnected… I’m glad that I voted, but it just wasn’t the same energy as if I [had gone to the polls] in person.”

Gray found herself missing the camraderie she had found waiting in line to vote during previous elections. And while social interaction has been scarce for many since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Gray notices it especially keenly as an AmeriCorps Advocate for Mentoring, a job that has traditionally been all about building interpersonal relationships.

Born with both Cerebral Palsy and ADHD, Gray has a different perspective than some on her abilities: “I’m lucky to have had a lot of opportunities in being a difference maker," she said.

Gray, 25, has had a wealth of experiences in activism, including internships with the State House and the MBTA, which led to her current role as an AmeriCorps Advocate working with Partners for Youth With Disabilities (PYD). In her role with PYD, Gray recruits disabled youth for the many programs offered at the organization, from theatre groups to advanced mentoring programs — a service, she thinks, that has been especially beneficial throughout the pandemic.

“I think that the whole pandemic has been really tough on the disabled community. Not being able to go out, not being able to be social with your friends. I feel that it’s really detrimental to the progress of people of any age [and ability].”

Gray’s many roles within the disabled community have caused her confidence to flourish, she says. And it’s this confidence that has led her to believe in the power of everyone's individual voice.

“I have my own issues with access that might be different from someone else’s. To be able to tell your story and to be able to explain to the people in charge is really important… If you can say what you want, at least they know that there is somebody who would like this to change.”

Gray’s belief in the value of individual voice and experience ties in tightly with her thoughts on the importance of voting — and while her words are directed at the disabled community, they ring true for everyone:

“Don’t be afraid to be different. And don’t feel that what you’re asking is wrong…. You’re the future, and you’re able to make a change, so go out and make that change," she said.

So, what does that future look like for Gray? And what changes would she like to see for her community?

“There’s an estimated 38 million registered voters that have some form of a disability,” she tells me. “[And] being able to get to the polls has been one of those topics that I have seen be a challenge… Having different transportation agencies and bringing people [to the polls] from different places. If we are able to voice our choice, then people should be able to get to the place where they can voice that choice.”