For more than a decade, Marlene Sallo has been fired up about ensuring all citizens can exercise their right to vote. That's because, growing up in Cuba, she didn't have that right. "I was born in a communist country," she said. "And so, therefore, our rights were pretty much trampled on."
In fact, Sallo was in line to vote on the very first day of early voting for this year's election. "It's a nonpartisan issue, civic engagement, right? We all have a right to be engaged. We all should be engaged."
Sallo served as the Chief of Staff and Senior Counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service, as well as the Staff Director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights under the Obama Administration. Previously, she also worked for UnidosUS, the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization, as well as serving as a case manager, special education teacher, and child welfare attorney. She is now the Executive Director of the Disability Law Center. "So therein lies the intersection between civil rights and disability rights," she said.
Her team's efforts to ensure that this year's elections were accessible to all voters began nearly a year ago, when the Disability Law Center started working with state and local officials to ensure that the language used for mail-in voting met the same accessibility standards as those for voting in person. Given health and safety considerations due to the coronavorus pandemic, it became even more important to ensure that all voters could safely cast their ballots, whether at the polls or from home.
"Don't we all have the right to vote indepdendently and privately?" she said. "Someone with a disability should not have less of a right than someone without a disability."
Along with ensuring that mail-in ballot procedures were ADA compliant, her team also conducted polling site visits across the Commonwealth to make sure that proper protocols, including handicap parking and signage, and equipment, including accessible AutoMARK voting machines, were in place and set up for early and Election Day voting. They also checked out ballot dropboxes, a new voting vehicle for this unprecedented election cycle.
Asked if there is anything voters can do to help their disabled neighbors at the polls this year, Sallo said: "When you pull up to your polling site, just take it all in... I think it's important just to raise that awareness."
"It's about empathy," she said. "It's about caring for your neighbor."