Arc of the Midlands resident Hezzie Owens took time to vote after his shift at Zaxby’s ended Nov. 8.

Note: The following article is part of a series in The State newspaper’s Extra section. It features participants from Let’s Talk, a self-advocacy group empowering adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to speak up for their rights.

In the United States, there is no more important example of freedom and independence than a citizen’s right to vote. This right provides an official outlet to change for every citizen and allows a nation full of individuals to be heard. Just as individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are included in the population census, it is vitally important that they are also represented in the popular vote.

Speaking with current and former Let’s Talk participants, it’s clear that far too many members of our community are unaware of the power they hold and the difference they can make.

Let’s Talk, an Arc of the Midlands-sponsored self-advocacy course for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, focuses heavily on helping participants find their voice and recognize the impact they can have on the world around them.

On the other side of the spectrum, a group of participants highlighted by LaRonda and Peter, were especially eager to share their presidential opinion and desire to vote. Despite being so enthusiastic on the subject, these self-advocates rely on others for transportation and had not yet been told whether a trip to the polls had been scheduled, something that had caused both some anxiety leading up to the election.

When empowered to speak their mind and supported by the people around them, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities can truly make a difference and ensure no election is won without their votes being factored in.

When asked whether he would be casting his vote on Nov. 8, Arc of the Midlands resident and Let’s Talk graduate Mark Lowell gave a resounding “Yes!” Hezzie Owens, another Arc of the Midlands resident, made sure his staff took him to vote right after he finished his shift at Zaxby’s that day.

Whether you work with this field, know someone living with intellectual and developmental disabilities or simply want to make a difference, we should all do our part to motivate and encourage the full inclusion of our community in the voting process. Every vote counts.