Beyond the Ballot: Disability Advocate

Saturday, Nov 28, 2020
by Oyin Sangoyomi '23, Student Correspondent

Beyond the Ballot highlights the actions the Princeton University community is taking to address issues they care about, as well as the ways people are becoming more informed on these issues. We recently spoke with Naomi Hess, a junior concentrating in the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) and pursuing certificates in journalism and gender and sexuality studies. Hess is the Maryland and Delaware Vote100 State Director, and she recently had internships at two different nonprofit organizations: one with Center for Disability Rights in Albany, New York, and one with Global Fund for Women.

Although Naomi Hess strongly believes that everyone deserves to have the right to vote, she also understands that not everyone wants to be politically engaged. That is why she works with Vote100 to increase political engagement. And as a person with a disability herself, Hess is very interested in a career as a disability advocate. Last summer as a policy intern, she got the opportunity to do research on different issues that affect the disability community, from gun violence to transportation barriers.

On campus, Hess has contributed to a variety of initiatives to increase disability awareness. She has been a student fellow at the AccessAbility Center, where she organized events, and she has also organized two Shabbats at the Center for Jewish Life that focused on disability advocacy.

Currently, she is a co-chair of the Disability Task Force, an Undergraduate Student Government (USG) group that aims to improve accessibility and inclusion on campus. “It’s just really important for students to be exposed to people making a difference in the world of disability and learn how to be more inclusive of people of all different levels of ability,” she tells us.

When asked if her work would be over after the election, Hess responded with a firm “Absolutely not.” While voting turnout did increase around the country this year, Princeton’s numbers remain unclear. Not to mention, this year a lot of changes were made to accommodate the pandemic—mail in voting, absentee ballots—that greatly helped lift barriers for people with disabilities. As a result, Hess expresses her hope that, going forwards, this can be something that is done every year.

Hess also acknowledges how easy it is for students to distance themselves from the outside world. However, one of the best things that students can do in terms of political engagement is to stay informed; being up to date with current events is crucial to being able to know which steps to take in order to make your voice heard.

Still, Hess stresses that no one aspect of political engagement is more important than the other; every action makes a difference, and people should get involved in any way they can. “2020 has been a tumultuous year with the election and the pandemic,” Hess reflects, “but it’s just shown me even more the importance of making my voice heard and doing my part to make the country a better place.”