Shannon DeVido will handily admit that her van screams “soccer mom.” But if you peep inside, you’ll see that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill Chrysler Town & Country. This bad boy is like something out of a space movie.
The front driver’s seat, the cockpit if you will, isn’t really a seat at all. It’s an open area for DeVido’s wheelchair, which snaps into place when she glides up the nifty automatic ramp and slides onto a track.
The steering wheel is small. She describes it as being the size of a wheel on one of those driving games at the arcade. “You push it forward for gas, and you pull it back to brake,” she says, “It’s like an airplane.”
Then there are the buttons “that turn on all kinds of stuff. It’s very Star Trek-y,” she laughs.
This Election Day, on November 8, some lucky local voters may get a chance to experience this space van for themselves. On that day, she’s volunteering to use her wheels to take people with disabilities to the polls who may otherwise have trouble getting there.
This type of civic engagement is something new for DeVido, but the Bucks County native and comedic actress by trade says the insane election cycle—and her fear of a Trump presidency—propelled her to take action. Plus, as she explains in the Q&A below, it’s crucial that people with disabilities have a place in our political system, to show electeds that they’re involved and that their issues matter.
While this is her first foray into politics, DeVido is no stranger to advocating for and being a positive role model for the disabled set. She’s used her other gift—comedy—to normalize people’s perception of the disability community, because, like anyone from a minority group can surely attest, we just want to be looked at and treated like normal people.
In her popular YouTube series “Stare at Shannon,” she puts herself in hilarious situations around Philadelphia in the attempt to spotlight the sometimes absurd ways in which society treats people who just so happen to be wheelchair bound. In the episode entitled Supermarket Edition, for instance, she cruises around a local grocery store opening and munching on food in the aisles before actually paying for it. No one says a word.
She’s also had an impressive national spotlight. In 2015 she made headlines for landing a recurring role on the Hulu comedy Difficult People that didn’t call for an actress in a wheelchair. She also put in a couple guest appearances on Comedy Central’s sadly departed The Nightly Show, where she was able to bring up issues in the disability community “in my own weird comedy way.”
I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot more of DeVido in the years to come, but first: Election Day. I caught up with her over the phone this week to chat about her latest role, which she sees as a way to make sure the disability community has a voice in deciding our next president.
Josh Middleton: Spending your day carting people to the polls is a big undertaking. Why are you ready to take on the responsibility?
Shannon DeVido: At least for me, the independence to be able to get some place is so amazing. This is a crazy election, and a lot of people with disabilities don’t have a voice in it, they can’t share their opinion. There’s not many things I can do to help this election. I hate cold calling. I’m not really good at campaigning. Voting is one of the things in this country that’s so important and I think everybody should be able to be part of it.
JM: What gave you the idea to do this?
SD: I have a very strong opinion in this election. I feel like my moment was, “Oh my God. If I didn’t have the ability to go voice my opinion for who I feel should be the president … that would be the most stifling, awful feeling—to know that I have a voice and want to share it but I can’t physically get to the polls.” Then I realized, “Oh my God, there are people who can’t.” I don’t want anyone to feel that way, just because they don’t have the ability to go to the polling place by themselves.
JM: Are you willing to take anyone to the polls, or are you mainly focusing on people with disabilities?
SD: Sure, I’ll take anyone who needs a ride. But I’m primarily looking for people with disabilities who can’t get there, because I have an accessible van. There are tons of people offering rides for people who can get into a regular car, but there’s not a lot of people out there who have the means to get a wheelchair or someone who can’t walk into a regular car. With my ramp, a person with a wheelchair or people with, say a prosthetic or cane, can get into my van very easily.
JM: Why is it important that people with disabilities turn out to vote?
SD: At the Democratic Convention, you saw the voice of people with disabilities being heard for what I feel like was the first time. But still, we’re such a large section of the population that no one talks about. We haven’t heard about any of the policies about how people with disabilities are going to be treated in the future. Ours is a voice that really needs to be heard, and it’s not. I think a lot of times it’s because the resources aren’t there, or the awareness isn’t there. Voting is the first step in the process of hearing that voice and realizing it’s an important one that needs to be heard.
JM: What issues are most important for people with disabilities right now?
SD: Healthcare is a huge one. I’m dealing with healthcare issues all the time. For instance, I can’t get my wheelchair passed through my insurance, because they say I don’t need it—even though I’ve had it all my life and I’m pretty sure I do. The ability to live independently is also huge. There’s a lot of states that don’t give resources to home health aids, so people with disabilities have to go into homes. That’s a really big problem in the disability community. Also, employment. If you work, you can only make a certain amount of money before you lose resources. For me, if I make a certain amount of money, I could lose my home health aids and I wouldn’t be able to live independently or keep my job. Those kinds of things are the things no one thinks or talks about.
JM: How can people hitch a ride with you on Election Day?
SD: I’ve signed up on a website called carpoolvote.com. When you register you can enter that you have an accessible vehicle, and they’ll pair you up with people in your area who might need a ride. In addition, I’ve also set up a Google Doc where people can sign up directly with me. (You can find that here.)Photos by Sabina Louise Pierce