Tootle, Gaylon

TOOTLE, Gaylon Lee

Gaylon Lee Tootle, Disability Voter Advocate, dies at 62.

The disability community in Georgia—and in the nation—lost a powerful advocate with the death from pancreatic cancer of Gaylon Tootle. Gaylon died on September 10 in Augusta.

Gaylon's last act of advocacy was as an invited speaker in July's celebration of the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act at the residence of Vice President Kamala Harris in Washington DC.

Blind from birth, Gaylon grew up in a hard-scrabble farming family near Glenville. He and his siblings were picking cotton and harvesting tobacco before they were in first grade. Gaylon's parents fostered learning by borrowing library books on tape and making sure there was music in the house, said Gaylon's brother, Stancil ("Tootle"), who is also blind.

Vice-president of the Georgia chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, Gaylon was also co-chair of REV UP Georgia along with Stacey Ramirez, a grassroots coalition dedicated to empowering 650,000 voting age Georgians with disabilities.

"We're out there putting boots on the ground, engaging people," said Gaylon. "We have to educate our voters and get them to come out. We did it in 2020. And we are doing it now." (According to a Rutgers University study, the disability vote in Georgia increased from 57.8% in 2016 to 62.8% in 2020)

REV UP Georgia is part of the American Association of People with Disabilities, which this week dedicated its Disability Voting Rights Week to Gaylon—"to commemorate Gaylon's incredible legacy of advocacy [and] motivate others to act in his spirit," said Maria Town, president and CEO of the AAPD.

Gaylon, along with "Tootle", his brother and fellow disability advocate, recently focused on challenging Georgia's new voting laws, known as SB 202, which they regarded as overly restrictive.

Gaylon was a familiar figure at the Georgia legislature. "He knew the senators by name, and he was up there all the time," recalled his wife, Barbara Bell-Tootle.

Gaylon was recently tapped to be an advisor to Stacey Abrams' Disability Council.

"Gaylon's belief that voting goes hand in hand with disability rights affected our strategy," said Poy Winichakul, voting rights attorney, Southern Poverty

Law Center. "By propelling the disabled into voting rights work, they are much more visible than they used to be. Really, that's changed because of Gaylon."

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