By: Andrew Bowen
Research shows that people with disabilities face numerous barriers to voting. While barriers to voting can't be removed in a matter of days, there are steps that can be made to ensure that the 35 million Americans who have a disability and are eligible to vote are able to successfully cast their ballots. Polling sites are required by federal law to have at least one accessible voting machine for people with disabilities, including those who are blind or visually impaired. The machine has to guarantee the same access, privacy, and independence that other voters expect when they cast a ballot.
People with Disabilities in Civic Society
Advocacy by people with disabilities has been successful in changing policies and programs, most of which are organized by the disability rights movement. The use of adaptive technology is another vital strategy that empowers people with disabilities to connect with government. James Dickson and Kathy Howell, Co-Chairs of the Voting Rights Committee at the National Council on Independent Living are both people with disabilities. When asked to describe the problem of voting access from her perspective, Howell said: “Basically just imagine in all probability you wouldn’t be able to get into polls, you wouldn't be able to access web voting data and information. Imagine being treated like a second class citizen.” When Kathy spoke with Representative Jim Langevin (D-RI), he said, “If there are barriers to voting, then those barriers need to be eliminated.” Congressman Langevin, who became a quadriplegic at the age of sixteen due to an accident, shared similar stories of problems he encountered: “There were a couple firsts to my voting experience. The very first time I voted, I voted by paper ballot because I didn't think it would be possible to get to the poll and vote on my own. A couple of years later I said I want to go to polls like anyone else. But when I got there, at the time we had the oldest voting machines in the country. I had to take someone in the voting booth with me.”
What are Possible Solutions?
Two suggestions that were additionally mentioned by Howell were to follow Australia’s model of voter registration. In Australia, every citizen is automatically registered to vote when they turn 18 and people have to opt out, rather than opt in. Secondly, she also mentioned that several European countries have made Election Day a holiday so that people can focus solely on voting and ensure they can make it to the polls. Moving our elections to the weekend, with several days before of early voting, is another option. Michelle Bishop, the Disability Advocacy Specialist for Voting Rights at the National Disability Rights Network said. “We know how to solve these problems. It is high time that we as a nation actually do solve them.”
If you will need use of an accessible voting machine, contact your local district and let them know. They will need advanced notice, to ensure the equipment is there and working in proper order.