A person wearing sunglasses and holding a guide stick also has an "I voted" sticker on their lapel and is standing in front of a row of voting booths.

Voting With Disabilities

Recently I have stopped being so interested in my vision loss. As the old saying goes, I have other fish to fry.

More than disease or disability

Like many of us, I have been obsessing on both the pandemic and the political scene. This is not a forum to go full tilt spouting my opinions about the state of the world and America in general. There are many on both sides or perhaps I should say all sides of the campaign and the issues. But, we don’t want to have divisiveness here. No, the topic of this piece is something I assume we can almost all agree on.

Voting rights for all

To wit: Even if we have a disability, most of us reading this are still American citizens and want to be treated as such. We do not want someone telling us we cannot participate in our democracy because of our disability. However, blatant or subtle, discrimination against the visually impaired (and others with disabilities) is still a fact of life.

Visual impairment and voting disenfranchisement

Researching this piece I found an article in The Guardian about a 69-year old man with visual disabilities who had a devil of a time trying to vote in the April elections in Wisconsin. Visually impaired for most of his life, this gentleman used to go to the polls with headphones, plugging them into the voting machine and listening to the choices. Except for the pandemic that would have worked this time, as well. 1

Given the circumstances, though, he decided to request a paper ballot, and vote by mail. 1

Intentional disenfranchisement?

I will spare you the gory details of his plight, but just share that he was not able to read the paper ballots and remote help did not do their job. This gentleman gave up and was not able to vote. His disability and the pandemic effectively disenfranchised him. 1

Help America Vote Act

Purposeful? I would assume not, but just the same, the results were identical. And what’s more, this is nothing new. In fact, the Help America Vote Act was passed in 2002 in an attempt to eliminate the disenfranchisement of disabled voters. It was proposed in response to problems that occurred in that year’s election. 2

The HAVA required there to be one accessible voting machine at every poll for federal elections. It was a move that was designed to allow every visually impaired person the opportunity to vote privately and independently. 3

American with Disabilities Act

The American with Disabilities Act has also been brought to play in polling places. Local election boards are tasked with providing the adaptive equipment and services that allow equal access to all. And when I say “all," that is what I mean, all. The ADA, for example, covers individuals with physical or mental disabilities that substantially limit one or more major life activities. While my focus in this piece is on my “favorite” disability, visual impairment, visual handicap is just one issue covered by these laws.3

Voting with a visual disability

The National Federation of the Blind article, Voting, Accessibility and the Law, that yielded the information about the law, contains links to resources they publish. These include The Blind Voter’s Guide and The Blind Voter’s Experience. They are available in Word, Braille, and audio format. 3

So, that is the law.

Make your vote count!

I don’t want to close, however, without leaving you with some practical advice from Brailleworks. In order to make your vote count, if you are voting at the polls, they suggest you call ahead to your local board of election supervisors and tell them you have accessibility issues.

Be cautious in filling out mail-in ballots. Read the directions and follow them carefully. Also, don’t sign your ballot in different fashions. Inconsistent handwriting may cause them to reject your vote. Report any delays or refusals to support you to the voting supervisors. Know your rights and responsibilities and, finally, VOTE EARLY.

Remember, loss of your vision has not made you any less of a citizen. One way or another practice your rights. Be sure to vote!

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