Category: Voting & Government

Advocacy: Making your Voice Heard!

Why is advocacy important?

Photographer: Joe Gratz

We vote our elected officials into office to write our laws. But many people feel too nervous to approach their politicians.  They may feel like they won’t be listened to or that they don’t have anything important to say. This is not true!If something is important to you, it is probably important to many others as well. Everyone’s voice should be heard.

But I don’t have the time!

As a mother of children with special needs, I know how hard it is to find time to get involved. Leaders want to hear the personal stories behind the numbers.They want to see pictures of people impacted by laws. If you are reading this blog, you can email your legislator your story and become part of a change for the better.

Where do I start?

If you don’t know who your state legislators are, then a great place to start is the Massachusetts State Legislature website. On the web site, there is a text box in the upper right hand corner. It asks you for your zip code. You type in your zip code and the web site will bring up information for your legislators. From there, you can choose to call, email or write your legislators depending on how much time you have and what your comfort level is. What is important is that you communicate your needs, thoughts and concerns with lawmakers. Your voice and your ideas could be what changes people’s lives for the better. You can be the change for the better.

For more information, you can also visit:

Keep Calm and Vote On

person filing in a ballotI was texting with my friend, who happens to have autism.  I asked her about the upcoming election for president. I asked, “Who are you going to vote for?”  She answered, “I already sent in my absentee ballot. The last time I went to vote, it was sensory hell.” She had a tough time at the polling place in her town.  She went on to tell me that the workers acted like she was stupid. She had trouble with the bright lights, noises and long lines.  She wasn’t sure what line to get in. She got nervous. When she gets nervous, she talks loud and doesn’t even know it.  Her story made me wonder if there was an easier way to vote if you have autism.

What is the law for polling place access for people with disabilities?

In 2002, the Feds signed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA)[1] .  Many voting places were tough to figure out if you had a disability.  Two mandates were decided on:

1.    Accessibility costs money.  So a grant program was created to give money to towns and cities so they could upgrade their polling places.

2.    Every polling place in the United States was to have at least one voting machine that was private.

Pretty simple.  But not so easy in reality.  How could someone with autism have a shot at voting in person?  A simple checklist could help.  And make sure you are registered to vote!  You can’t show up the day of the election.  You must register ahead of time.  Call your city or town hall for instructions.

Simple steps to make voting in person easier

1.    Plan your visit.  Call your town hall or city hall.  Ask if you can stop by the night before the election.  The voting booths should be set up. Find out the best time to vote.  Ask what time of day has the shortest lines.

2.    Ask about the private voting booth.  Where is it located? Does your polling place even have one?  If not, find a booth at the end of an aisle so you have some privacy.

3.    Pack a “sensory” kit – bring a koosh toy, gum, or stress ball. Wear ear plugs. Use whatever will work to reduce your stress.  If you get stuck in a long line, you’ll be glad you have something else to focus on.4.    Get the name of the person who can help you on voting day.  Can this person check you in?

5.    Bring a picture ID!  You may have to prove who you are.

6.    Get a sample ballot ahead of time, if you can.  Know who you are voting for before you show up. Know what issues are on the ballot.

7.    Know what to do after you vote.  Ask about where you turn in your ballot and where you check out.

8.    Bring a friend or family member.  He or she can help you if you get confused or feel like you are going to have a panic attack.

Keep calm and vote on!


Municipal Advocacy: Disability Commissions

town building
Town Building

Approximately 150 cities and towns in Massachusetts have a Commission on Disability, does yours?

Disability Commissions are an advisory boards appointed by municipal leaders formed to help promote compliance with federal and state laws, represent the interest of individuals with disabilities in municipal government, and act as a resources for individuals with disabilities.

Common issues addressed by many Disability Commissions include handicapped parking spot abuse and implementing curb-cuts on sidewalks, but each commission is able to respond to the local needs of their community.

Almost all Commissioners are volunteers, and at least half of the members of each Commission are individuals with disabilities. Most Commissions meet monthly, and meetings are open to the public.

I encourage you to find out if your city or town has a Disability Commission, and if they do, make a point to attend the next Commission meeting.

View a list of Disability Commissions in Massachusetts available from the The Massachusetts Office on Disability web site

Accessible Elections

Unless you live in Boston, it is a dull election season for many of us in Massachusetts. In my town we don’t have an election scheduled because there isn’t anything on the ballot. As a democracy geek, I feel most patriotic when I vote. I like the whole experience – connecting with my community, shaping my government, and the obligatory bake sale in the hallway.

cupcakes on an American Flag In case you had any doubts, there is absolutely no excuse for a polling place to not be accessible on Election Day! The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) falls short of requiring the PTA to offer gluten-free options at an election day bake sale, but it sets the legal standard for individuals with disabilities to have “the same opportunity for access and participation as for other voters.”

In Massachusetts, voters with disabilities are protected by the Massachusetts Voters’ Bill of Rights that states that a polling place, and a voting booth at each polling place, must be accessible. While the goal of these laws is to provide the same voting experience for all citizens, an individual with a physical disability that prevents him or her from voting at a polling place on Election Day may request an absentee ballot in Massachusetts.

Yet concerns about voting access were raised this past June at a conference of Massachusetts Disability Commissioners. Despite legal protections, individuals with disabilities still experience difficulty voting. The National Council on Disability’s “Experien Experience of Voters with Disabilities in the 2012 Election Cycle”report documents an unacceptable number of polling places that are not accessible, poorly trained election workers, and malfunctioning accessible voting machines.

While I don’t have a physical disability that limits my ability to cast my ballot, during the last election I entertained the idea of asking to vote using the AutoMARK Voter Assist Terminal to experience accessible voting. I am curious what it is like to use the AutoMARK, and how election workers might handle my request. Each polling location in Massachusetts has an AutoMark Terminal, and election workers are expected to be trained in working with individuals with disabilities, and how to operate the AutoMARK.

I didn’t ask to use the AutoMARK, but after voting I did spend time talking with a poll worker about the experience of individuals with disabilities at my polling location. The election official said that during every election the workers run a test procedure using AutoMARK before the polls open to make sure the machine is working. The worker said several years ago one voter with a visual impairment used the machine, but the voter didn’t like his experience and he has voted without it in subsequent elections. Apparently where I vote the AutoMARK is barely used.

“It’s as easy as 1-2-3” claims the manufacturer of the AutoMARK in a promotional video. It didn’t seem quite that easy, but using the AutoMARK didn’t seem any more difficult than using an ATM machine. The system primarily benefits visually impaired users, although the screen reading functionality can apparently assist someone with dyslexia. The AutoMARK is supposed to be equipped with a privacy screen, but I did not see the screen at my polling location.AutoMARK machine with a screen

While it may help some people, the AutoMARK is not a one-size-fits all equality machine that removes barriers to voting for all individuals with disabilities. I fear that all the focus on the AutoMARK will give election officials the false impression that on machine can address the varied voting needs of individuals with disabilities. As suggested in the National Council on Disability’s report, additional funding is required to ensure access to the election process in America.

UMMS-Shriver LEND Program

LEND Fellows at CapitolOver the past several weeks, our blog introduced proud alumni of the LEND program; Leadership in Neurodevelopment & Related Disabilities. Through their personal stories, we were inspired by a collective ability to bring about change in organizations and communities.

This week we share further details of the LEND program itself, offered by the University of Massachusetts Medical School- Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center in Waltham, Ma. Maybe you or someone you know will be interested in this unique opportunity to improve the lives of children with disabilities and their families.

What’s involved?

LEND is an intensive 10 month program focusing on policy, legislation, leadership and management skills. It is designed for qualified graduate or post-graduate interdisciplinary clinicians, advocates, and family members.
The program challenges Fellows to rethink the ways in which healthcare, education, and social services are delivered, as well as the goals and quality of those services.

Program components include:

Applicant Qualifications

  1. A graduate degree in a MCHB  discipline or
  2. Individuals without a graduate degree may participate in the program if they enroll in the MPA degree program offered in conjunction with Suffolk University.
  3. Clinical/relevant experience with individuals with disabilities and their families
  4. Leadership potential
  5. Commitment to improving the status of people with disabilities and their families
  6. Strong academic record
  7. Ability to commit the time necessary to complete the program successfully

How to Apply

Application materials for Advanced Leadership Fellowship program can be downloaded here.

LEND Fellowship Application Form
Professional Reference Form

Please note that the application deadline for this year is May 1, 2013.

For further information, visit the website at UMass Medical School – Shriver LEND Program website  or contact:

Carol Curtin, MSW, LEND Associate Director and Training Director , (781) 642-0246

Carol Imposimato, Administrator Coordinator , (781) 642-0045

LEND Program Makes Dream a Reality

LEND GraduatesBill S.601: [We resolve] that a special commission is hereby established for the purpose of making an investigation and study relative to the need for accessible homes for… families that include persons with disabilities.  (188th session)

Wow. How incredibly satisfying. Who would have thought I would have a bill before the MA Legislature? And all because of my LEND Fellowship.

Joining LEND

As a parent of a child with a disability, I came to LEND from a place of isolation and frankly, a great deal of anger. I was angry at all the obstacles I now faced with my son who uses a wheelchair.

Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) had increased access in the last twenty plus years, there was still a tremendous amount of work to do.

Finding Support From LEND Colleagues

LEND provided me with the tools I needed to address the frustrations I faced. As part of a diverse cohort of ten other like-minded individuals, I was able to break through an intense period of loneliness.

I wasn’t alone; there were other people who thought about these issues. There were parents and individuals with disabilities as well as professionals already working in the field.

As I watched my colleagues transform, I knew I was growing as well. It was safe to speak your mind in the group — but more importantly, we learned to listen. Really listen. And I learned to control my anger and focus that energy in a more productive direction.

Thinking About “Visitability”

My LEND capstone project focused on the housing market and the incredible shortage of accessible housing. While we could modify our own home to accommodate our son’s disability, as he grew, it had become more and more difficult to visit other people’s homes.

I discovered “visitability,” a simple concept that requires three features in new home construction: one door into a house without a step, a first floor bathroom, and 32″ wide doorways.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if new homes were built this way? These three simple elements would allow our family to visit anyone!

My Capstone Project

My LEND capstone project was a plan to get this simple idea accepted as a new building standard. Part of the plan was to get a dialogue started between diverse groups who would benefit from access.

Bill S.601 is the beginning of that conversation, one that has taken on a life of its own. Now I read about groups voting to support the bill and representatives signing on. Such a simple idea; yet, what a profound difference this could make for the aging and disabled populations.

LEND helped me in accomplishing my goal…what about you? Join us next week to learn more about opportunities LEND can provide.

LEND Provides Invaluable Opportunity

Amy-Weinstock-Signing-at-FenwayThis week we are pleased to introduce guest blogger, Amy Weinstock, Director of the Autism Insurance Resource Center and 2005 LEND graduate.

Learning about LEND

I first learned about LEND when one of my daughter’s therapists told me she’d have to rearrange her schedule starting the next month, because she was about to start a LEND fellowship program. At the time, I was focused on getting help for my daughter, and didn’t pay much attention to anything else.

Two years later, another therapist told me she was applying to the LEND program. This led to two realizations on my part; the first being that I had really good therapists, and the second that LEND was a pretty big deal.

A good fit

At the time, I was working in corporate banking, and had become very interested in the topic of insurance coverage, or more accurately, lack of insurance coverage, for autism treatment. My knowledge of the health care system consisted of an insurance card, a sick child, and no coverage for her treatment.

I went to the LEND website, and quickly realized that the training at LEND was exactly what I needed. My goal was to begin working on the systemic change I believed was necessary in order for families to obtain insurance coverage for autism treatment.

Although I didn’t have all of the direct pre-requisites, I applied and was invited for an interview. I left that interview more convinced than ever that LEND would be critical to my goal of merging my professional experience in the corporate world, with my personal passion to work in the disability field.

LEND education supports change

My LEND Capstone project, “Expanding Insurance Coverage for Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Treatment for Children with Autism” became the blueprint for my work over the next five years. It culminated with unanimous passage by the Massachusetts House and Senate of one of the country’s most comprehensive autism insurance bills.

The education I received at the LEND program, and the introductions to many of the leaders in the disability service and advocacy fields, was invaluable, and is a major reason people in Massachusetts affected by autism have this coverage today.

Join us next week to hear from another LEND fellow and how the program impacted their life.

LEND Program Offers Exciting Opportunity for All

When I think back to turning 50, I was pretty comfortable with my life. My professional career had been fulfilling, and my two sons had finished college and were off following their own dreams. Consulting part time was an option, but I really wasn’t looking for too much in terms of a professional challenge.

No, I was ready to relax a little.

LEND opens a door

Until one day, I was speaking to a friend who told me about the LEND program; Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities. She described it as a wonderful opportunity to attend a graduate level training program with others committed to leadership in the field.

So I decided to check it out.

What I realized is even though I had started my own nonprofit, I learned through trial and error only. Going back to school would offer a whole new dimension of learning.

Getting accepted

After doing some more research, I came to the realization that the program sounded wonderful and I really wanted to be accepted.

The good news was even though my undergraduate grades were not impressive, (college in the 70s,what can I say?), perhaps they thought I could bring credible work experience to the group, and I was accepted into the program.

I was in and I was nervous.LEND Graduates 2010

The impact on my life

Over the next two years I was the class nerd. I relished my time in the classroom, enjoying the opportunity to research and write on topics of interest and eventually completing my masters at Suffolk University. It was truly a life changing experience.

I guess in many ways it was what I expected in terms of the academic challenges, yet what I hadn’t envisioned was the intimacy in friendships that would be made both with my professors and colleagues. We learned so much from each other and I will be forever grateful for the impact they made on my life.

Today, I am honored to teach in the LEND program, which is an opportunity I never imagined. I only hope that I will have the same positive impact on my students in the years to come.

This month, join us to hear from other alumni and students in LEND as they share their own experiences. Who knows. With applications now being accepted, you may find yourself in one of our classrooms this fall.


Voting Resources for People with Disabilities

Vote ButtonThis month we have learned why it is important to vote, especially in this year’s elections.  Our blog this week gives you all the resources you will need to get out there now and vote with confidence.

Getting Started? is the website for SABE‘s National Technical Assistance Center for Voting and Cognitive Access.  The many resources on this site assist protection and advocacy systems, election officials and people with disabilities to make voting accessible for all citizens.
Haven’t registered?   Here you will find an online voter registration form for Massachusetts.

Where to Vote & to Locate Your Legislators
will identify your elected officials and voting location.

Voting for Persons with Disabilities has information about accessible polling places, voting procedures and voting equipment in Massachusetts. For information on the AutoMARK Voter Assist Terminal, visit AutoMARK video

Self Advocates Becoming Empowered Voting Resources
has useful booklets and PowerPoint presentations about voter registration and civic participation.
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Ready to Get Involved?

What is important to you?   View public service announcement about voting and make your vote count.

Massachusetts Legislative Bills and Laws offers information on existing bills and laws in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts on Ballotpedia provides nonpartisan information on Massachusetts ballot news.

League of Women Voters/Mass is a well respected citizens’ organization that encourages community involvement and hosts political forums in various communities.

Project Vote Smart
Learn about candidates before you vote.  Gives relevant, unbiased information on candidates and officials.  Select “Vote Easy” to find out which candidate is most like you. provides information on public policy issues of the day and tips on effective advocacy. Sign up to get their weekly newsletter and an email of your representative’s vote on recent bills. lets you know what’s happening in Congress by providing official government data and news coverage.

For Disability Issues, Explore These Links

Take advantage of what the Arc has to offer; stay informed at

Sign up on their listserv and the Action E-List on Massachusetts Arc Legislative Action Center to be notified when you can make a critical difference on important state issues. Keep up with the latest developments in bills, and the State House Updates / Public Policy debates.

Impacted by Recent Cuts to Disability Services? Know Your Rights is a handy resourceful guide provided by Arc MASS

Mass Families Organizing for Change sponsors conferences, workshops and forums to educate individuals and community members about advocacy, services and local, state and federal resources.

Disability Policy Consortium members have access to advocacy training, lobbying leadership, legislative email alert service, and information on issues of importance. Check out their weekly updates on website.

Forum Offers People with Disabilities the Tools to Vote

Place to Vote with accessible signThis week I am pleased to introduce Rick Camara from the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) Northeast Region. Rick has been instrumental in forming a collaboration with Mass Advocates Standing Strong (MASS) and the Northeast Arc to present a Voting Forum,“Your Vote Counts” on August 9, 2012.

This week Rick shares his thoughts about voting and how efforts such as the forum will assist people with disabilities in the process.

The importance of every vote

The right to vote has always been important to me. Decisions that our country makes are decided by those of us who vote. Being a citizen in America gives me the basic right to vote and effect change. Voting gives me the right to state my opinion on an issue or support a candidate that I am passionate about.

Voting is also a way to tell elected officials what matters to you and to elect candidates that will support what you believe is important.

By voting, you can make your voice be heard.

More than 35 million Americans with disabilities are eligible to vote, but not all do. Just think; if everyone voted you could make a big change on who is elected and on policies that are important to people with disabilities. Voting is a very powerful human right. illustrating to all that you count and are valued.

Learning about the voting process

Voting Booth
At the Forum on August 9, 2012 you will hear from self advocates, legislators, and other citizens about the importance of voting. You will hear the How, When, Where, and Why of Voting, and we will even show you how simple it is to vote. You will hear from local legislators about how they are elected to represent you and how to get their support on issues that you value and are passionate about.

You will also meet two gentlemen, one a self advocate and the other a very concerned citizen, who will talk about how they received political support on something that was very important to them. They will share some of the details on how they were successful and how you could do the same.

Most importantly, at this Voting Forum you will have the opportunity to register to vote if you do not vote presently, as we will have a representative present from The League of Woman Voters to assist you in registering to vote.

For more information on the Forum contact Rick Camara at 781 641-7310.

And don’t forget, your opinion is important and every vote counts.

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