Tag: people with disabilities and voting

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!


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?

GoVoter.org 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.

Congress.org 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.

OpenCongress.org 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 arcmass.org

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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Voting: An Important Issue for Everyone

Vote ButtonHas it really been four years since our last Presidential election? Somehow I find that hard to believe but it’s true, and once again we need to start thinking about who we want to vote for.

Whether you are strongly committed to a specific candidate or not quite sure yet who you want in office, we all need to be registered to vote and start paying attention.

For people with disabilities, it is especially important to vote not only for the President, but also in state and local elections. A new official in office can make budget changes that effect services like job coaching or residential staff. Or maybe there are other issues that are really important to you like education or the environment.

Whatever the issue may be, you need to decide what is important to you in making the world a better place.

Choosing an issue

Sometimes choosing an issue that we are passionate about is overwhelming, as I learned when teaching at Suffolk last spring. I asked my business students in their first class to share with me what the most important issue was to them in the next Presidential election and I was surprised to see many of them actually needed suggestions.

Growing up in the 70s, this was a bit of a concern.

Now this was a bright, involved, 20- something group of students but what I realized is they had never been encouraged to really think about social issues that affect their lives. Maybe it is because the media chooses the issues they think are important for us, and we just follow along.

Getting ready to vote

Voting ballot
That’s where education and general discussion comes in. If you haven’t already, you can easily find out how to register to vote. The website, https://registertovote.org/forms/register/registration/massachusetts.html, in fact will give you the information you need.

But more important, you need to start thinking about the issues that mean something to you and talk about it. Talk to your family, friends, coworkers, anyone whose opinion you respect and make some decisions about how you want things to go in the world.

Then look at the candidates running for office, their websites can be very helpful, and decide who will make the world a better place, in your opinion.

This month, we will learn about a panel discussion being coordinated by DDS to help educate people with disabilities about how to vote, how to choose and why it is important. You will hear from Rick Camara who is coordinating the event and is passionate about getting people out to vote.

If we start doing our homework now, come November, we will be educated voters. And then maybe we will see changes in the world that we can be proud of.