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Eliminating barriers that people with disabilities face at the polls

Disability advocates say it has always been hard for people with disabilities to vote and they are working to ensure this year does not pose more challenges.

LANCASTER, Pa. — People with disabilities have long faced challenges at the polls on Election Day. Advocates fear the COVID-19 pandemic will create more obstacles. Accessibility continues to remain an issue.

“Particularly for someone who is vision impaired or blind is how do I fill out the ballot?” questioned Dennis Steiner, President and CEO of VisionCorps.

Though voters now have the option of mail-in ballots, Steiner said new county voting machines across the state have unique features that can help people with disabilities exercise their right to vote.

“[There’s] one you can enlarge the screen to enlarge the ballot for someone who has limited vision or low vision. There’s a device that you plug into the machine that allows you to navigate the screen through audible so that you can listen to what’s on the screen and then make selections,” Steiner explained.

Prior to the June primary, Pennsylvania implemented an accessible write-in ballot as a temporary solution for voters with disabilities.

For the November election, the Department of State (DOS) is rolling out the accessible OmniBallot, adding yet another layer of accessibility for PA voters with disabilities, a department spokesperson said. 

Additionally, in 2018, when DOS was planning for replacement of voting systems across Pennsylvania, the department included accessibility requirements that all new voting systems must meet to be certified for use by PA counties. As part of the certification testing, each system was thoroughly reviewed by accessibility experts and tested by actual voters with disabilities, according to DOS.

However, just getting to the polls is another challenge. Historically, transportation is one of the biggest barriers facing voters on Election Day. If ridesharing or public transit is not an option, Steiner suggests calling your political party or polling place to arrange for transportation.

“There are issues out there that affect people with disabilities and it’s important that their voices are heard, our voices are heard as people who are blind,” Steiner said. “And so I would encourage everyone to take the time to understand what you need to do to make your ballot count and go vote.”

People with disabilities make up about 25% of the American population, advocates say, and voter participation remains a central advocacy focus to urge people with disabilities to vote on issues that matter to them.

A billboard by Abilities in Motion (AIM), a nonprofit organization that offers resources for people with disabilities, towers over Lancaster Avenue in Reading as part of a campaign to encourage voter registration and participation.

Throughout the month of October, AIM will feature voting-focused social media content, billboards, and video PSAs aligned with the theme “Your Vote Your Voice on November 3rd.” You can find more information on their website.

You can find more resources in our Voter Access Team 2020 Election Guide.

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