Phone: 734-971-0277 Email: info@aacil.org

The following article is republished from the Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America website and written by Ann Arbor CIL Board Member and Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America Development Coordinator Robin Bennett.

colorful vote graphic

The vote is the key to our democracy in the United States of America. This key can open doors to engage, no matter where we live, our background, or our differences in ability.

The Paralyzed Veterans of America is currently on a mission to encourage people with disabilities to know their rights and be ready to vote in this year’s election.

The Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America (MPVA) has partnered with the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living (AACIL) to help spread the word and share resources with people with disabilities. MPVA staff interviewed a representative from both the MPVA and AACIL in order to share some personal perspective on inaccessible voting and why it is important to make a plan so that everyone can share their voice.

We asked:

Paralyzed Veterans of America’s “Access the Vote” campaign is sharing news about inaccessible polling stations, mail-in voting options, and the importance of ensuring that ALL Americans can access their right to vote.

This information, which can be found here, shares that government research shows about half of polling places were inaccessible in 2016. There were a variety of barriers, like inaccessible sidewalks and parking lots, doorways that were not wide enough for a wheelchair, and long lines, among others. Have you ever encountered barriers to voting? How were you forced to adapt?

Joyce, an AACIL consumer shared:

[A barrier to voting for me] occurred about 20 years ago when I used a manual wheelchair for a period of time due to a biking accident. It was so frustrating, I simply didn’t vote in the next election because of inaccessibility.

It was hard for me to navigate stairs, so the biggest obstacle [during that time] was not being able to use my wheelchair while getting in doorways that were not accessible. I had to either wait to have someone hold the door for me or try to finagle holding my walker and a chair that I could sit in while trying to open the door for myself. Most of the time it didn’t work because the door was so heavy. There was also confusion as to whether or not a person with a disability could have someone accompany them to vote. At the time, people were just unsure as to their rights and responsibilities, so there wasn’t a lot of accommodation. It takes much longer than it would take the average person to vote […] now I share with other people how they can get access.

i voted sticker

According to the Voters with Disabilities section of The Michigan Voter Information Center, voters may receive assistance from another person, provided that the person assisting the voter is not the voter’s employer, agent of that employer or an officer or agent of a union to which the voter belongs.

 

picture of man in wheelchair in front of a city hall

 

Clark, MPVA member & Paralyzed Veteran shared:

Strangely, polling place accessibility has never been an issue for me. I am lucky that my polling place has always been accessible. I have been voting at the same place for 15 years [because I know] this one works.

Robin, MPVA staff member and wheelchair user shared:

I have always had poor dexterity, so was always on the lookout for the machine that would provide the accessible technology that I would need. I never saw this machine so I found ways to make it work, even though it was very difficult.

In the 2018 election, I finally saw this machine and was told by poll workers that they had never used this accessible voting machine, or the Direct-Recording Electronic machine (DRE). Considering that these machines were part of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, I was disappointed, to say the least!

 

picture of woman using wheelchair and man standing at a voting station

 

Erica Coulston and Westland, MI City Clerk, Richard Leblanc, show off an Accessible Voting Terminal during a mock election set up for MPVA to film a promotion for the “Access the Vote” campaign.

 

Michigan’s Secretary of State website says at least one voting station inside a polling place should be adapted for an individual to vote while seated. In addition, all voters have access to a Voter Assist Terminal in all polling places, which helps a voter mark the ballot.

Are you concerned that the current pandemic, health risks, or other factors might present a barrier or extra challenge to your “Access to Vote” in this upcoming election?

Joyce, an AACIL consumer shared:

The United States Postal Service slowdown is a concern for people that are registered absentee voters [like many with disabilities] because they’re worried that their absentee ballot might not make it in on time. I am concerned about mailing my absentee ballot and will personally visit the local clerk’s office on or after the date that early voting starts in Michigan. That date is September 24.

Remember to call your local clerk’s office with any questions about requesting an absentee ballot, early voting, or anything related. A list of. Offices can be found here.

Have you been able to review your rights, polling access, individual needs, etc. to make a plan to vote in the upcoming election?

Joyce, an AACIL consumer shared:

I actually went to www.michigan.gov and looked up voting information, how to vote, and what to do if you needed assistance with voting. I encourage everyone to review their individual needs and make a plan to get to the polls.

More information can be found on www.michigan.gov or by calling the MPVA or AACIL, whose contact information is below.

Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America:

www.michiganpva.org

(800)-638-MPVA (6782)

Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living

www.annarborcil.org

(734)-971-0277

What is your view on the importance of voting?

Both Joyce and Clark shared that voting is our participation in the democracy of the United States of America. When your vote is cast, you as an American are speaking up about what you want for this country, not only in the individual that you vote for, but in the judicial appointments, leadership choices, and characteristics of our country’s role in the world.

Please be informed voter! Do some research and let your voice be heard this November!