Tag Archives: voting

Guest Post from Jesse the K: Voting Opportunities and Mechanics

Jesse the K hopes you can take a disabled feminist to tea this month. Her previous guest post was Making Space for Wheelchairs and Scooters.

There are many things we can do to improve everyone’s lives. Voting is not the only thing, but it sure is easy to do. Many have given their health, their peace of mind, and their lives for the right to exercise the franchise. If you live in the U.S., join me[1. As long as you’re government approvable, that is, you’re the right color or rich enough to become a citizen or you haven’t been arrested or too recently paroled as part of your systematic community destruction program] and head on down to the polls in your municipality this coming Tuesday.

And while you’re there, you might be wondering, “Gee, just how do people with disabilities vote?” As it happens, I know a little about this.

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CAPTION: laptop size plastic machine with letter-size screen. Woman using powerchair, wearing purple hat and favorite[1. How do I know it’s her favorite jacket? I modeled for the photo] purple jacket feeds ballot into slot below screen.

One decent result from the G.W.Bush administration was that the voting process must be independently accessible to people with disabilities. Before then, most people with disabilities would enlist the assistance of a helper where needed. Then they’d vote absentee (returning the ballot in the mail) or bring the helper into the voting booth on the day. I remember assisting a blind person with a mechanical voting machine–a lever for each name! Xe jested that it was a refreshing change to depend on someone with whose politics xe was unsure (as opposed to xir long-time partner), and yet the joke had a bit of a sting to it.

Reflecting strong republican sentiment in the U.S., voting is controlled at the lowest possible administrative level. Voting techniques vary widely from state to state (sometimes city to county). In Wisconsin you can register to vote five minutes before casting your ballot, but in some states you must register 30 days in advance. But since I can now depend on getting my power wheelchair into the polling place, it seemed like a good year to volunteer as a poll worker. I went to the “new election official in Madison” training today [Editor’s note – October 28].

Two points up front:
1. I wasn’t expecting the disablist training, so I wasn’t taking verbatim notes. I could not swear to any of the following in court; as far as the essential drift, I do believe I’m correct and I heard the trainer acknowledge this. (Memo to self: take notes on life.)
2. I am not hosting a discussion of the political or technical validity and/or vulnerability of voting machines. (For the record, I support 3b; it works for us in Wisconsin, which used to be an exemplar of clean politics.)

When our trainer finished walking us through the various elements of a correctly marked ballot, I raised my hand and said, “And then there’s another way to mark the ballot, right, with the accessible voting machine?” Her response began with a non-verbal eye-roll, which I interpreted as ‘yipes, why did she bring this up?’ Then, she spoke aloud “Yes, that’s right. The accessible voting machine is challenging and we’ll get to that later.”

3. Since she never did do a decent job, let me tell you a bit about accessible voting. The access depends in part on the underlying voting technology. Either
a) Everybody votes using a machine.
In this case, one of the machines needs to supply large print, speech output (usually to headphones), touch screen input (no grip required), single-switch input (more details below) and various other hardware “hooks” to the wide variety of assistive tech in use today.
b) Everybody marks a paper ballot, then feeds the marked ballot into a tabulator (a tallying box like the dollar-bill slot on a vending machine).
Typical people use the ballot-marking tools at the end of their wrists. The rest of us have an accessible machine as above which just marks the ballot. (Ridiculously, the manufacturer’s link don’t provide a fully-accessible presentation.)

OK, back to the end of my training session, where I noted she had never gotten back to the voting machine.

She said the accessible voting machine is very important and everyone must have one working at each polling place. She said they could be used by someone who’s blind, or someone who has low vision, or can’t read for any reason, or really just anybody who wants to. She also said that they were very fussy mechanically, so they may not work as well as you’d like.

(At this point fury stunned me into silence. What I should have said is, “And here we have an excellent chance for you to get in front of these issues by training us in how to get them to work correctly! Seize the moment!”)

Another trainee asked what poll workers should do if they thought a voter was being unduly influenced in filling out a ballot. Xe said, “This happened around 6 years ago, when someone who, well, frankly, he was just not cognizant enough to be voting. And the person with them was filling out the ballot for them.” I piped up that this could be a good option to use the accessible machine: somebody who can’t read could be able to understand the speech.

(FWIW, the “Six years ago this r#tarded person was influenced in their vote” is a perennial election year rumor. Neurotypical people are quick to define the minimum IQ they’d set for voting, without exploring the profound mismatch between IQ and ability. Absolutely every social justice activist would do well to read Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man.)

When the training was over, I’d been cleansed by fury and recovered the power of speech, I stopped to discuss my issues with the trainer. I said I was disappointed in her presentation of the voting machine. She reiterated they were frustrating and difficult to use. “Don’t you realize,” she asked, “that most poll workers are over 60 and they are not going to be able to understand this computer?” (Reality check: accessible voting machines are no more a computer than an ATM. Ninety percent of the people in the training were under 55; in all regards it looked like Madison: gender presentation, ethnicity, education levels, evident disability, income levels, number of piercings, which made me happy about my city.)

I asked if that meant my rights as a voter were also frustrating her? How would she feel if I said that permitting her to vote was too difficult? The penny dropped, and she began to apologize for “not presenting in the most effective manner.” At this point her supervisor’s ears pricked up. “Who was deprecating use of the voting machines?” The trainer allowed that her “initial presentation was sub-optimal.” While I was gratified that she’d finally understood, I was frustrated that this right, so long fought for by so many, is still not a matter of fact in our daily lives.

If you’re up for some voting day advocacy, the U.S. Department of Justice provides a detailed guide for access verifiers at Voting Checklist. Folks outside the U.S., what’s the voting situation for you?

Recommended Reading for 1 November, 2010

Welcome to November. Gentle reader, be cautioned: comments sections on mainstream media sites tend to not be safe and we here at FWD/Forward don’t necessarily endorse all the opinions in these pieces. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

Queen Emily at Questioning Transphobia: attacking the already vulnerable:

In the UK, people with disabilities have been among the hardest hit by the recent Thatcher 2.0 ConDem cuts of the Osborne Review. The employment support allowance (ESA) which was previously able to be claimed until the person finds a job has now been set with a limit of one year. I’m sure that’ll be of great comfort to people, cos disabilities also expire after year amiright?

It’s election time in the United States. Melissa Mitchell at Service Dogs: A Way of Life: Cast your vote November 2.

I ask you, my loyal readers how can we as a community expect our current rights to continue to be protected, our equity as members of society to be validated, or our issues to be seen as important when we are not seen as a community that votes?

Also, Leah at Cromulent Words: Voting and Privilege:

And what do you need to do after you’ve recognised your privilege of voting access? You can either use your privilege to uplift the people you oppress or you can ignore it and continue to harm (directly or indirectly) the most vulnerable people in our country.

New South Wales, Australia: ABC News: Thousands rally for disability services funds

The State Government committed funding for disability services five years ago under the Stronger Together program, but money for the next five years has not been included in the forward estimates of the next budget.

Times of India: Sleep disturbances ups work disability:

A new study, conducted by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in collaboration with the universities of Turku and London, has revealed that sleep disturbances increase the risk of work disability and may slow the return to work process.

That’s all for this time. Send your links to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com. Let us know if/how you want to be credited.

Politicians care so much they make their message nonsense

Like a lot of people, I signed up for automatic emails from the various political parties in Canada. Because I live in Nova Scotia, the main federal parties that run here are the Conservative Party, the Green Party, the Liberal Party, and the New Democratic Party (often just the NDP). (If I lived in Quebec, I would also have the option of voting for the Bloc Québécois federally.) I dutifully signed up for all four of these parties, so I could be informed about the issues they think are important.

One thing that seems to be very important: YouTube videos! Each of the parties maintains their own YouTube channel, and they stock these channels with videos. Every week or two, I get another email from a political party that really wants my vote (or at least my money), and they often include links to the YouTube channel, or even embedded video. And every week or two, I respond like clockwork, asking them to please provide captioning and/or transcription of the video.

So far, the response has been silence.

I wonder if the reason for this is simply because there’s the new Auto-Captioning service at YouTube, which attempts to automatically subtitle a video a video. Surely this will provide a good working set of subtitles, right?

Ha ha. Ha ha ha.

In alphabetical order, let me show you what the YouTube auto-captioning displays when I try to watch political messages from my current or potential political representatives:

The Conservative Party of Canada:

An image description appears below

Image: Screen capture of a YouTube video, with subtitles that read “You don’t think that’s a whole group called american this country and you have to decide”

Actual quote: Voice Over: “Adopted Britain as his home. Called America his country.” Ignatieff: “You have to decide….” (This advertisement is discussing Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff’s past.)

Here is leader of the Green Party, Elizabeth May:

See below for image description

Image: Screen capture of a YouTube video, with subtitles that read “we’re on Friday evening breeze through across Canada will gather”

Actual Quote: Elizabeth May “…Where on Friday evening Greens from across Canada will gather.”

I will totally admit the Green example is not as terrible as the others. The Greens don’t have a lot of advertising at the moment. (Non-Canadians, this is in part because they’ve not got an actual member in the House. I count them as a national party because they run in all 308 Federal ridings, and May participated in the Federal Leadership Debate.)

The Liberal Party of Canada:

Description appears below the image

Image: A screen cap from a YouTube vid. Caption reads “the prime minister’s their lives for stroger’s we have a garden”.

Actual quote: “… The Prime Minister is there to inspire us to do our best, and we have a guy who….”

The New Democrats:

Image description is below.

Image: A YouTube screen capture. The caption reads “costs are skyrocketing so why does is Stephen harper dead”

Actual Quote: “Heating costs are skyrocketing. So why doesn’t Stephen Harper get it?”

This is what I wrote in one of my last emails to my MP about this issue:

I know disability and accessibility are things you care about too, Megan, so I hope that you will pass along my concerns to the NDP Leadership: Transcribing and subtitling/captioning of video and audio content is an accessibility issue. Providing both a transcript and subtitling allows for more Canadians to be able to access the message of the NDP. As well, it shows a commitment to accessibility and to including Canadians who prefer or require transcripts and subtitling, for whatever reason. As this is something I believe the NDP values, it would be helpful for the party, at all levels, to provide transcription and subtitling for all the videos that they produce.

Of course, subtitling your video (and providing a transcript) are not only for people who are d/Deaf or hard-of-hearing. They’re also for people who have audio processing disorders, who have difficulties understanding spoke English, who don’t want to turn up their volume, or even don’t have speakers or headphones on their computer. They’re for people who just want a transcript or subtitling because it makes their lives easier today. (For example, I have an ear infection and subtitles are the order of the day.)

Every political party in Canada “cares” about “the disabled”. They really do. Each one has a little subsection of their website dedicated to explaining how they “care” about “the disabled”.

I think it would be awesome instead of telling me how much they cared, they’d show it. And one way of doing that would be subtitling their ads, so everyone can know what their message is.

Recommended Reading for 15 October, 2010

The month’s going fast, isn’t it? Gentle reader, be cautioned: comments sections on mainstream media sites tend to not be safe and we here at FWD/Forward don’t necessarily endorse all the opinions in these pieces. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

At Deafinitely Girly, Nobody puts Deafinitely Girly in a deaf box:

Sometimes I wonder what I should do about this living in a box thing – should I work with it? Get it some comfy cushions, make myself right at home, play up to the illusion that I’m going nowhere fast. Or should I throw the damn box out of the window and continue the daily fight to prove that putting people in boxes – no matter who they are or what they do – is a very outmoded way of thinking?

At Rolling Around In My Head, A Pop Quiz by Dave Hingsburger:

Clearly there are two ways to view every situation. I am wondering about all of you. Was the curtain a thing designed to give privacy or was it something which indicated the hiding way of shameful movement?

New Zealand: Government Bullying Must Stop by Red at Walking is Overrated:

This bullying of innocent families (who, let’s be honest, have enough on their plate) must stop. The Government is relying on the apathy, relative inertia and fear of the disabled community to make life hell for the people who deserve it least. No other group in society is so reliant on the Government from birth as people like myself who are born with a disability. We must support each other, and band together to tell whoever is behind this vendetta against good, hard-working families who are dedicated to their kids, that enough’s enough.

Singapore: Call for awareness on mental health issues at TODAYonline:

Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef said: “It is also significant that there was another follow-up survey (to the one done in 2004) that showed 37 per cent (of those surveyed) said even if they had serious mental health symptoms, they would not come forward to seek professional help because of the fear of stigma.”

Canada: at The Standard, City of St. Catharines plans for an inclusive election experience:

“We looked at everything from the Facilities Accessibilites Design Standards checklist, the updated building code and for accessibility, said Karen Ellison, the city’s election co-ordinator.

“We’re trying to make this a superior experience.”

Send your links to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com. Let us know if/how you want to be credited.

Recommended Reading for 27 August, 2010

Gentle reader, be cautioned: comments sections on mainstream media sites tend to not be safe and we here at FWD/Forward don’t necessarily endorse all the opinions in these pieces. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

United Kingdom: ESA: It Doesn’t Add Up by lilwatchergirl at Through Myself and Back Again.

No wonder there’s so much anxiety around the ESA medical assessments. Anxiety that won’t help those who already have long-term illnesses, or mental health problems, or acute life-threatening conditions – or who are already living in fear and poverty as a result of the War on Welfare Claimants.

When Persistence Pays Off by Emma/Writer In A Wheelchair at Disability Voices.

I’d love to think that they’ve done this just because of my complaints but I’m not naive enough to do so – and I know I’m not the only person whose had those problems. But it’s a definite example of why complaining, campaigning and advocacy are so important. And what happens when your persistent – because it really can pay off.

Statistics on Accessible Tourism – a Continuing Issue by Ivor Ambrose, guest posting at Access Tourism NZ.

One of the most Frequently Asked Questions posed by business owners and tourist agencies is: “How many disabled tourists are there”? And then there is the more probing question: “So, if it is not just about disabled people, how many people actually need better access, and what kind of things do they need?”.

Canada: Ottawa makes voting easier for disabled from CBC News.

The new voting machine, called a Voter Assist Terminal, has a high-contrast touch screen with a zoom function to enlarge type size. It also has tactile buttons with Braille on them; a sip/puff device for people with limited mobility; a rocker paddle; and an audio function that enables voters to hear the choice of candidates through headphones.

A New Financial Access Frontier: Persons With Disabilities by Elisabeth Rhyne at The Huffington Post.

According to Harvard Law professor Michael Stein, 650 million people around the world, nearly 10 percent of humanity, have a disability, and over 80 percent of these people live in developing countries. Yet, in research studies, fewer than 1 percent of the clients of microfinance institutions, dedicated to serving the world’s financially excluded people, were found to be persons with disabilities.

Send your links to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com.

Recommended Reading for 13 August, 2010

You know, if you’re into the Gregorian calendar (also, Friday 13th! Spooky!). Why hello there, gentle reader! This is my first Recommended Reading. This is very exciting for us all. While this should be a time of celebration, be cautioned: comments sections on mainstream media sites (and it’s all MSM articles in this edition of RR!) tend to not be safe and we here at FWD/Forward don’t necessarily endorse all the opinions in these pieces. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

A group of people lying in a circle on the grass, hands stretching towards and touching in the middle. There are three wheelchairs scattered about nearby, and some rope on the ground. Rocks are just visible to the bottom of the shot. The photo was taken from the top of a flying fox.

Photo by Louise Dawson. From the photo’s Flickr page: ‘Participants in this Outward Bound group, with a variety of physical disabilities, had just tackled a ropes challenge course as part of a 9 day program.’ The photo was taken in November 1996.

IRIN Africa (from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs): SENEGAL: Children with disability – when stigma means abandonment. Warning for some highly unpleasant treatment of disabled children.

The shame attached to mental and neurological disorders is a strong force, said Dakar hairdresser Ibrahim Gueye, the father of a child with a severe learning disability.

“In Senegalese society it is quite difficult to have a child with a mental disorder. The prevailing belief is that it is a curse; it is difficult to get family and friends to accept such a child.”

In the District of Columbia in the USA, from the Washington Post: Independent administrator to oversee D.C. compliance in disability lawsuit:

The fight over appointing an administrator is the latest chapter in the Evans lawsuit, which was filed in 1976 over the District’s abysmal care of people with developmental disabilities.

That’s right, the case has been going for thirty-four years.

From the Ghana News Agency, 50% of Brazilian buses for persons with disabilities:

Vice President John Dramani Mahama on Wednesday announced that 50 per cent of buses expected from Brazil would be friendly to persons with disabilities.

[…]

He said the constitution of the National Council on persons with disabilities was the beginning of the educational programmes that would help to redress their challenges as public institutions noting that the transport system still lacked facilities for them.

In the UK, from the Guardian, Why the next Paralympics will be the greatest ever by Ade Adepitan, Paralympian and TV presenter.

The news that Channel 4 is going to spend millions on the London 2012 Paralympics and give it 150 hours of coverage is a landmark moment. The BBC did a fantastic job of increasing the Paralympics’ profile, but it usually ended up on BBC2 – second fiddle to the Olympics. I only found out about the Paralympics when I was 14 – before then I didn’t know it was possible for someone in a wheelchair to compete in a global sports event.

In the Canadian town of Cobourg, at Northumberland News, Electronic voting a win for disability groups:

The system ensures security by sending each registered voter a pin number by mail; that number can then be used to access the electronic ballot either online or on the telephone.

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com.

I’m Disabled and I Vote

A person in a powerchair wearing a shirt that says 'feel the power of the disability vote.' Photo taken at a protest in California.

(Photo by Flickr user Steve Rhodes, used under a Creative Commons license.)

Here in the United States, we are in the midst of a midterm election cycle, and given that campaigning for Presidential elections basically starts two years in advance, we are about to start ramping up for the 2012 Presidential election, which looks like it is going to be a doozy.

I have voted in every single US election since I reached the age for voting eligibility. I’ve voted on traditional paper ballots, hanging chads and all. I’ve voted on scantron ballots. These days, I vote via permanent absentee ballot:

California Ballot for the June 2010 primary election

I’ve always been mesmerised by the electoral process. Growing up, our house was used as the polling place for the community, and my father always let me take the day off from school to watch the voting. I clamored to turn on the radio for election results like other children screamed for ice cream. I’m somewhat more cynical about elections, voting, and enfranchisement these days.

As we approach the 20th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law on 26 July, 1990, we are still dealing with inaccessible polling places. And we are still dealing with disabled politicians who veto bills designed to increase polling place accessibility:

Last September, the governor [David Paterson of New York], who himself has a disability, shocked many when he vetoed a group of disability bills mostly centered on rights provided through the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, including voting place access.

This article goes on to discuss the voting access aspects of the legislation Paterson vetoed in more detail, pointing out that many of the claims he made about the legislation were false and illustrating that funds are made federally available to address accessibility issues at polling places. There is no reason for a polling place to be inaccessible, ever, and it is horrific that the Governor felt it was appropriate to veto a bill that included, among other things, polling place accessibility.

Voting matters. We have a right to participate in the democratic process, and this right is routinely denied to us. Not just here in the United States. I’m sure many FWD readers remember jady_lady’s post about being disenfranchised in the recent UK election:

It was only whilst walking home with my partner that we compared notes. It appeared that my template had been placed fairly close to the left hand edge of the form, and my partner’s had been nearer the middle of the form. We phoned a friend and asked where the boxes appear on the ballot paper and were told that they are down the right hand side.

It would therefore appear that both our ballot papers are spoilt and we haven’t had a vote in this very important election.

When I was a young child eagerly watching everyone vote, it filled me with a sense that there was some justice in the world. People could be angry, they could be unhappy with the political situation, and they could express themselves at the polls. I remember the first election I voted in vividly. I remember reading my voter’s guide with care and showing up at the polling place precisely at 7:00 AM so I could vote as soon as it was physically possible, I remember being handed my ballot and going into the stall and carefully using the stylus to punch out my vote, I remember slipping my ballot into the protective cover to protect the confidentiality of my vote, handing it to the poll worker and watching her drop it into the lockbox with the other ballots. I remember eagerly watching as results rolled in, looking at the county results and thinking ‘one of these votes was mine.

The thought that anyone would be denied that right and that experience makes me indescribably furious. Actively working to deny people the right to vote is nothing short of repugnant. So is denying people the right to vote in confidentiality; a polling place is not ‘accessible’ if voters are required to disclose their votes to a poll worker to get their ballots cast. It is not ‘accessible’ if the only wheelchair-accessible space to vote is a table in the middle of the room where everyone can see.

An estimated 20% of the population of the United States is disabled. That’s a pretty big percentage of the electorate. Given that we are not actually a hivemind, it’s safe to assume that we have some very diverse views on politics and that those of us who do vote probably vote very differently. Those of us who can’t vote would vote differently as well, if they were given an opportunity to do so. It’s important to make sure that these voices are heard, to ensure that votes are cast not only by people who can walk up the stairs to a polling place, stand at a polling booth, and interact with a touchscreen or paper ballot, but by everyone.

There is absolutely no reason to keep polling places inaccessible, unless, of course, you are afraid of the power of the disability vote.

Recommended Reading for November 12

Private Practice Takes a Bold Stance against Decent Behaviour

There’s a new doctor at Naomi’s practice, Dr. Fife, a genetic engineer who uses a wheelchair who pressures Naomi into agreeing to select for an embryo for two patients with dwarfism to allow them to created a baby who also has dwarfism. Naomi is reluctant but agrees until she learns that these embryos will also give the future baby a 40% chance of developing some kind of cancer (which Lauredhel over on FWD points out, is the baseline cancer risk for the US population).

18th Down Under Feminist Carnival

This Carnival has an optional caring theme, thanks to Australian Carers’ Week (which was October 18 to October 24). The theme for this year was “Anyone, Anytime, Across Australia”, which I modified to “Anyone, Anytime” for the purposes of the DUFC.

Denmark Strips Away Right To Privacy from Blind Voters

On Wednesday I read that one of my blind friend’s in Utah just experience voting by himself for the first time thanks to his voting machine having built in text to speech. On that same day, I also read that the blind in Denmark not only don’t get to vote by themselves, they have to have a council member present when they’re voting. This rule was supposedly implemented to make sure that the sighted helper wasn’t pressuring the blind voter to vote in a particular way, but what it really does is just strip that voter of their right to privacy.

On being “Crazy”

Crazy is something altogether different. Crazy is delusion, psychosis, mania, schizophrenia. Insanity, in the depths of society’s psyche, is jabbering in tongues rocking back and forth in a padded room. It can’t be trusted. It is the serial killer, the mother who kills her children, the man who laughs while committing the most vile crimes – this is what “crazy” conjures up in the minds of the general public.

This terror, this nightmare looming in the dark places of our collective consciousness is harmful. Incredibly so. It means that people who are not neurotypical are stuck with the paradoxical choice of lying or being mistrusted. Perhaps more importantly, it makes us less likely to seek help when it is needed. It took me years to admit, even to myself, that my brain was fundamentally different than most. Because I didn’t want to be crazy.

In the news:
Vatican post office issues stamps with raised dots to honour inventor of Braille system

The Vatican post office says it has issued its first Braille stamps to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille, the French creator of the writing and reading system for the blind.

The stamps feature a portrait of Braille and his system’s raised dots that spell out Braille, Vatican City State and the price.

Don’t forget, we’re also doing some guest blogging at Bitch Magazine! Check out meloukhia’s introductory post about disability! (Yes, I do write up recommended reading in advance.)