How do People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired Vote?

September 29, 2016

Early voting for the 2016 elections began today in Illinois. This is a good opportunity for those that have already decided who they will vote for to cast their ballot ahead of time and avoid the long lines on November 8th. People who are blind or visually impaired have options for voting independently. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Help America Vote Act of 2002 guarantee equal access for voters with disabilities. Like everyone else, voters with vision loss can vote in person or cast an absentee ballot by mail. We can either have a trusted friend or family member help us fill out the ballot, or – when voting in person at the polling place – use accessible voting machines.

Absentee Voting

People with vision loss can request an absentee ballot, which they will complete and return to their election office by mail. While a major advantage of this is that voters can do this at home and during their own time, the drawback is that they will need a person with sight to fill out the ballot for them. Still, this may be a good option for those who will not be able to cast their vote on Election Day, or who are unable to leave their home because of health or other circumstances. Although some states are beginning to make online ballots available, this is still an uncommon practice.

Voting in Person

By voting in person – either during early voting or on Election Day – voters with vision loss can take advantage of the accessible voting systems available to people with disabilities. Once at his or her local polling place, a voter can request to use an accessible voting machine. These machines offer both touch screen and audio ballots. The audio ballot can be accessed by connecting a special keypad and headset to the machine. Voters can adjust the speed and volume of the speech and make their selections. People with low vision can use the touch screen ballot and adjust the print size and contrast.

Unfortunately, voters with vision loss might encounter times when poll workers are unfamiliar with setting up accessible voting equipment. This happened to me when I voted for the first time in 2008. Thankfully, the staff was able to figure it out after a few minutes, but this is not always the case. Voters who are unable to access the special equipment, or who would prefer to have someone read the ballot, can have it read to them. They can either have a trusted friend or family member or poll worker read and mark their ballot. While this might be a good option for some, I encourage voters to use the accessible equipment whenever possible, as this gives us full independence and privacy.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to vote and elect my government officials. This is a privilege and right that all Americans should exercise. Thanks to comprehensive legislation and modern technology, voters with vision loss can participate in elections independently and privately. If you would like more information about the resources available to voters with vision loss or other disabilities, visit this page from the American Association of People with Disabilities.

Have you voted in past elections using the accessible voting equipment? Please share your experiences with our readers!

sandy speakingSandy Murillo works at The Chicago Lighthouse, an organization serving the blind and visually impaired. She is the author of Sandy’s View, a bi-weekly Lighthouse blog about blindness and low vision. The blog covers topics of interest to those living with blindness and vision impairments. Being a blind journalist and blogger herself, Sandy shares her unique perspective about ways to live and cope with vision loss.

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