For some Americans with disabilities, voting is a sip-and-puff experience.
They use a “sip-and-puff” device, which helps a quadriplegic vote independently. The device is attached to a vote-tabulation machine, and puffing allows the citizen to hear candidates’ names. Sipping selects an individual and casts a vote.
Other Americans with disabilities might use a touch screen.
Missoula, Montana, resident Travis Hoffman, 38, with limited use of his arms after a spinal cord injury, said he relies on the AutoMARK machine’s touch-screen feature to “actually vote in private, like able-bodied people do. It’s one of the rights that everybody enjoys as Americans, the right to a secret ballot.”
The special machines are available in every Missoula polling place, said Rebecca Connors, election administrator for the Missoula County, where voters with disabilities also can ask to receive a ballot via email.
Here are some other ways that U.S. citizens who have a disability can cast their ballots:
- Vote-by-mail systems, early voting and absentee ballots.
- Physical assistance at the polls.
- Braille and audio ballots for the blind or visually impaired.
State and federal laws require polling places to accommodate voters with disabilities so every U.S. citizen has equal access to exercising the right to vote. Congress set accessibility requirements and provided funding for special voting machines in the Help America Vote Act of 2002.
An increasing number of U.S. voters need such accommodations. A study released in September by Rutgers University showed the number of U.S. voters with disabilities is growing faster than the number of those without disabilities. An estimated 35 million, or 1 in 6, U.S. voters have a disability.
Voting is power, said Zach Baldwin, spokesman for the American Association of People with Disabilities. The group launched a campaign to ensure that people with disabilities are registered to vote in the 2016 presidential election — because inclusive, vibrant democracy depends on the active engagement of all citizens in public life.
“We’ve been mobilizing the disabled community to be more politically engaged,” Baldwin said. “More people with disabilities voting leads to a more representative system.”
Drive-through voting is another option. In Bexar County, Texas, for example, curbside voting lets a citizen with a physical disability remain in the car. Election officials bring the ballot to the vehicle if the citizen calls 30 minutes ahead and has a helper who can stand in line for them.
In 1999, Texas was the first state to require that all new voting systems be accessible to voters with disabilities and provide a way for voters with disabilities to cast a secret ballot.
This article was written by freelance writer Kathleen Murphy.