Article by Judy Wieber
The month of November is an excellent time to reflect, to stop and remember those who gave of their lives in service to defend and protect our freedoms. It is also a good time to think what freedom means to each one of us living as American citizens with disabilities.
At the beginning of November, we were all called to go to our local polling places, to cast our ballots, and let our voices be heard. How many of us living on Long Island are aware of the accessible Ballot Marking Device (BMD) machine available at every polling place, to make the right to vote private and independent?
If you are someone who has come to SILO to listen to demonstrations about the BMD, then you are familiar with such a device. But if you haven't had the chance to come out, I would like to tell you more about these machines and my experience with them.
First of all, it is like the best kept secret in the polling place. If you do not know what you are asking for, it may never be offered to you. If by chance you know what you are asking for, you may not find the machine set up and ready to be used.
This electronic piece of equipment allows a person who is print impaired, blind, or low vision to hear the ballot read out loud. If you have a physical disability affecting the use of your hands, this device is equipped with an accessible interface, using paddles, or a sip and puff mechanism.
Unfortunately, many voters with a disability are not aware of these machines. Many poll workers are not given enough training on how to set the BMD machines up. As a result, a voter with a disability will opt to vote with assistance from a person they have chosen to cast their vote. The whole ordeal becomes frustrating and time consuming.
As an American, who wishes to vote privately and independently, I find this whole experience very exhausting. It not only has exhausted my energy, but exhausted the money used by the county to purchase these machines.
If voters do not use them, and let the county know of our experiences using them, they will sit in a box, collecting dust, and requiring maintenance.
Just as many who have come before us who used their voices to speak up, and have their words count, I encourage voters with disabilities to ask for the right to vote privately and independently be upheld in your voting place.
We wish for these machines to be available, working and equipped with poll workers who know how to set them up.
What can we do?
When going to vote, ask to use the Accessible Ballot Marking Device. Before going to vote, call your Board of Elections and let them know you wish to use the machine and wish to find it up and ready to use when you arrive there.
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