Tag Archives: People with disabilities

Sharing the right to vote — The right, the reason, some resources

Intentional suppression of the right to vote is an overt travesty we abhor; as a democratic society we establish laws and regulations that facilitate, not impede, access. Passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act over a quarter century ago has open the election process to millions of Americans by requiring physical accommodations ranging from ramps to Braille ballots to wider voting booths and audio instructions.   Over the years, focus has been on reaching the disabilities community with information about their voting rights and accessibility.

The great good news is that, in its first 26 years ADA has changed the lives of millions of Americans. More good news is that the changes implemented by federal mandate reap powerful benefits for all Americans. In some ways we are just beginning to realize the broader implications of ADA – the 2016 Election offers a challenge and an opportunity to build on ADA as a powerful tool for universal suffrage.

The first challenge is to assure that everyone who needs accommodation is aware of the range of possibilities and their legal right to expect access. Clearly, focus of ADA is on the disabilities community, a community that is itself expanding as Americans age and incur physical challenges that go with the territory.’

Which leads to the need to share information about the right to access with a broader public. This demands collaboration with agencies of every stripe that is in a position to share information about access with members of the public who do not identify with the disabilities community. There are countless Americans who do not identify as “disabled” for whom physical and mental challenges present unrecognized impediments to voting.

Basically, we all need to know more about the laws and procedures that ensure that every American is free and able to exercise the right to vote – and that all Americans are aware of the legal rights and accommodations accessible to every citizen for whom physical or mental access may present a barrier.

A basic step is to ensure that every eligible voter is registered. An earlier post describing the REV-UP initiative focused on voter registration as an Election 2016 priority. (https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/tag/rev-up/) Sponsored by the American Association of People with Disabilities the REV-UP campaign continues to hone in on public awareness and support materials – a great starting point for learning what’s happening this election season. http://www.aapd.com/our-focus/voting/

Voter registration not only opens the door but also offers the ideal opportunity to share the vast information resources about the voting rights of people with disabilities. It’s important to remember, too, that absentee voters who may not need information about access at their precinct, still need to have ready access to registration procedures.

The general public and agencies that serve people with access challenges need to know the law.

The legislation that codifies the voting rights of people with disabilities is the Help America Vote Act. (HAVA) Enacted in 2002 HAVA can seem as complex as it is fundamental. The straightforward basics are spelled out here: (http://www.eac.gov/about_the_eac/help_america_vote_act.aspx) For more comprehensive information on background and provisions of HAVA check Ballotpedia, the indispensable guide to all things voting related. Ballotpedia offers a good overview of the law and the process of implementation – a solid starting point for understanding the intent and the possibilities ensured by this federal legislation: https://ballotpedia.org/Help_America_Vote_Act_(HAVA)_of_2002

At the state level the right to vote for people with developmental disabilities is contained in Minnesota State Statute §204C.15, subd. 1. The basics are spelled out in detail in this publication from the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities: http://mn.gov/mnddc/news/newsitems/righttovote06.html

Municipalities have created their own systems for meeting the needs of voters who need assistance. As an example, Minneapolis residents who are visually impaired or hard of hearing are given this directive: For reasonable accommodations or alternative formats please contact the Neighborhood and Community Relations Department at 612-673-3737. People who are deaf or hard of hearing can use a relay service to call 311 at 612-673-3000. TTY users call 612-673-2157 or 612-673-2626.

The U.S Department of Justice offers a useful guide more specifically geared to the information needs of those charged with responsibility to implement HAVA: http://www.dspssolutions.org/resources/section-two-ada504-compliance-ocr-letters/us-department-of-justice-ada-links-documents. Written for compliance people, this may be more than mere mortals need to know about HAVA….

During the past election Access Press ran a very accessible guide on the topic of voting rights and accommodations for people with disabilities. It’s a great introduction, the only problem being that not everyone who serves the disabilities community reads Access Press or knows the story http://www.accesspress.org/blog/2014/10/10/voters-have-the-right-to-ask-for-assistance/?utm_source=Access%20Press%20Newsletter&utm_campaign=006cae818b-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_7c7ff77da6-006cae818b-418448557

In spite of legal requirements and the unstinting work of the disabilities community it remains to the vigilant to monitor the implementation of federal, state and municipal laws. There is concern among these groups that people with disabilities are “invisible,” thus not included or even identified in exit polling or election analyses. Another concern is that absentee voting solves all the voting problems for the disabilities community. The contention of some polling monitors is that, if people with disabilities were to vote at the same rate as non-disabled, there would have been 10 million more votes cast in the past election.

The fact is that the responsibility to know and share information about the voting rights of and accommodations for people with disabilities is “everybody’s business and nobody’s business.” The general public who are not immediately affected must begin to take a more active role in reaching a broader constituency who may not be fully aware of the comprehensive legislative requirements that accommodations be made for voters who face physical or mental barriers to voting.

As always, ignorance of the law is no excuse. In truth we as a society have not harnessed the human, political and communications resources at our disposable to inform people who need assistance to exercise their right to register and to vote.  It is only through broader understanding of the law and the possibilities that we can share the basic facts about the registration/voting assistance to which every voter has a right. We also need to acknowledge – and counteract – the sad fact there are some Americans who think that their vote doesn’t really matter!

During this election season we need to ramp up the pitch, to share the word with and through mainstream agencies.   Those who serve the public – which includes just about everyone — need to seize the opportunity to learn about HAVA and the accessibility of registration/voting resources. It will take the combined energy and attention not only of the disabilities community but also of institutions, e.g. neighborhood associations, health care providers, small businesses, libraries, the faith community, advocacy and good government groups, to assure thatchallenged voters know their rights and needs, that mandated accommodations are readily accessible to every potential voter, and that every voter knows how much his or her vote counts!

Election officials who take their positions seriously are committed to conforming to the law and meeting the needs of every voter.   The missing link seems in many cases to be that people with disabilities, their families, care providers, and others in their lives don’t fully understand, and thus do not make fully clear, that access to the polls is within the reach of every eligible voter.

Fortunately, there are rich resources for people with disabilities and for election officials who want to better meet the requirements. Though my interest is as a concerned citizen, not an expert, my shallow dive into the possibilities came up with some, certainly not all, helpful resources that demand to be known and shared by more public and nonprofit agencies:

United States Election Assistance Commission http://www.eac.gov/voter_resources/resources_for_voters_with_disabilities.aspx

National Disabilities Rights Network http://www.ndrn.org/en/contact.html

Center for an Accessible Society http://www.accessiblesociety.org/topics/voting/

The Americans with Disabilities Act and Other Federal Laws Protecting the Rights of Voters with Disabilities https://www.ada.gov/ada_voting/ada_voting_ta.htm


Minnesota Council on Developmental Disabilities: http://mn.gov/mnddc/news/newsitems/righttovote06.html

National Federation for the Blind – Voting, Accessibility, and Law https://nfb.org/hava-legislation

National Association of the Deaf



Voting and Alzheimer’s Disease http://www.alzheimersblog.org/2014/11/03/



Real Digital Inclusion – A challenge for transparency advocates

The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect. Tim Berners-Lee W3C.

Some fundamental first principles:

1) The idea of digital inclusion is more expansive than we sometimes imagine; in fact, digital inclusion encompasses the right to appropriate access to the content made available through technology.   The distinction between availability and accessibility is at the core of the right of people with disabilities to receive, manipulate and share content.

2) Because the Web can either remove or erect barriers to communication and interaction the potential of today’s technology is radically and exponentially changed. Our thinking must do the same.

3) What’s good for people with physical and mental challenges will often enhance the lives of a broader constituency including seniors, people who live in remote or developing areas or who speak and read other than mainstream languages.

Because most of my waking hours are devoted to thinking about access to information by and about the government, the lens through which I see the world focuses on the inclusion of all as active participants in this democratic society. My mantra echoes the words of President Woodrow Wilson who reminded us that “government ought to be all outside and no inside.”

Thus it seems to me that Sunshine Week, March 15-21, 2015, presents a ready opportunity to connect the dots between digital inclusion and efforts to ensure the people’s right to know. Sunshine Week is a concerted effort by journalists and other open government advocates to shine light on the people’s right to know. (http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/blog/mary-treacy/thoughts-sunshine-week-2015-wwjmd) The problem: the unique needs of people with disabilities, and the potential of evolving technology to assure access, has remained in the shadows of the inclusion narrative. It’s time to connect the dots – to feature assistive technology as a key feature of the Sunshine Week agenda.

Clearly, advocates for open government must be in the front lines in the drive to expand the concept of digital inclusion to encompass the needs and potential of people with mental and physical challenges. Information by and about the government belongs to all the people; it is the responsibility of government at every level to embrace the potential of technology to remove barriers to access.

Linking the ideas and tools of assistive technology and open government is a poignant example of the challenge we face to create opportunities and incentives for new partnerships. In an era of warp-speed technological – and political – change, a world in which the web is pervasive, the stakes for users and government alike are great. The opportunities to learn and engage accrue to all concerned.

Last weekend I was able to participate in a workshop on assistive technology sponsored by Open Twin Cities and Hennepin County. There local and state accessibility experts described their accomplishments and hopes while coders shared ideas and skills to create apps that will assist people with differing abilities to navigate the enormous resources of the web. The energy in the group of nearly 50 enthusiastic coders engaged in a common cause was palpable.

Next step is for those who choose to drink more deeply of the Pierean stream to delve more deeply into the resources that Web access promises. At the risk of overload, here are some useful resources that can pave the way for those who want to further explore the how-to’s and why’s of web accessibility.

WAI – The Web Accessibility Initiative (http://www.w3.org/WAI/)

brings together individuals and organizations from around the world to develop strategies, guidelines, and resources. WAI engages representatives from industry, disability organizations, education, government, and research. The virtual door is open to all.

First Monday (www.FirstMonday.org) Started in 1996 this is one of the first openly accessible, peer–reviewed journals on the Internet, solely devoted to the Internet. First Monday is global in scope, indexed in a host of readily accessible reference sources.

Computers in Libraries (http://www.infotoday.com/cil2014/) The 30th Computers in Libraries conference is scheduled for Washington DC, April 2015. See also the journal of the same name. (http://infotoday.stores.yahoo.net/cominlibmags.html)

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Department of Economic and Social Affairs © United Nations 2008 -2015 (http://www.un.org/disabilities/convention/conventionfull.shtml)

When you’re finished changing, you’re finished!  Benjamin Franklin.






Just Checking — When a PHone Call Really Matters

Will anybody call me today?

This wisp of self-doubt came from an elderly woman in response to a query about what questions she might have about life, the universe and everything.  A parish nurse who had been to visit the homebound member of her congregation shared the poignant story.  The simple question has stayed with me as I have been on t he periphery of a program called Tele-Care sponsored by Neighbors, Inc. where I have been a volunteer in recent times.

Many of us are perpetually at the ready, knowing the phone will ring any minute.  With any luck it is a friend or family member wanting to share a bit of cheer.  Or then again, it may be a salesperson, a pollster, a wrong number or, for families with teenagers….. The point in, we get lots o f calls spoken or texted on our landline, cell phone, inevitably on a Dick Tracy-style wristwatch or an implanted device.  It’s hard to hear the lonely voice of this isolated woman hoping for – and needing – a friendly phone call.

Human service providers use the term “telephone reassurance program” to categorize organizations that have structured ways to facilitate what is, in fact, a simple exchange in which a volunteer makes a scheduled call to an individual who is unable to get out of his or her home.  The caller is a phone friend, just checking to be sure the homebound person has eaten properly, taken prescribed meds on time, has enough food in the house to withstand the next blizzard, remembers to keep the doctor appointment or the visit to the hairdresser – and to spread a bit of good cheer along the way.

Of course family members, friends and neighbors make “telephone reassurance” calls all the time – it’s just that some folks, such as the woman who spoke with the parish nurse, fall through the conversation cracks.  At the same time, one source of a regular check-in, the Meals on Wheels program, has been restructured; for many, the daily drop-in by the MOW driver is yet another loss.

Spotting an opportunity, a number of corporations are promoting pricey “telephone reassurance” products and services to vulnerable adults and their concerned families.  For generous volunteers, a lonely senior or disabled person is a neighbor who needs a helping hand.  For others, that same homebound person is a source of easy income – robo-calls are cheap.

Volunteer programs such as Neighbors’ Tele-Care are no cost to the recipient for whom a daily phone call is both a day brightener and a safety net.  Generous – and chatty – volunteers enjoy t he program as much as the individuals who get the call.  Some say they appreciate the structure that a scheduled call adds to their day.  In many cases, friendships blossom and bear fruit.

Neighbors’ Tele-Care is one of countless low-cost/high impact programs hosted by nonprofits and faith communities.  It happens to be the one with which I have experience.

My thought is to share the concept, not any specific program.  Connecting a lonely person with a program such as Tele-Care would make a thoughtful holiday gift – one that truly deserves the tagline “the gift that keeps on giving.”

Neighbors’ Tele-Care program is open to all who live in the seven-county metro area.  For more information, check the Neighbors website or call Tele-Care at 651 306-1408 or info@neighborsmn.org.