It is Empowering to VoteBy Judy Neal
I just got back from early voting and it reminded me so much about the connections between advocacy, consumer control and empowerment. The poll was staffed with very helpful people who knew little or nothing about disability. Upon seeing the white cane that I use because of my visual impairment, I was asked if I needed to "sit down." When I got to the table for checking my registration I was asked, "Did you bring someone with you to help?" My response was that I expected to vote independently on an accessible voting machine. Completely ignoring what I had to say, the worker said, "then, we'll get someone to assist you. Sign this form for assistance."
Another worker heard me laughing and came over to take me to the machine with the headphones. I was able to talk to her about my expectations to vote privately and independently. Even so, she asked, "Do you want me to stand here and help you?"
When I was finished, I pulled the card out of the machine and handed it to the poll worker. In her most earnest voice, she suggested that I leave by the “handicapped door.”
I know we still have a long way to go before we're recognized as independent and equal. The more people with disabilities that show up at the polls, the easier it will become for all of us. So, after years of advocacy, testimony, and voter machine testing, I was able to silently and independently vote for the candidate of my choice. Knowing that I worked hard for the right to vote independently and standing up for that right was definitely empowering.