Yeah, it's been a little longer than I promised, however I do have a good excuse. ;) Unfortunately the sickies went through our house and ugh, I don't think I've been that sick in a LOOOOONG time! Too gross to talk about, so we'll just leave it at it was BAD.
I've been thinking a lot lately about having Rei and being a person that is deaf blind and some of the things that I used to take for granted, that these days are starting to become a challenge for me. This all kind of started as a note was posted on my GDF list with an inquiry of how DB people vote and such, as a situation occurred in NY where a person asked for a braille ballot and the election board of that precinct falter and simply replied saying- well, no one has ever asked that before.
As it turns out, it was explained by someone from the NFB that in NY they have a law in effect that states their ballots must be a "full-face" ballot, which means ALL of the candidates and categories to vote for, must all be on one page/screen. Thus this combined with the law in printing regulations for paper size, there is just no physical way for the ballot to be printed in braille and meet all of the legal regulations. So in my advocacy experiences, I suggested that the person start with their legislative representative and that some work was needed there to see about getting the law changed in order to make braille ballots an option.
So then after the correspondences and the election that was quickly coming up, I began to wonder what my options are here in IN for voting as I continue to lose my vision. So I began to read the Indiana Code- which you can look up on the IN gov website and I contacted a fellow Partners grad who is very involved in working for accessible voting as well. We worked together last year with an email campaign and asking for people to voice and support that all satellite voting locations need to be accessible as well as during early voting and not just on election day itself.
I posed the question to him asking if braille ballots were even available here in IN. He responded that in Marion County that they were available but had to be requested in advance. He offered to contact my county election board and work on getting the process started for my county. I then began to wonder what I will indeed do as reading the voting screen becomes more difficult.
In the primaries, I had a hard time reading the screen not so much for the size, but because the background of the screen was a light grey and the text was a dark grey- not providing much contrast at all. So I began to research what the voting machines were for my county and found that our county has the Microvote Infinity machine in which has a screen that can be taken off and set onto the lap of a person in a wheelchair and has the ability to have a separate box plugged in to provide an audio reading of the ballot for the person, where a headphone jack is used to plug in a set of headphones. So my thought was since I'm using a set of Phonak Naida's with an ICOM, that I could possibly plug in to this- as I can do with any sort of device that accepts a headphone plug and be able to listen to the audio version.
So I'm thinking I've done my homework and I should be good to go. Election day comes and AC and I walk/ride about 3/4's of a mile to our polling place and we walk in. We were greeted as I have been each time very warmly and courteously and I sign in on the sheet and one of the judges comes up and asks, will you need assistance with voting, we can read the ballot to you and press the buttons for you if you need it. Now this is where it gets a little sticky. Indiana law states that the person with disabilities may designate someone to assist them in voting by doing this. However, the HAVA law that took effect a few years ago states that polling places must be accessible and where people can vote privately and independently if they choose to.
Since I had tried to be prepared I asked if they had an accessible machine. One of the registration ladies piped up "YES, we do!", but the other judge looked at her and was like well I don't think what we have will be able to help her. The accessible machine we have is for a person in a wheelchair. I then asked if they had a machine that would either enlarge the font or have audio capability. Then everyone began to stutter and scramble- several talking at once trying to determine if they did, the first judge that had offered to help me went to the back of the room and started digging through a Rubbermaid tub. Quickly he comes back and hands me an 8"x10" scratched up plastic magnifying sheet and says here's what we have, will this work for you? I looked at it and replied that I'd give it a try and see.
So I was fortunately able to still read most of the screen however I did have some difficulty, but I was able to make my way through it and cast my vote. I thanked them for their help and came on home a little frustrated and disappointed at what had taken place. I gave my friend a call and he and I both agree that it's more a training issue, that the polling place volunteers didn't know how to use the equipment that they had.
So that brings me to where do I go from here? I placed a call to my state representative and he quickly called me back and promised to look into it as well as ask about the braille ballot for me. He contacted the election board and called me back saying that they thought they had covered this in the volunteer training, however apparently some of the people didn't completely understand it. They would be sure to cover it more thoroughly in the next training and thank you for making them aware of this. As for the braille ballot- the person was on a committee where they were working with other counties on how to handle this and getting ballots printed ahead of time, however they weren't sure how that was going to work out. My rep called back and also suggested going to early voting at the county courthouse where the employees would definitely know the accessibility features of the machines, however that is 20 minutes away in order to get there. However he did say that he agreed that all of the polling places should be accessible though and that they'd work on it for the next election.
While it was an answer, I hope it was an earnest one. I find myself wondering how much longer will I be able to go and cast a vote on my own. While I know there is the absentee ballot process, there is something to be said for being able to independently go and vote. I really liked the comparison that my friend gave me when I mentioned some disagreement I had encountered from a sighted person about pursuing this. He said- tell the sighted person to give you their car keys. That he was sure the person had friends that would be more than willing to take them to the all the places they needed to go and that they'd be able to get there and the job be done, and then see what they had to say and if they were willing to hand over the car keys. It's about being able to be independent and even self dignity of holding on to the things in life that are slowly being taken away with the loss of vision.
I try hard to focus on the things I can still do and trust me, we have a jam packed and busy life with three kids and all of the activities we are involved in. I just find myself retreating at times and asking myself- how much longer will I be able to do this? Is this the last time I'll be able to do xyz? I read of others like myself who have lost pretty much most of the use of their central vision due to blurriness and cataracts - which I was told at my last appt that I do indeed have the very starts of them, and I find myself trying from time to time to do things by feel instead. I have a hard time with being still and I pray that I am able to find some sort of activities that I will enjoy as much as I enjoy in sewing and scrap booking.
For now, I have been very, very blessed that my family has rallied around me and are learning ASL with me. Mike and I are finding that we are using it more and more in our day to day interactions as I am just not picking things up verbally much anymore and unable to pick up the visual cues to understand the sounds as well with the loss of peripheral field. The signing is much simpler and it has helped with understanding each other and providing relief in my struggle to catch what is going on. It has helped me in the frustration of being able to communicate with my family and the kids are also picking it up as well and using it too when they can.
My goal is to eventually take up learning braille as well, so this is where I do wish to pursue the availability of at least being able to request a braille ballot in the future. We'll see what comes of it and so forth.
So yeah- for the time being I'll still vote at the polls, however I reluctantly realize that my time is drawing near, much sooner than I care to admit, where I am probably going to have to retreat to the ranks of others who vote via absentee ballot in order to perform my duty as a citizen to vote.
All I can say for the Deaf Blind out there that keep moving along- keep at it, one day at a time, one situation at at a time. To the sighted- be understanding and ready to hand over those car keys for to walk a mile in different shoes. ;) Night and hugs to you all!