Millions of people will head to the polls for Election Day, but people with disabilities face unique barriers to voting. Frances Harris, a Research Scientist at the Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access, describes what is being done to provide voting access for all.
The act of voting is a defining characteristic of citizenship for all Americans and is essential to a democratic process. However, out of the roughly 33.4 million Americans of voting age with a disability, only 14.7 million voted in the 2008 election.
In order to better understand the barriers confronting these voters, researchers from Georgia Tech’s Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access (CATEA) conducted lengthy interviews with voters with disabilities during the 2011 and 2012 elections, and with election officials and poll workers this year.
A key barrier is the attitudes and knowledge of poll workers who assist voters.
This was confirmed by a recent report from The National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency, which cited lack of awareness and attitudinal barriers presented by poll workers.
Clearly, poll workers need more effective training on how to assist voters with disabilities. In response, we at CATEA designed an online training program for poll workers, nationwide.
While current training is generally limited to learning the rules of etiquette for interacting with voters with disabilities, this course addresses the types of practical problems poll workers confront on Election Day.
Scenarios are used to present the problems and potential solutions, with the content based on what the researchers learned through the interviews. In addition, the course looks beyond people with disabilities, to include ways to assist any voter who has a different need (e.g., seniors, English language learners).
This free, nationally distributed course will be on the Information Technology and Information Foundation (ITIF) and CATEA web sites, with the goal of having it adopted by the Election Assistance Commission.
For more information, or to schedule an interview, please contact: