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Ohio Groups Push To Make Voting Easier For People With Disabilities

voting booths
John Minchillo
Associated Press

Nearly a quarter of all Ohio adults have some type of disability, and voting can be a difficult process for some of them. But there are things that are being done to make it easier for Ohioans with disabilities to cast ballots.

Sharyn Rigsbee demonstrates a special voting machine at the Franklin County Board of Elections that’s designed for low-vision or no-vision voters. Rigsbee says the technology is available at county boards of elections throughout the state.

“Think of it. You have the ability to submit and cast your own independent vote,” Rigsbee says. “To know that you can do that without the assistance of a poll worker or another person, it has to be incredibly rewarding to know they can do that like any other person on Election Day.”

Voters with disabilities have been able to cast ballots by mail for many years. They’ve also been able to cast ballots at the board of elections with assistance – but this technology allows them to vote without anyone’s help.

Mike Brickner with the group All Voting Is Local says the organization has been reaching out to voters with disabilities, letting them know about all of their options.

“Voters have the right to a secret ballot as well, and an autonomous ballot, and so if we have the technology in place to allow people to vote independently, we want to make sure people have that ability," Brickner says.

Beth Thompson, who works with a Cleveland group called Milestones Autism Resources, agrees. They’ve been making and distributing education videos to voters with autism.

“Individuals with autism have a difficult time processing multiple sensory modes and can more easily process information that is presented to them visually,” Thompson says. “So as opposed to producing a video where someone talked through how to register to vote, we created a visual that went through the steps of ‘Am I registered? How do I register’ and how to access absentee ballots so you could avoid high sensory issues that can occur at voting locations.”

Thompson says the group heavily recommends early voting or voting by mail because there won’t be the crowd and confusion that often comes along with Election Day. She says the efforts are paying off.

“We have seen a real wave of young adults and adults who are recognizing their rights and are exercising their right to vote because they are understanding much more how these candidates and issues affect their daily lives," Thompson says.

The state doesn’t track the number of voters who have disabilities, but there are just over 8 million registered voters. The Center for Disability Empowerment estimates there are 2 million Ohio voters with disabilities. 

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.