2016-10-20 / News

Event geared toward voters with disabilities

By Anthony Aloisio
Staff Writer

SACO – A local provider of services for people with disabilities will host a voter education event 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21. The event will be hosted by Living Innovations at their location in Saco, 238 North St. The purpose of the event is to increase access to the polls for voters who have a disability and may need an accommodation.

The event is part of a larger nation-wide effort called “REV Up!” In Maine, which is administered by Disability Rights Maine, an Augusta-based Protection & Advocacy agency for people with disabilities. Disability Rights Maine has done similar events in Houlton, Augusta, Bangor, Belfast, Brunswick and Lewiston.

The event in Saco will provide people with disabilities, and the people who support them, with important information.

“We have a lot of people who say that they want to vote, but they really don’t know the first thing about how to do that,” said Rebekah McIntyre, who oversees the Saco office of Living Innovations.

But even more basically, McIntyre said, the events inform people with disabilities that their rights are there to begin with.

“We also have some people who’ve been told in the past that they’re not allowed to,” McIntyre said, “because they have a developmental disability or because they’re under guardianship, and that’s not correct. They do have a right to vote, and we want to make sure that people know that.”

Additionally, McIntyre said, voters with disabilities face challenges in getting accommodations to which they have a right when they go to the polls. One of the frequent difficulties is with bringing a person into the booth for assistance.

“People manning poll stations, who are often volunteers, the only information they have is ‘no, there’s only supposed to be one person in a voting booth at a time,’” McIntyre said. “They do have the right to have a person who they feel comfortable with assist them.”

“They also can’t be made to have someone support them if they don’t want it,” McIntyre added.

One of the important features of this election season’s events is the introduction of voting technology that is new to Maine. New voting machines, ExpressVote ballot marking systems, have many features designed for accessibility for voters with disabilities. For example, for voters who are blind or who have low literacy, the system has a headphone component that allows the voter to listen to the text on the ballot, without needing an assistant.

Another example is a feature for voters who have motor skill difficulties.

“Say you couldn’t handle a pencil and circle in those traditional ballots,” said Rick Langley, who is leading the effort for Disability Rights Maine. “But you could read that screen, and you can use your hand to manipulate the buttons, because they’ve very large buttons. You could use this device.”

Pauline Lamontagne of Augusta, who is blind, experienced the benefits of the new technology when Disability Rights Maine shared it with her.

“Practically, it will allow me and other people with disabilities to be able to vote independently,” Lamontagne said. “Normally, I might have needed a reader in the past.”

Lamontagne believes that the events Living Innovations and Disability Rights Maine are doing are helpful to get voters with disabilities up to speed with the voting process.

“I do think if people have the opportunity to use the machine ahead of time, as well as to familiarize themselves with who the candidates and what the issues are, they’ll be able to more easily use the machine and it’ll take a little less time,” Lamontagne said.

The Oct. event is open to any member of the public, including Saco, Biddeford, and all surrounding towns. Readers seeking more information can email Rick Langley at rlangley@drme.org.

Contact Staff Writer Anthony Aloisio at news@inthecourier.com.

Return to top