Accommodations to get out the vote

When the Americans with Disabilities Act became the law of the land in the summer of 1990, I was probably experiencing early symptoms of multiple sclerosis and didn’t know it. I was physically active and enjoyed international travel and adventure, and sports such as hiking and cross country skiing. I lived and worked in Manhattan, traveled by subway, moved anonymously through crowded streets and retreated to my house in rural upstate NY on weekends. The only “accommodations” I concerned myself with then were the latest modern conveniences. Fast forward 11 or 12 years – I can’t remember exactly. The harsh diagnosis of MS ground to a halt almost everything I had loved to do, physically.

I have always been politically active, too, and physical changes can’t halt that. I have voted in every election from local School Board Members to President of the United States since I was 18 years old. In 2002 Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which established requirements for voting systems nationwide. HAVA gave everyone the right to participate in elections, including improving access to polling places and requiring accommodations for people with disabilities – like the ability to vote privately. Until I moved to South Carolina a few years ago and became active with the SC Disability Voting Coalition, I had never heard of HAVA. I’ve since learned that those of us with disabilities have the right to accommodations that allow us to vote as freely as we ever did and to maintain a level of dignity and privacy. Unfortunately many polling places are not compliant with HAVA.

In anticipation of the polls opening this November in another critical election year, I’m making sure that my officials pay attention to where and how I will vote. Headlines of broken voting machines or rigged elections are of little concern to me when I have to park two blocks away because there isn’t enough accessible parking close by, or walk up two flights of stairs without a hand railing because there isn’t a ramp, or leave my polling place without voting because I can’t stand in line too long and no sign or poll worker communicated that curbside voting is available. This year, when I finally make it into the polling station, I will have planned ahead to know that I won’t have to use two hands to manage the voting machine while standing without my cane (or trying to find a place to put the cane because if it falls to the floor, I can’t bend over to pick it back up). I will vote!

As many people have said, voting isn’t a right. It’s the right – the one right that all our other rights depend upon. Make sure your polling place meets the access and accommodation requirements of the Help America Vote Act – in advance of election day. Find ideas here. It won’t cost much, if anything. And, besides, it’s the law. 

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Milena Herring

Milena Herring is an original drama queen, having cut her teeth in community theaters in the south, she went on to act and direct in New York for many years. She loves her animals, gardening and travel. She was diagnosed with MS in 2002.

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  • Bob   Oct 28, 2014 1:13 PM
    you can get them to send you a ballot can't you?
  • Avatar
    foyderlogistics  Oct 28, 2014 1:24 PM
    Your description& activism ,subject matter is a good reminder for next week.
    Personally, I am active in keeping in touch with my legislators & two of my legislators are up for election.One other is not running so I have a choice democrat or republican candidate choice.
    When the subject of disability rights , the politician main subject is disabled vets.(A hot Point ) other disabled in my opinion are on the side lines.
    Without speaking of political parties,my voting activity ,choice has much to do with disability rights . When there is a town meeting or conference call I am usually on the call list. Invitations for $100 dollar a plate & many calls from political parties ( WHO AM I VOTING FOR) & generally at night, or robocalls.
    Staying on the subject: Making voting easier ,that depends...generally speaking that experience pro or con ..some years I use hand crutches ,sometimes a wheelchair ...if I am lucky ,I can get through the door or someone holds the door ...Handicapped spaces for my car or close to entrance "fat chance. " I assume always that there will be challenges..used to it.
    I live in the State of PA ...& there are "Grandfathered laws" meaning older buildings do not need to change the amount of Disabled spaces or have one for a Van...A new building ,church, or business must voting spot is at an older church...two spaces ,narrow...thats it...
  • capitolcarol   Oct 28, 2014 2:12 PM
    I have noticed in the past that the way to the handicapped entrance is never visible which means a very long painful walk to the polls with no one anywhere that will help. You should have called the election board to get a absentee voter ballot. I have one because the MS has made me disabled and my husband gets one too because he is considered my caretaker (yuck, what a term
  • marsha   Oct 28, 2014 3:57 PM
    sometimes getting the system to work properly is exhausting. In this case absentee ballots are the way to go. Eliminating stress is key.
  • Matt Friedman   Oct 29, 2014 7:51 AM
    Thanks so much for writing this. I also have MS, and had never heard of HAVA. While my voting site is considered accessible, this will be the first time I'm going to the voting station on a walker, so I'll be curious to see how easy it is to navigate.

    I appreciated hearing about your passion for the voting process, and the reminder of how important it is to have our voices heard, even at a time when a newly-disabled person may be feeling especially isolated.
  • Diane Zabel   Nov 3, 2014 3:34 PM
    I have worked as a Poll Worker for about ten years. Our close location did not accommodate, so we were changed to a different location that does. We have a handicapped parking place right outside and have had some vote at their vehicle. I can not make it this year to work. I have gone from using a cane to a walker, and could not sit there all day 6 am - 10 pm. I know that my polling place is accommodating and proud of it in Iowa.
  • carolinaone  Nov 6, 2014 2:14 AM
    Yes things have changed somewhat. I remember some early challenges to voting before MS attacked me. In the last elections, it seems poll workers have become a little cognizant of our disabilities and found some ways to help. I still think absentee is the way! Good piece Milena!!!
  • capitolcarol   Nov 10, 2014 5:47 PM
    My polling place did not seem to have accommodations or assistance for the disabled. I remember when there was a time that people would call and ask if you needed assistance to vote, like driving the disabled to the polls so they could vote. I was so upset about the treatment last year that I contacted the election board for our area and they sent me an absentee ballot and an absentee ballot for my husband as my caregiver (ouch).