Making voting accessible for all

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Information Technologist Al Puzzuoli uses a screen reader on his computer.

Information Technologist Al Puzzuoli uses a screen reader on his computer.

By Shannon Kelly
MI First Election

The right to vote is important in our society, however some individuals find it difficult to vote or are unable to participate.

Individuals with disabilities often encounter difficulties when it comes to casting their ballot. Older voting machines are not fully accessible to everyone, which can prevent some with disabilities from voting.

However, with newer technology, there are moves being made to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to vote.

East Lansing City Clerk Marie Wicks said, “All polling locations have what is called a “Voter Assist Terminal.” Visually impaired voters can mark a ballot with this machine using braille and/or a headphone option. Voters may also be assisted in a regular voting booth by two election inspectors of different party affiliations.”

Although polling places have this technology, it doesn’t mean that everyone with a disability can use it.

Al Puzzuoli is an information technologist at the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities at MSU who is also blind.

Puzzuoli said that the state issues only one of these types of voting machines to each precinct, which can cause votes to be lost if it malfunctions or breaks.

These machines also require people to learn the technology to use them, which can be a challenge for those not familiar with technology.

“Voting machines are usable, but they are not perfect,” said Puzzuoli.

Stephen Blosser is an assistive technology specialist at MSU and also works in the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities.

He is one of the investigators working on several research grants at MSU to help create a better experience for voters with disabilities by designing tools that would make voting more accessible.

Blosser said, “Voting has been in a poor state with machines that don’t involve people with disabilities.”

Blosser said the flaw with voting machines used to help those with disabilities is that there is only one type of machine to cater to multiple disabilities. He says it would be better to allow people to bring their own technology that can help them vote.

Puzzuoli said that he has been using a screen reader on his computer for more than 20 years and wishes he could use that to vote.

Wicks said that persons with disabilities usually vote absentee, which is what Puzzuoli has done for 10 years.

“My ideal voting scenario would be to bring my own computer and to vote with my own technology,” said Puzzuoli.

With technology advancing every day and research being conducted,voting could become more accessible for all who have this right.

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