Braille Monitor                                                                 December 2006


A New Day for Disabled Americans

by Karl Smith

From the Editor: Increasing numbers of blind and disabled Americans reach the polls each election day to discover that they actually can vote independently for the first time in their lives or since they became disabled. For me the date was November 8, 2005, and I will never forget the experience and the unexpected pride and excitement that accompanied this simple act of citizenship that so many take for granted that millions actually stay home, choosing not to exercise their right to vote at all. Karl Smith, a leader of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah, has just voted independently for the first time in this fall's election. He came home and wrote a letter about his experience to his local newspaper, the Deseret News. Whether or not the paper's editor thought it worth publishing, we think it expresses the sentiments of many of us who have recently participated independently in this right and responsibility of citizenship for the first time. This is what Karl wrote:

Karl Smith

It is Halloween night, my fifty-first, but this year marks a special event in my life which has nothing to do with ghosts, goblins, or even trick-or-treat candy. After learning this afternoon of the opportunity to participate in early voting this week, I did something I've never done since I was first eligible to vote in 1976--cast a secret ballot in a U.S. election.
This was not because of apathy or lack of desire, but rather it was because until this year the mechanisms for casting ballots in Utah and other states in which I have lived were not accessible to me as a blind person. In past elections I had to have someone, my wife, a friend, or poll worker, read the ballot to me and punch my choices. Until today. Today, for the first time since I became eligible to vote, I was able to cast a completely secret ballot for myself--an experience even my children had before I did.

After a slight bit of clumsiness at the beginning on my part as well as that of the poll worker, who was still learning his way on the new electronic voting equipment and who had never had a blind person come in to use an accessible machine, which speaks all the pertinent information through headphones, I got the hang of it and made my choices.

For several years I have been heavily involved through the National Federation of the Blind in working for the passage of the Help America Vote Act to see that whatever equipment finally emerged would be accessible to blind voters. I have personally been present at product demonstrations and tested a number of different voting machines. But nothing prepared me for the overwhelming feeling of wonder and awe for my country and the rights all of us sometimes take for granted. This was no test, no demonstration; it was the first time this fifty-year-old American has fully and independently participated in the remarkable process which defines America and its truly extraordinary system of government.

I encourage everyone to take the opportunity to exercise your right to vote. It is your chance to make a difference and can only be taken away if you allow it to be.