President's Introduction

Hello, and welcome to the National Federation of the Blind's nonvisual election technology training curriculum. I am Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore, Maryland. The National Federation of the Blind is the largest and most influential membership organization of blind people in the United States. It is our goal to improve the lives of blind people through advocacy, education, research, technology and programs encouraging independence and self-confidence. As a consumer and advocacy organization, the National Federation of the Blind is considered the leading force in the blindness field today. It is our mission on behalf of our members to integrate blind people into society on a basis of equality and give blind people the same opportunities and rights as the rest of society. Ensuring full access to nonvisual election technology is a vital element of that mission. The National Federation of the Blind has a better grasp of the consumer point of view of blindness accessibility than any other entity in the United States.

Far too many Americans fail to vote when given the opportunity. Many take for granted the right to participate in elections and to cast a secret ballot. That is unless the voters are unable to see the printed ballot. In that case, procedures are in place for the voter who is blind or visually impaired to use an assistant in the polling booth. These procedures are enshrined in federal, state, and local laws, passed at a time when election technology then in use would not support a nonvisual means of voting in secret. While new technology that would allow a nonvisual means of voting in secret is now available, many state and local jurisdictions still rely upon old technology that is not accessible without sight.

ES&S Automark (accessible voting machine)The Help America Vote Act of 2002, or HAVA as it is also called, has established a new policy based on the capacity of current technology. This new policy declares that persons with disabilities (including those who cannot see enough to read printed matter) have the right to cast secret ballots.  To implement this policy, HAVA requires that at least one accessible voting device be installed at each polling place by the year 2006. Through the NFB's International Braille and Technology Center (IBTC), where the National Center on Nonvisual Election Technology (NCNET) is located, we have acquired the most current nonvisual election technology commercially available.

This mandate for accessible election technology is seen as the driving force behind procurement decisions which state and local election officials must make in order to comply with HAVA and modernize the nation's antiquated voting technology. By nature, printed ballots constitute a barrier preventing blind persons from voting in secret. Therefore, Congress specified nonvisual access as a priority to be achieved through the accessibility standard.

This awareness and training curriculum is designed to focus on nonvisual access and usability of election technology as understood by the blind and visually impaired. There is a compelling need for you as protection and advocacy systems personnel, election officials, and other advocates to have a clear understanding about nonvisual technology and its specific application to voting. Blind people themselves are uniquely qualified to impart this understanding based on direct experience and technical expertise.

The nonvisual election technology training curriculum has been created for the purpose of:

  • providing knowledge of blind voters' needs and the specific technology attributes necessary for nonvisual access so officials can make informed decisions on procurement and implementation of election technology suitable for nonvisual use;
  • providing information on how to aid blind and visually impaired voters at the polls without depriving them of the right to a secret vote; and
  • providing exposure to the full spectrum of nonvisual voting technologies.

We hope you find this training helpful and informative.