The first time I voted in a presidential election was 1996. Although that first vote should feel empowering and meaningful, as a young blind person I found it demoralizing. The second class treatment and lack of privacy in my vote left me well aware that as blind people we did not have equal access. That was the same year I joined the National Federation of the Blind. I was surprised to learn about the gains we had made since 1940 and I was inspired to be part of the team working to go the rest of the way toward equality in the American democracy.
Fast forward to 2004 when I voted privately and independently for the first time in a presidential election. That opportunity came because of the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to secure nonvisual access in the Help America Vote Act.
We want all blind Americans to have an equal opportunity to vote privately and independently but the rapid shifting of voting procedures during the pandemic has caused many blind people to make a choice: risk exposure to the virus at a public polling place where there is an accessible voting system or risk giving up the privacy of your vote by getting someone to assist you at home with your inaccessible paper ballot. This is not a choice we should face in 2020.
This is why the National Federation of the Blind is vigorously protecting voting accessibility across the nation. Many states have offered accessible vote by mail systems for years and we have urged all states to be prepared to do the same for the 2020 election. We began urging states to plan for accessibility during this same time period last year—giving them plenty of time to implement an accessible system.
Our goal is to encourage all blind people, regardless of their political views, to participate in the American democracy. We want all blind people to vote and that starts with having equal access to the range of voting options.
We are a diverse organization. The legislation we champion is bipartisan because blindness does not select for political affiliation. Regardless of your personal politics, I urge everyone to vote in November. The National Federation of the Blind will continue to work to preserve the right of everyone to vote privately and independently whether you participate by visiting a polling place or you vote by mail. I know I will be exercising my right to vote in November. Please join me in voting and in protecting equal access to voting in every state for blind people.
Mark A. Riccobono, President
National Federation of the Blind
Through our affiliates across the nation and in partnership with other blindness and disability-rights advocates, we seek to ensure that all blind voters can vote privately and independently from the safety of their own homes during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Election officials in most states ignore their legal obligation to make absentee and mail-in ballots accessible to the blind, despite urgent requests from us even before the pandemic gripped our nation. And, despite our offers to assist boards of elections to develop accessible systems, too many states ignore the right of the blind to vote privately.
We are currently taking action in Texas and Virginia to require those states to make the needed changes to their voting procedures. Litigation is also still ongoing in Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, and Pennsylvania.
“I first exercised my right to a secret ballot in my forties after we passed the Help America Vote Act. I don’t cry easily, but I cried. Before that time, I had to tell both a Republican judge and a Democratic judge who I was voting for in order to vote. No one should have to disclose their vote or have to rely on someone else to accurately mark their ballot. If I vote by mail in November as it stands now in my state, I must vote in person to vote privately and independently. We should not be forced to choose between a fundamental right to vote and our health.”
The National Federation of the Blind intends to vigorously defend the fundamental right of the blind to vote. Our plans include strengthening the Help America Vote Act. Our national convention recently passed resolution twenty-three dealing with HAVA. You can read more on our NFB resolutions page.
Sami’s Law Passes the House: Bill Ensures Safe and Accessible Transportation via Rideshares
Sami’s Law passed in the House on July 29. Representative Chris Smith specifically thanked the National Federation of the Blind from the House floor. We are urging the Senate to pass the House bill, H.R. 4686. The bill ensures that all aspects of the transportation network company platforms are nonvisually accessible.
Congratulations to 2020 Bolotin Award Winners
The thirteenth annual Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards honored two innovators who are helping blind people live the lives they want. Congratulations to Marilee Talkington who is increasing participation of the blind in arts and entertainment, and Geneva Lake Astrophysics and STEAM Education which is making astronomical data and the study of astrophysics accessible to blind people. Learn more about the award winners.
A Story of Assertiveness and Independence
Ever Lee Hairston is a member of the NFB board of directors, the immediate past president of the NFB of California, and the author of Blind Ambition: One Woman’s Journey to Greatness Despite Her Blindness. Read her story in our blog about the importance of assertiveness and independence.
Committed to Quality Education for Blind Students
As a result of COVID-19 and schools shifting to virtual instruction, blind students may encounter increased accessibility barriers. We continue to monitor these changes through our education technology survey. We are committed to ensuring quality education for blind students by providing fun distance educational activities and lessons.
Convention Sponsors Support the Work of the NFB
The national convention and the work of the National Federation of the Blind is supported by our partners. Not only do these organizations provide financial assistance, they work with us on important initiatives including education programs, work opportunities, and new initiatives in the new COVID-19 world. We thank all of our sponsors, with special recognition to the platinum sponsors of this year’s convention:
Throughout our local chapters and state affiliates to our national headquarters and diverse committees, the National Federation of the Blind is an organization of collective action. Here’s what you can do to get involved this month.
- Check out the highlights from the 2020 National Convention.
- Donate to help our efforts to ensure voting rights for the nation’s blind.
- Attend our upcoming September presidential release to learn more news and actions from President Riccobono.
We certainly are a busy organization. Don’t miss these upcoming events, workshops, and deadlines.