ROUGH EDITED COPY
WE COUNT: PENNSYLVANIANS WITH DISABILITIES AND THE RIGHT TO VOTE
WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA DISABILITY HISTORY AND ACTION CONSORTIUM
HEINZ HISTORY CENTER, MUELLER CENTER
PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA 15222
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2019
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CART CAPTIONING*PROVIDED BY:
ADVANCED REALTIME CAPTIONING SOLUTIONS, LLC
412 513 6219
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This is being provided in rough draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings
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>> ANNE MADARASZ: Good afternoon, everybody. Good afternoon. I think we’re going to get started. We have a very full agenda for the day. We want to give everyone their due, so we’re going to try to keep to our times. I want to welcome you all to The History Center. My name is Anne Madarasz, the Chief Historian at the History Center. My more important role for today is as a partner and representative with the Western Pennsylvania Disability Action History and Action Consortium. We just call them the Consortium here, so not the full name. We’re pleased this event is taking place at The History Center. We’ve had the honor of working with the Consortium for more than four years now. Our role has really been to document, preserve, and share the important history of disability advocacy here in the region with a much broader audience. So, we have been working to build the collection. In the back of the room you’ll see some materials from our archives, and from the museum collection. Just a very small sample of the great materials that have come in to tell that story. For us to tell the story now, and 50 years, and 100 years in the future, we really need to be preserving the stories and the materials that capture that advocacy and that struggle for equal rights within the community, the disability community. So, we thank those of you who have been working in partnership with us to ensure we can preserve and tell that story and we look forward to continuing to build that story.
Today’s event is done in partnership with the Western Pennsylvania Disability and Action Consortium, as I said, with Disability Rights PA, Disability Voting Coalition of Pennsylvania, and made possible by the Edith L. Trees Charitable Trust, our sponsor.
We have assistive devices available in the lobby, if anyone would like to use one. So please check there. The only other thing I’d like to mention before I introduce our first speaker is on October 25th, we’ll be doing another partnership program with the Consortium, University of Pittsburgh and National Bioethics Association, Rosemary Garland Thompson, who will be here speaking on disability studies and disability studies in the future. So, pick up a flyer for that in the future. We hope we’ll see you that evening in The History Center.
Our first speaker today is Maria Town. We’re very honored to have her today. Distinguished president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities. In this role she works to increase political and economic power of people with disabilities. She’s got a long history working with government agencies as an advocate both with the City of Houston, in the Obama White House, and most recently with the Department of Labor. Maria has many talents, some showcased online where she’s the creator of the CP Shoes blog where she writes about fashion and disability, recently named to the inaugural class of 40 under 40. Town hails from Louisiana where her family still resides and we’re so thrilled to have her begin our day today. Please join me in welcoming Maria Town. Thank you.
[ Applause ]
>> MARIA TOWN: Thank you so much. Good afternoon, everyone.
>> Good afternoon.
>> MARIA TOWN: Thank you, for that really warm introduction and thank you to all of the partners who made today’s event, today’s conversation possible. I’m very honored to be here. As mentioned, my name is Maria Town, and I serve as the president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities a cross built civil rights organization. This is my second time ever in Pittsburgh. My first time was ten years ago, and I am looking forward to learning more from all of you about this great city. And the vibrant disability community here. Despite the great introduction that I just received, I was given some guidance for this speech. I was told to tell you some things that aren’t in my bio when I introduced myself. And that prompt actually made me think about how we write bios in general, how we construct them. Our bios are typically a combination of two things. Things that we think are important about ourselves, and things that we think other people will think are important about us. Things that we think will make us seem important to others. And if weren’t for that second part, in my bio, I’d probably wax poetic and my love of queso red lipstick and my cats. In response to the prompt. Tell us something we wouldn’t learn from your bio, I has headed to rewrite my bio all together to a way that was most relevant to today’s event. Here we go. I don’t normally about myself in a third person but for this exercise I am. Maria Town is a proud and disabled women like 14.5 million other American was disabilities Maria votes every chance she gets. She’s voter in District of Columbia. She includes significant items of disability. Spawn voting in Texas her application was denied for three times. When attempting to vote for the first time in the Lone Star state she was initially denied opportunity. Although on the official list of registered voters and had a valid I.D. She didn’t have a Texas I.D. That’s a whole other story for a who other bio. She had to advocate herself right then and there in the polling place. Following this experience she remained undeterred and attempted to vote in the next election. When noting that the accessible voting machine wasn’t working she was told by a poll worker, it’s a short ballot, stand up. You’ll be fine.
In her last experience voting Maria was asked to provide an electricity bill to prove her Texas residency and had to leave the poll in place to return the next day with further proof of residency, despite, again, showing a City of damage, a valid I.D., and active registration on the voter roll. Finally, shortly before leaving Texas, Maria received a letter from the County voter registration stating her voter registration was not valid. Upon investigation, Maria found out that her voter registration was indeed valid. She hopes her experiences voting in the district of Columbia, her new home, go more smoothly and can work with the disability community across the country to improve voter access and increase voter turnout for disabled people all over the United States. My new bio.
[ Applause ]
>> MARIA TOWN: Now, I go through my voter bio, to provide a small example of the barriers that people with disabilities face when attempting to perform their civic duty and I want to make something clear, something I hope that’s clear to all of you right now, I have immense privilege in these situations. The polling place that I was going to was in my office building. I didn’t have to coordinate transit, I didn’t have to request time off or risk my employment to vote. I didn’t have to coordinate family care, I’m literate, English is my first language. I’m a motivated voter, informed voter and I know my rights. At the time it was my job to support disabled Houstonians and even for me I had to fight to vote. So, when I think about the host of barriers faced by immigrants with disabilities, trance and independent people with disabilities, disabled people of color, and brothers in and sisters in institutions I get mad. I’m surprised of the significant turnout gap amongst voter was disabilities, viewer percent of people with disability the register to vote than people without disabilities. This contributes to a 5 percent turnout gap between people with disabilities and people without disabilities. 5 percent seems like a small number but what 5 percent means in the context of voting rates is 2.3 eligible people with sorry, 2.3 million, that’s important, eligible people with disabilities not casting their ballots on election day.
The most commonly expressed reason for not registering to vote is a lack of interest in politics. Voter apathy. You hear of this. One fourth of people with disabilities, 25 percent gave permanent illness or disability as a reason not being registered. Among the disabled people registered to vote but did not do so in the 2018 mid term elections, about 40 percent of people with disabilities gave illness or disability as the reason for not voting.
Now, I don’t want to diminish real experiences where an illness or disability may in fact present someone from voting. However, these statistics don’t paint the full picture. As disability rights advocates, we know, so often, that our disability is not the actual issue, it’s barriers that surround us and present us from engaging in civic life. It’s the fatigue that’s created, not from an illness or a condition, but fatigue from fighting constant micro aggressions and discrimination. Thankfully, we have other data that actually shows this. The government accountability office, GAO, observed polling place accessibility in about 178 polling places in the 2016 election, and they found the following results: Of 167 polling places, 60 percent. 107 of them had one or more impediments of much the 107 where the GAO was able to look at the full voting process inside the polling place, 65 percent had a voting station with an accessible system that could actually impede someone from casting a private independent ballot. So, even our accessible polling places can leave a lot to be desired. And when thinking about this, it’s when I remember that disenfranchisement is easy to do. It shouldn’t be, but it is. Apathy is easy to maintain. Voting is hard to do. It shouldn’t be but it is. Hope is hard to maintain. Movements are harder to build and even harder to maintain. But to quote President Kennedy who knows what vote is coming we do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energy and skills because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone and one in which we intend to win. We need to build hope and motivation in order to grow our movement, so that power of the disability community will be felt coast to coast and thankfully we have many opportunities to do this. Here in Allegheny County, you all have election coming up on November 5th, I believe, right?
>> MARIA TOWN: How many are planning to vote? I see every hand, every head shaking. Awesome. It’s the general election that shapes government of your cities, your county and judges chambers for years to come. You have with a referendum on two of the region’s most powerful politicians in Pittsburgh you’re elected a new crop of council members and statewide two seats left on Supreme Court. These are the people that have the power to shape the lives of people with disabilities. That’s why voting is so important. There’s so much at stake at every election. You want to make sure people with disability the are treated fairly in the local justice system. Elect D.A. and judges who understand. Want to get approved funding for approved sidewalk accessibility. Elect council members with transit exit. Make sure people with disabilities aren’t left behind in emergency disasters elect a council member that understands disability needs are not special, they are human. While we’re on the subject of the ways civic engagement directly impacts our live, I have to mention the Census. In addition to a major election in 2020, we will also have the Census. So, the father of the Americans with disabilities act, Justin Dart and his quote is on my side, to your right. Vote as if your life depends on it, because it does. I say get counted in the Census as if your life depends on it because it does. The Census is much more than a head count. The outcomes of the Census determine how many congressional representatives you have. They determine how and where Federal and Tate dollars will be distributed. So, if you air person with a disability who receives Medicaid or snap, your participation will help determine whether or not you continue to receive those funds and supports. Literally, your life depends on it. Get counted.
Now, getting back to voting directly, all of you in this room are already the experts of what’s happening here in Pennsylvania. But let’s go ahead and talk about the upcoming election in November, and who can register to vote and how they can vote. So, this great. In Pennsylvania, you can register online. That’s not available in every state. In fact far too few. You can register to vote if you are homeless, also wonderful. You can register to vote if you do not have an ID number or Social Security number, and you’re not required to disclose disability assistance needs or language. You can’t vote anywhere, however. You have to vote in a specific polling place and one of the strategies that’s been shown to drastically increase voter turnout across populations is Countywide voting centers that have flexible hours. You can’t vote if you’ve been convicted for a felony or release from prison or still on parole or living in a halfway house. You can also vote if you have not been convicted of a felony but located in a penal facility. It’s wonderful that Pennsylvania is doing this. It’s not true in all states. You can also go if you’re convicted of a misdemeanor no matter where you’re located and if you’re submitting the application late deadline is October 5th your application is available for future elections.
Now, I got online and tried to use the Secretary of State’s tool to locate accessible polling place throughout Pittsburgh. In doing so I viewed the criteria for what it takes to get the access symbol located next to your location. Another criteria where very strong and comprehensive on physical accessibility. They ask about accessible parking spaces, barrier free paths, the availability of elevators, among many other things. There were no criteria related to the availability of accessible bathrooms. So, let’s hope you don’t have to go when you go vote.
[ Laughter ]
>> MARIA TOWN: There were also no criteria that reflected any other form of accessibility, like plain language signs at a polling place for people with cognitive disabilities or scent free facilities for people with sensitivity. There was no requirement there be a working accessible voting machine at this site.
So, advocates, you all have some work to do. I also tried to figure out exactly how many voting machines were used across Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. And there were so many, it’s hard for me to keep track which presents a whole other set of issues. Different machines operate different ways. The accessibility features may not be widely known across the community. So, folks need to demand demonstrations from the Secretary of State’s office or the County clerk’s office to make sure everyone understands how to operate accessible machines.
One of the other things I found when on the Website was the prevalence in mentions of the absentee ballots for voters with disabilities. Absentee ballots are incredibly important for people who may not be able to get to the polls. However, they should not be the primary strategy which thinking about voter was disabilities. Voters with disabilities need to have the expectation that we can just show up, because we will. Right?
[ Applause ]
>> MARIA TOWN: I understand the Secretary of State is working on the timeliness of counting absentee ballots the deadline for requesting absentee ballot for the upcoming election is October 29th but again we should be voting across voter access for all of these elements. Absentee ballots is just one strategy. We think about the strategies that will help us bridge that gap, and turn out in registration for people with disabilities, I want all of you to know that disability advocates have a lot to teach this state. And when we are looking at disenfranchisement, and how to attack it we have to do so in an intersectional way. One of my favorite disability rights advocates is Fannie Lou Hamer. If you don’t know. She had polio, while being brutalized by police trying to make sure black people in the south could vote she protected the side of her body impacted by polio so she could keep functioning in her society. One of my favorite quotes from her, nobody’s free until everybody’s free. Unfortunately so many communities fighting disenfranchisement across this country and within this state. And if we go together with other communities, we are stronger. This is a powerful, powerful room. But imagine how powerful we could be if we reached out to others. Is there an immigrant church in their neighborhood. Reach out. See how they are doing with language access in the polls. Is there an LBGTQ center near your place of work? Reach out. Is there a nursing home in your neighborhood? Help get people to the polls. Pennsylvania has a growing population of refugees. We talk about trauma in care, trauma in workplace. Let’s imagine trauma informed voting. What does that look like and how do we recognize PTSD at the polls. In order to attack disenfranchisement. We need a dialogue across partners built on mutual respect. I used to work for municipal government and had to work with the County to determine accessible polling sites. I worked in the City of Houston. What happens very frequently in Houston? Flooding. So, an accessible polling site that was chosen three months before might get flooded the week of the election and no longer be available, right? Oftentimes, you’ll find churches are accessible voting sites. Religious institutions don’t have to comply with ADA but attempting to move a polling site from a church, potentially a trusted site from the marginalized community you reduce access in another kind of way.
I’d like to tell you a story about an advocate based in Philadelphia. Anna. Anna is an amazing Asian American woman, who hosted a support group in her church who are also Asian Americans. In hosting the support group Anna showed her church interest was a community of people with disabilities within their flock and in doing so, they created a larger investment in accessibility so that that polling place became accessible. This is one example of something we could all be doing as individuals and as organizations.
Cultural competency is a key part of voter access, whether disability cultural competency, competency around racial bias and gender and sexual orientation, and voting should be the best thing that someone does. It is a huge part of what makes us a democracy, what makes us an American and we need to stop traumatizing people with disabilities particularly marginalized people with disabilities with bad experiences. So, even though your state and your County have a primary responsibility for voter access, at the local level, you can do a lot. Look at the training for poll workers, make sure they understand how to navigate access needs.
For these reasons and so many more, ADP started the rev up program. Rev up stands for register, educate, vote, use your power. Pennsylvania is not a rev up state. That’s why I’m so glad to be here. The rev up campaign increased participation of the disability community while engaging candidates and media on disability issues. ATP has state coalitions and work was state and leaders on non partisan campaigns to address people with disabilities, eliminate barriers to voting promote accessibility and educate communities about disability issues.
I want to end on a high note. We came out with a recent study through Rutgers that showed that voter turnout in the 2018 elections, surged by 18.5 points among citizens with disabilities, relative to the 2014 mid term elections. The increase in turnout between 2014 and 2018 among people with disabilities was up 9 percent in rev up states compared to 5.7 percent in non rev up states and based on the Census Bureau data, turnout was increased the 257,000 voters with disabilities in rev up states in 2018 with a total of 14.5 million citizens with disabilities voting in the mid term elections.
In Texas, I know I talked a lot about Texas, one of our most active rev up state there’s were 900,000 registered voters with a disability license plate or parking placard and in the 2016 election, 73 percent of them voted compared to 62.5 percent of all voters. That’s amazing.
[ Applause ]
>> MARIA TOWN: Thank you. Nationwide, people with disabilities voted at the same rate as people without disabilities who had the same demographic characteristics, there would be about 2.4 million more voters with disabilities than who actually voted in 2018. Among the 108 million voters without disabilities, 10 million of them lived in a household with someone with a disability. So, if you combine those numbers there were approximately 25 million voters in disability households, 25 million people who had a vested interest in disability issues that equals 20 percent of our whole voting body.
We have such significant power in this community and I have one more bit of good news. October is now disability employment awareness month and I’m sure most of you in this room working on this room are also working on employment, and I want to say thank you, because our research showed that employed people with disabilities were just as likely to vote as employed people without disabilities. So, employment is also a gateway to mainstream Civic engagement. As you all go on with your work, as we go on today, I want you to think about reaching out to APD, finding out how we can support you in your efforts but also thinking about reaching out to partners you may not have considered in the past, working with your office, your Secretary of State, County clerk, to address more than physical accessibility, and making sure that people with disabilities understand that their vote matters.
In 2020, I want the nation to not only feel our power in our votes on election day, but as we get counted in the Census,
Again. Vote as if your life depend on it because it does. Get counted because your life depend upon it, because it does. Thank you very much
[ Applause ]
>> PAUL FREUND: Hello, everyone, it’s wonderful to see so many friends and family and advocates and familiar faces. My name is Paul Freund, and my role today is to introduce Rachel Freund. We were life partner, and husband and wife for 20 years. She passed away from cancer six years ago, in the prime of life, and in the middle of organizing a grass roots political movement with people with disabilities. They called their selves let our voices be heard. They organized people in personal care boarding homes to increase personal needs allowance and helped the number of people with disabilities register to vote.
One of Rachel’s favorite quotations is from John Steinbeck’s struggles with Charlie. We find after years of struggle, we do not take a trip, a trip takes us. Rachel and I took many trips together. Or should I say many trips took us on memorable adventures without drugs I might say. She loved to plan our next trip and always seeking my input and opinions.
Rachel worked this way with Let Our Voices Be Heard. Together they planned trips to housing meeting, voter access rallies and legislative visits locally and in Harrisburg. These trips took participants on civic adventures where many experience their collective power as a grass roots movement and their individual power as active citizens.
When Rachel passed away six years ago, I experienced an outpouring of gratitude from hundreds of people that were enlivened by spirit. I’ll read a few sent to me in the wake of her passing.
“Paul, somewhere deep within our hearts is where we connect with all that is divine and eternal. Rachel possessed kindness that welcomed people across differences and abilities to meet in that deeper place. I speak for many advocates whose voices were empowered by Rachel’s work and today have no words to express the sorrow in our hearts at her passing.
“Dear Paul: I just really want you to know that Rachel’s life is a testament to all that is good in this world. Her spirit will be celebrated and always live on through the actions of the many that she has inspired to soar beyond what they thought was possible.”
And, finally, a card from a group of a dozen individuals, I think from a drop in center or Center For Independent Living. “We want to extend our prayers to Rachel’s family and friends but most of all we want to thank Rachel for being there for us, for sharing her knowledge, for helping us to understand our place in the community and the role we play, for being our friend. But most of all, for helping us see we have a voice in the world that can be heard and that is the greatest gift you can give to anyone. Thank you, Rachel. We love you.”
Rachel teamed up with Paul O’Hanlon in 2003 and they worked together until Rachel passed on six years ago. Paul will take it from here and present highlights of their approach and accomplishments. Thank you.
[ Applause ]
>> Paul, we would ask you in July of this year, Paul generously donated an away of historic photographs and artifacts that speak to Rachel’s advocacy so we want to take the opportunity to honor you and here. We at Heinz civic center are honored to preserve and share the story of your wife, Rachel. We sincerely thank you, Paul, for your generosity in donating historic materials that illuminate Rachel’s tireless work, encouraging educating and empowering people in the mental health community to exercise their right to vote. Please accept this gift on behalf of history center and consortium. Feature researchers spending time with Rachel’s collection will benefit from her grass roots voting advocacy. Thank you.
[ Applause ]
>> PAUL O’HANLON: I don’t know whether works for me to stand over here. Let me see. I need to get this clicker working so I know what I can depend on. Okay. Great. So, my name is Paul O’Hanlon. And probably, what I should start off by saying that my mission is to sort of explain how the disability voting caller was created and there are probably a cast of hundreds if not thousands who were involved in this, and that the only thing I can probably say is true, nobody had a bigger role than Rachel and I. And so, to tell the story of disability voting college, I have to tell the story of Rachel and I working together, and so, that’s kind of what you’re going to hear.
This is a picture of Rachel delivering a petition signed by hundreds of people who were residents of personal care homes in Harrisburg, and when Rachel and I met, we were both relatively new at our jobs. Rachel worked for the Mental Health Association of Allegheny County. I worked for what was then called the Disabilities Law Project. I have been a housing lawyer for about 20 years, specializing in low income housing issues. And when I started working for Disabilities Law Project, I was presented with an opportunity to go into the area of voting law.
We had just gotten a grant through the Help America Vote Act and the mission of that grant was to ensure the full participation of people with disabilities in the electoral process.
So, the question was, did I want to do that instead of housing, and I thought, hmm, the full participation of people with disabilities in the electoral process, that sounds kind of exciting. So, I said, okay, sure.
Rachel was doing organizing, and in the mental health area. And we met at a housing conference. And we started talking about how we could work together, me with my interest in election law, and Rachel with her interest in organizing people with mental health conditions. And as Paul explained, really, this is a conversation of really about ten years of work. And this is a picture of Rachel at the beach, where she had written into the sand “love life” and it really was what Rachel represented and really, I think, her message to all of us.
One of the one of the things that Rachel, Rachel self identified as being a person with a mental health history. It didn’t always come out. But one way it came out Rachel didn’t like to leave things to the last minute. She would say to me, I don’t want to leave things until the last minute. We were planning a legislative breakfast that we were planning maybe 2 1/2 months in the future, and we would plan this thing, and two days later, I would see her and she would say, okay, I have the room, I have the guests. Confirm. And I have all of the food arranged. But the thing about Rachel is it was short of she had superhuman ability to organize things and make things happen. And so it was just one of the amazing things working with her. Planned Parenthood this a quote from something that Rachel wrote “voting does more than elect politicians. Through the act of voting, people become dynamic players in the political arena where policy decisions are made and both their political and personal power gross. They become active citizens, connected with the community of voters. ”
And the thing you need to understand also about Rachel’s approach to kind of political organizing, is that t really fit within the mental health recovery movement, and so, much of what Rachel was about was organizing people with disabilities to really make progress in their recovery, and recovery for people with disabilities can include sort of recovering their place in life. And so I think that one of the things that you’re going to see in this is really her ongoing efforts to really empower people and enable them to recover their lives.
Meanwhile, what I bring to the table, is sort of a different attitude. One of my heroes in the area of election law is Willie Sutton. Willie Sutton, you may not realize, had nothing to do with elections or voting. He was a bank robber and Willie Sutton’s magic was to basically say, I rob banks because that’s where the money is.
So, my approach was, if I’m here to include the full participation of people with disabilities, in the electoral process, there’s something you need to know. People with disabilities are the largest minority group in America. You don’t disenfranchise, you don’t marginalize the largest minority group in American politics without excluding huge numbers of people along the way. So, I wanted to know, where were the people with disabilities that were being excluded. And Rachel introduced me to the world of personal care homes. I don’t know how many people here know what a personal care home is. It’s not a nursing home. It’s a lot like a nursing home, but it’s different. And so here’s what you need to know of personal care homes. There are about 51,000 people in Pennsylvania that lived in personal care homes at this point in time. And about now, it’s about the same. Allegheny County had the largest number of personal care homes, and have the largest number of people living in personal care homes in all of Pennsylvania. And statewide, about almost 10,000 of those people had SSI as their source of income. And one of the things about a personal care home is that it’s essentially if you need skilled nursing, you’re probably going to be in a nursing home. If you don’t need skilled nursing but you need help with active inters of daily living like feeding or dressing or preparing food, or remembering to take your medication, there’s a variety of things that cause people to land a personal care home. And lots of people with mental illness land in personal care homes as a point after hospitalization. So, for example, they need hospitalized and the next step is having them go into a personal care home.
And you can get stuck there, we discovered. So what Rachel was explaining to me was that as an organizer in the mental health area, what she was concerned, people got stuck in a personal care home. And the way that it happened, when you live in a personal care home, if, for example, your income is SSI, all of your money, every month, goes to the personal care home, except for a whopping $60 a month. And that $60 a month is what you use to buy your clothing, your toiletries, your medical co pay, transportation. It doesn’t go far.
Now, after you splurge with your $60 a month, how long will it take you to save up the first month’s rent, a security deposit, when you’re ready to move, and the answer is, probably forever. And so we started to look at, how could we support people with disabilities to be able to transition out of personal care homes. And so so, that became our first kind of focus, because we knew that in order to build a political movement, you have to both focus on the mechanics of organizing and registering people to vote, but you also had to give them a reason to vote, something to get interested in and excited about. And so we looked at how do we build campaigns around issue that people with disabilities would be interested and excited about.
And so, essentially what we started urging the state to do was people who had SSI as their source of income, living in a personal care home, get an extra state supplement, and that was hundreds of dollars a month that the state paid for them to be able to stay in a personal care home. And essentially, our argument was, okay, then if that supplement could be made portable, if a person could move out of that personal care home, taking that state supplement, using it for either a rent supplement, or to pay for supports to come into the home, then it would enable people to transition out of personal care homes.
And so that really became our first campaign.
Meanwhile, as we were so, this the idea was, we would develop this campaign, and we would use the letter of voices, be heard, the group that we were organizing and bidding, to be our kind of organizing group. And Let Our Voices Be Heard was sort of designed to be a cross disability group. Including all people with disabilities.
One of our members then presented us with an opportunity around election day, because she was assigned to an inaccessible polling place, and at that point, there was really no recourse for her, because her deadline to have requested either an absentee ballot or what’s known as an alternative ballot, was a week before election day. So, by the time election day ran around she had no recourse, and we organized the demonstration and was surprised when the poll workers brought out a ballot for her to vote and basically allowed her to vote on the walk.
Now, Pennsylvania does not allow curbside voting and one of the things we were urging is that Pennsylvania should allow curbside voting certainly at polling places that were inaccessible. So, that was what we were kind of hoping to force. And we got that result, although as the election Director says in his article, it was a mistake that they shouldn’t have given her that option of voting with the ballot at the curbside because state law doesn’t allow it. As a result of this action we actually got the state to implement a new procedure and they created what is now known as an emergency alternative ballot that you can request as late as election day. But the problem was, we were glad that they came up with some solution, but what you’ll notice is that the solution that they created, if you go to vote on election day and can’t get your polling place because it’s not accessible, what you need to do now is get yourself down to the County election office and apply for an emergency absentee ballot, alternative ballot, which means they translated an accessibility problem to a transportation problem, and that for people who live in rural problems where there isn’t any public transportation to speak of, certainly not one that you can get on the same day, it may essentially know it was no help.
So, when that was the state policy that was created we realized we really needed to start operating at the state level, just being limited to Allegheny County wasn’t really going to give us the power to confront the state decisions, that we needed a larger kind of approach. That was when we decided to start organizing for what became the Disability Voting Coalition, and in 2005, November, was our kind of kick off meeting in Harrisburg, and we did get press for that event, which was great. The Patriot News wrote an article. I was quoted as saying, too many service providers confuse being non partisan with being non political, and that was really a reflection of a growing frustration that we were feeling around the whole issue of voter registration and disability agencies.
So, meanwhile, we have a bit of a victory on our campaign about the making the personal the SSI supplement portable. The state agreed to pilot that idea of ours, but unfortunately, it was sort of the way that the pilot was done, sort of guaranteed its non success. What we realized was that if we could make a supplement portable and enable people to move out of the personal care home, it was really the people who were most able, most at the point where they could move out, you know, sort of like what’s sometimes known as creaming. You know, getting the people at the very top and enabling them to move out. But the problem was, that’s not what this state did. The state basically said, we’re going to make it available to homes that are under closure orders, where the residents would have to make a decision within 30 days, and do it all on their own. And we said, you know, there’s never going to be anybody in a crisis situation that’s going to elect to do that. And we were right. It was a pilot that essentially failed.
So, out of the that, we sort of recouped. There was a lot of things that we were frustrated about in the campaign. One, it was a campaign that lacked constituency. If 10 percent of personal care homes might conceivably be ready to move out, that meant that 90 percent weren’t. A lot of people felt it was a campaign that really didn’t matter to them. They weren’t looking to move out. And so, I think there was a good it was a good campaign from a policy standpoint, but it wasn’t a good campaign from an organizing standpoint. And the other thing was that, you know, it didn’t allow people to tell the story that had them feeling good about themselves.
And so, seeing that, we sort of realized that we needed to change our approach. So, what we did instead, we listened to what the people were talking about when we were talking about this idea we had of a pilot that, you know, making the supplement portable. What they talked about was, we only have $60 a month. It would be great if we get that increased. So, we started to focus on that, this thing that was known as a personal needs allowance, this $06, hadn’t been increased for over 15 years, and so we started a campaign to increase that. And this was a picture of a Harrisburg action that was around bringing attention to that.
So, this is a this is just some of the kind of literature that we were putting out. This is David C. David served our country in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam war, a police officer for seven years, a series of serious health problems, landed David, who is 56, in a personal care home. Each month after paying his room and board he received 60 to spend. Sort of like the budget on what he spends on $10 clothing. I shop at St. Vincent de Paul, et cetera, et cetera. David’s message, Governor Rendell, if I get a raise in my monthly allowance, I’d live a more productive life, I’d be able to socialize more.
Shirley’s message there’s no way you can live on $60. My husband’s birthday is six months from now. I want to give him a gift and I will have to struggle to save tore his birthday present.
Bob’s message, the price of everything is increased, $60 is not enough to live on. I served this country in Vietnam and I voted for you, Governor Rendell, at least scratch my back a little.
I think what we saw, this was a campaign that people could be regular people, wanting to do the things that everybody wanted to do and it was really a much more successful campaign.
January 2nd of 2009, we were successful. I think we got what amounts about a 40 percent increase, which sounds really great, but it was only about 25 bucks, but it still mattered and it was a successful campaign.
Meanwhile, as we were having these sort of issues campaigns, we were working on the doing of organizing, of getting people registered to vote. Doing registration training, and we were really frustrated at the beginning, around 2003, 2004, of course it was a presidential year, 2004, as we all know. Every four years we get kind of hyper crazy about politics and elections. And so 2003, 204, we were looking at the upcoming presidential election and so we decided to do a series of trainings directed toward disability agencies and developed this guide for agencies that serve people with disabilities.
And we were frustrated because the truth is, they didn’t come. An what we were like seeing was that the law, the national voter registration act says, each state shall designate, as voter registration agencies, all offices in the state to provide state funded programs, primarily engaged in providing services to persons with disabilities.
And that means that if the state’s funding a program, whether it’s, you know, home anchor services, Meals on Wheels, personal care homes, nursing homes, you know, these are all agencies that are supposed to be registering people to vote.
And so when the agencies weren’t coming to us, weren’t attending our training, we decided to go to them. And what Rachel essentially organized was, people who were part of this let Our Voices Be Heard and Disability Voting Coalition, to start going out to agencies and staffing tables and doing registrations, but as we were doing that, we were sort of noticing that, again, it was more like things weren’t happening. And we didn’t have any data to really prove our experience that things weren’t happening, but it seemed that things weren’t happening.
The other thing around 2008, we piloted a program that has continued to this day, called Ballots For Patients. The idea was that on election day, hospitals were full of people who weren’t planning to be there probably and that they don’t have a way to vote unless we bring the election to them, and so we started doing ballots for patients, and then, around 2007, we discovered that the state actually kept records on this thing called voter registration by disability agency. And we were surprised that they kept records, because we didn’t know how they would even know. And so you may be surprised this was a report that gets issued every year to the general assembly, explaining what kind of voter registrations were going on.
And because and that’s when we started this campaign called We Count. We Count was about organizing individuals with disabilities to register to vote, and, you know, We Count puts the state on notice that we’re tracking these numbers. When you realize the state was actually keeping records, we started to bring attention to what those records show, and We Count is a statement to political parties that people with disabilities make up a sizeable portion of eligible voters.
This was sort of our reach. Rachel was an amazing organizer, but everybody has their limits. So we had really a reach to a six County area. And so, here’s some data. Our six counties have about 16, almost 17 percent of the state population. And what we were surprised to see, was that what the state data showed, was that our disability registrations were only about half of that, about 8.1 percent of the state. And so, this is 2006 numbers which we find out the next year. So, in other words, we didn’t know what 2006 numbers were, until after July of 2007. So, this was after July 2007. And we saw that the numbers were really pretty bad. And we thought, okay, we can make those numbers go up. So, this would be 2007, and this was before we really started. So, basically, these two years, 2006, 2007, was before we got involved. 2008, is a presidential election year. We were very active, and we were opening that our results would show up on the state records. So, here’s what it was. So, the following year, we basically accounted for over half of the state’s registrations. And 2009, we also accounted for over half. Basically, in 2008 so, 2007, Allegheny County had zero registrations by disability agencies. But in 2008, we lead the state and we’ve lead the state every year since then.
So, here’s 2010. 2011 was the point Rachel was getting sick and we were really curtailing some of the organizing she was doing as a result. The 2011 numbers, in other words, this is 2012 now, where we’re looking at 2011 numbers. 2012 was really a decision, both because of Rachel’s declining health and kind of a growing frustration on our part that, I mean, the reality is, Pennsylvania’s a state of 12 million people. If two of us can have an impact where we account for over 50 percent of the state’s registration, there’s a serious problem there. I mean, like the two greatest people in the universe should not be able to account for 50 percent of the whole state’s registration. And so the numbers, what all of our numbers high, it really showed that there wasn’t anything else happening beyond kind of like what we were doing. And it raised the question of whether what directions to go. A lot of the allies that we were working with decided they wanted to sue the state, because they weren’t seeing numbers that really accounted for
So, I wanted to sort of show you, our kind of peers were the County assistance offices. We were looking at how did our registration compare with their registration. It seemed we were about one fourth to one fifth of their numbers and all of the numbers are pretty crappy, you know. But basically, just as an example, in 2010, a County assistance office had about 3,000 registrations, and we did 431. Back in 2008 when we had over 50 percent of the registration, the state disability agency registration was only 733. So it’s not like we were dealing with giant numbers.
So, there was a lawsuit brought, some local group in Allegheny County were the plaintiffs. Unfortunately the disability community, despite my best efforts did not join in that lawsuit, did not bring the disability agency’s issue into that lawsuit. So, the question is, did that lawsuit make a difference? What you’re going to see is basically, beginning in 2011, where before the lawsuit there were 5,000 registrations by County assistance offices. Next year, there were 10,000. Year after that there were 47,000. Year at that there were 66,000. So, it was obviously that the lawsuit made a difference, but since we weren’t part of it, we were left behind.
The last thing that we really turned to was civic engagement trainings to work, really allow for kind of remote participation. We’re looking at how Rachel could be involved in video conferencing and things like that. And I think what’s really kind of dramatic, was to sort of see the evolution of our expectations of our members. You know, and in the very beginning, we trained people to have the role of what we call voter educators and there were people who knew how to kind of answer questions and help people register. Soon, what we discovered, people were ready for more than that, and we started this program called ambassadors, and ambassadors would who would go to an agency, set up a plan that staff a table, organize that table, et cetera, et cetera. And finally, in our last kind of things, we were developing what we were calling citizen leaders. And
So, I want to end with kind of two things. One a quote from one of our members of Let Our Voices Be Heard, his name was Ralph. And I think it really represents everything that kind of Rachel was shooting for. Ralph says “I feel that I’m here I should say that this was after a trip to Harrisburg. What Rachel would do, every time there would be a trip to Harrisburg, the ride back, she would go to everybody in the bus, writing in her little notebook that she always carried, everything that people would say to her about being on that trip. So, this is what Ralph said.
“I feel that I’m here representing a lot of people. I can go back home and share the information with others who aren’t as involved as I am. Being involved in this group, being respected by other, has helped me to have respect for myself. If you have a sense of self respect, you can go anywhere with it. I feel like want to belong and to bring the message back. When they applauded for us on the Senate floor, I was deeply moved. People of worth could see us.
They were applauded because of being recognized for being part of the success of getting the personal need as allowance increase.
And this was a quote that Rachel liked to use a lot that meant a lot to her. “People who have ideas and drive are on every street are on every street and every walk of life. Waiting in the wing, ready to be discovered. Someone has to reach them and recognize them. Someone has to ask them to step out, not to be consumers or props or spectators, but to be players in the unfolding drama of public life.
So, if anybody here is part of Let Our Voices Be Heard or worked with Rachel, if you could sort of stand or something, I would just want to kind of, you know, honor people who were involved, and
[ Applause ]
>> PAUL O’HANLON: Thank you.
>> If the folks on the next panel could come up. We have Ron Bandes, Paul O’Hanlon, Christine Hunsinger, Nick Sinagra and Matthew Taylor.
This is where your theater training comes in handy, right?
>> RON BANDES: Good afternoon, I’m Ron Bandes, moderator on this panel on barriers to accessibility and solutions and I’m greatly honored to be here and honored to represent the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh. Although I did work on a project for the National Federation for the Blind to help design a remote ballot device, ply expertise in in election integrity. After the debacle of the 2016 presidential election, especially in Florida, the country almost entirely replaced their various voting systems. At that time many people svelte security and election security were opposing goals. Some still do but people representing each of these interests have learned to respect and incorporate the goals of the other interest.
Allegheny County just made their selection of a new voting system to be used in the 2020 primarily election for the first time. I was the point person for two important organizations that fought hard for good election integrity for all people in that selection. Vote Allegheny and League of Women Voters of greater Pittsburgh. I was so proud of numerous people that spoke up at County council meetings observed demonstrations of voting machines and gained more knowledge than they knew was missing. Even after, especially after, we won the right for hand marked ballots for voters. Because this marks integrity. We fight hard for a machine that price the best ballot secrecy and variable for people who cannot hand mark a paper ballot. We want all voters to vote independently, privacy and assurance their voters will be counted as intended and as easily as the other goals allow.
Because Allegheny County turns out to have capacity requirements for the number of candidate, 10,000 candidates sometimes, in this County, in one election, and the number of contest, 4,000 contests he possible in a single election in this County. Few other jurisdictions in the whole country have such intense requirement us, and because and for that reason, and because of missteps in the collection process, the County chose a system that produces a ballot that can only be considered voter verifiable if the County does a much, much better job of election audits, and they have done in the past. It just so happens that the Commonwealth settled a lawsuit with the Joe stein campaign to do just that. Vote Allegheny the league of women voters and black empowerment project will all be fighting to make sure they don’t just have appearance of audits about you make it a reality. This panel will discuss barriers to accessibility and solutions. Our panelists have strong backgrounds and terrific stories. Please see their biographies available at the table. Also Braille and large print editions can be found at the check in desk.
Panelist Christine Hunsinger is president of Golden Triangle Council of the Blind and second vice president of council of the blind. Christine and I were representatives of Western Pennsylvania on joint state government commissions committee on modernizing voting technology to advice Pennsylvania general assembly. She’s specializing in the needs of voter was disabilities. I, of course, was more representing the interest of election security.
Today, Christine will focus on barriers to voting for the visually impaired. We know that many voters, many people, don’t vote for a variety of reason, some good and some bad. Christine pointed out to me that voters with disabilities can have all of those reasons plus the difficulty of overcoming the barriers that she will describe. Nick Sinagra is directed of technology at PathVu. Nick will tell us about the technology of the universal voting booth. It’s more than a booth you can see and hear. You can see it at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Paul O’Hanlon who you heard from is an attorney with issues of disability rights housing public transportation and of course voting. Many of us know Paul for his leadership making people find it out for election day to vote. The law made it possible but Paul and his cohorts made it feasible. Matthew Taylor contributes his efforts to community engagement, peer support and membership events at transitional paths to independent living a membership based center for independent living in Washington County operated by the community of people with disabilities. Matt’s passion is advocacy and today he will inform us of accessibility of polling places.
I’d like to point out the League of Women Voters of greater Pittsburgh is signing people up to inspect their polling place for accessibility. Primarily the need for ramps and elevators and whether has adequate signers. We recognize the list of needs for accessibility is much larger than that, but this is the first time we’re doing such a project. So, we’re taking measured steps.
Anyone who would like to participate, should contact me. So, let’s hear from our panelists. Let’s start with Christine.
>> CHRISTINE HUNSINGER: Okay. I’m speaking as a visually impaired person, and therefore, talking about the barriers for visually impaired people. I want to say that these things have changed throughout time. There was a time in the distant past, when secrecy was not an issue for pal lots. People were supposed to let everybody know how they voted. And they were held accountable. I guess when they left the polling place and people wanted to beat each other up. But as time went on, we got to the secret ballot. As I was growing up, I expected that I would always need help voting in one way or another, and therefore, I would expect that the person who helped me, would be a trustworthy person and reflect my opinions when I voted. The first election that I pretended to vote at was the 1956 presidential election, and the first election that I actually voted at, that was a presidential election was 1972 one. I started voting in 1969.
So, the barriers for visually impaired people, there’s an issue, just trying to have the material that’s accessible to them. It’s true, we can look online, but many websites not designed with the blind person in mind, so to speak. It’s very difficult for someone who is visually impaired who can use a computer, sometimes, to sort out the relevant stuff on that Website, as opposed to the cute pictures. The cute pictures may have some value for some people, but I want the meat, thank you very much.
So, those accessibility issues are there. Your current social structures cause people who are older and living alone, to have issues with just being able to get things accomplished, and especially when three have vision loss, they may not be able to do things as easily as they once were able to. People believe that this will all be solved if we can just put it online, and everybody can take care of all of their business online, whether it’s registering or whatever, but remember, there are a vast number of people who are not really computer literate. They may have gotten a computer so they can keep in touch with their grandkid, and use Facebook, so they could see the family pictures, but as their vision deteriorates, as they get older, they don’t get to the point where they can learn how to use screen enlargement, or speech to help them use a computer. So, it doesn’t really solve their problems. And besides, their vision gets worse, their hearing gets worse. So neither of those things are necessarily appropriate for them.
The lack of training for poll workers and lack of familiarization with the equipment for the visually impaired voter. Remember, we get to do this once every six months, if we’re good and a whole lot less often if we only vote on the election that we deem to be important.
You forget how to use the equipment between elections. And since the poll workers don’t pay attention to how the special ballot and marking devices work, when you get into a jam, you find that you’re going like, I’m in the going do this ever begin, it’s so unnerving, it’s so irritating. I never had that problem, but
[ Laughter ]
>> CHRISTINE HUNSINGER: but that’s just because I’m snotty. Anyway, that issue of poll workers not knowing how to help the person, but truly, the Allegheny County voting manual does tell them that stuff. I have those pages. With the old machine. I don’t have an old one yet. It tells them there’s two sets of headphones, bla, bla, bla. And all this stuff and how to do it. And don’t you know, I can’t tell you at least a couple people a year, people say, I never used this before. People say I don’t know how to do it. It’s right in your book. Whatever number that is. I want to say 38 and 39 but I don’t remember.
The next the transportation issues are difficult. If you choose to go to vote, some people find the transportation issues difficult. I can I happen to be able to walk two blocks to my polling place. That’s not the case for a lot of people. If they have to arrange public transportation access, a cab, an Uber, and their income is somewhat limited, and they don’t actually even know about much of it. Because remember, if they’re visually impaired, they’re not going to peruse the newspapers or signage or anything out there as easily. So, that’s a barrier. But if they decide to stay home and vote, the absentee ballot application is now online. I did that. I had to know my PAID number so my DMV information can be matched with my information I put on there. I figured that out. I had a way to scan my I.D. card on my phone and read the number. But I can’t use the ballot that comes to me. It’s not accessible. So, again, you’re back to the old waste where you had to have another person help you do that. Now, I thought we’d gotten away from that when we went to the fancy new voting machines in Allegheny County, that all they had to do was flip a do hickey thingy and it turned into a talking voting machine. But it was the same thing that other people used.
Another interesting barrier is the difficulty in locating sample ballots. I don’t want to go to Google, who sells my information, to find my sample ballot. I don’t want to go to somebody’s Facebook page to look for one. I’d rather go to the State of Pennsylvania, who supposedly couldn’t be selling my data, and look at a sample ballot and say, oh, that’s who I can vote for.
Now, I know that we used to see the print sample ballots come out, but, again, I have to wait until someone’s at my house to look at the print sample ballot for my area to see, just what I have to vote for. And if they can find me my polling place, by me putting my address in, et cetera, et cetera. It should be able to pop up my sample ballot on the same spot. I don’t think it would take much more coding.
The accessibility of the voting equipment itself, we expected, once we started using the voting equipment that would talk to us, and we didn’t know any better, we assumed that, when we had digital recorded, DRE equipment, that it was going to tell us what it actually recorded when we pushed that final vote button. And so in review mode, we were fine. That was all we could ask for. But now that our equipment prints our ballot after we select it, I would like to be able to verify that printed ballot, just as the person who does a hand marked ballot can look at their ballot. I can do it in review mode before it’s printed, but I don’t know if the printer printed the right thing. Somebody could hack between one place and the other and I have no way of knowing.
With the ES&S equipment, it could check the bar code was me but bar codes aren’t the same thing as text, we know that, so that’s a barrier. I’m not giving people solutions at this point because I think the solution should come from the whole community.
I think not having visually impaired poll workers is an interesting barrier to voting. I’m sure many people on the County level have never thought of visually impaired seriously visually impaired poll workers, I’m sure there are people who have to hold things out a little further or whatever. If the electronic poll booths would talk to me I’d love to be a poll worker. Allegheny County is not even getting into the electronic poll world yet. But play, if we had more visually impaired poll workers the system would be forced to use universal design characteristics for the voting equipment and it would all work a little better just as we should have more people who have mobility impairments as poll workers. That would straighten out which polling places accessible and which are not very quickly. And that bathroom issue that Maria mentioned would certainly be sorted out, because anyone who had to stay there all day would know for sure whether that polling place had accessible bathrooms or not.
There’s an attitude in the greater community that we have to think about as a barrier, that attitude is, if you have one disability, you probably have at least one more. And normally, what people assume, if you have vision or hearing or mobility impairments, you might well have mental limitations, not mental health kinds of things but cognitive limitations and that’s something that you just can’t you can’t prove to people in any other way than prove to go about living your life and show them that you are indeed able to think for yourself. And there’s, of course, the last barrier to voting is, again, that absentee ballot issue, since there’s no way for me to complete an absentee ballot independently, or privately, and I can’t verify it once it’s been completed, that is a true barrier to my voting.
As Maria pointed out earlier, the absentee ballot solution is not a solution for it’s not the primary solution that we should have. The absentee ballot solution is only an interim, or at best, at least a secondary solution. And those ten barriers, I believe, are big barriers for people with vision loss, and I would be glad to work with anybody to try to sort those out and how to solve them.
>> RON BANDES: Thank you very much, Christine.
[ Applause ].
>> RON BANDES: Christine, I promise you, when the County starts to consider electronic poll votes, vote Allegheny and League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh will be there to make sure they have accessibility features.
Okay. Our next speaker will be Nick Sinagra from PathVu talking about the universal voting booth.
>> NICK SINAGRA: Hey, can you hear me? I don’t think it’s on. All right. There we go. So, I am Nick Sinagra, I have collective technology at PathVu. I have been doing independent research of the voting booth. And the key word there is universal, which was already mentioned a few times today. This voting booth was developed by a company in California, and they are, their Website are videos of the documentation that they have. They have stressed universal. And that’s something that is obviously very important to all of us, but also in the hardware and software development field, we try to stress that universal design aspect. And some of the feature, I do want to point out, this is still sort of being piloted. It is going be voted on in several states, Pennsylvania being one of them. But it not a perfect system yet, but they are getting as close as possible.
So, the booth itself, looks typical as every voting booth, however, you’ll see that the edges are very rounded off, which may not seem like a big deal, but that makes it easier to navigate for some people and safer for other people without the sharp edges. The voting system, the way to vote, is a typical touch screen, similar to an iPad or something like that. So, that’s how that’s one option for making your selections. If you’re unable to use the touch screen for any reason, they give you several options for other ways in which to make a selection.
The first option, if you have some sort of any sort of visual impairment, they provide you with head phones, which, I believe, it’s up to 13 languages at this point, where they will walk you, step by step, through making your selection using an oversized tactile controller. The controller itself, and the headphones will tell you very specifically step by step, what to do, and which buttons to push, and so on.
There’s they also advertise that the controller may be used for someone with physical disabilities as well. Again, all of the edges rounded off, so that there was no risk of stabbing yourself or anything like that, that I think you’ve been living with.
The second option is switch input. Switch, as many of us with wheelchairs know, we have switches on our chair that can do different things, so, in this case, you could plug in any of our switches to the voting booth, and it allows you to, by switch access, similar to the switch access on your phone, or on your computer. They advertise this to be use follow for people with disabilities. Many people with cognitive using technology, makes it easier to focus that switch. Now, the third option, which is personally my favorite, which is I am able to use, is that they allow you to please select your cell phone, or home phone, you can do this at the polling place, whatever, pre select it at your phone, you get to the booth, the booth scans on your phone, and it puts your selections up on the screen. If you have a visual impairment, again with the headphone, it will read back your selections. They should confirm through use of that pre selected phone, and then you confirm it, and those are the selections. Now, again, to make that that was a very exciting feature to me. I feel like most of us, are probably able to use a cell phone, Google and Apple, have done a great job, including many accessibility feature, so, using this app to do pre selection was very exciting to me. And yet, the screen looks like a typical screen, it’s very bright. And they did that on purpose to make it easy to see and easy to verify. However, even with the brightness, it’s private. If you are assisted, or your family members are off to the side, they would not be able to see it. The polarized screen makes that impossible. So, it’s even though it’s bright, it’s also very private.
The boot has an integrated ballot box, so after you confirm your selections it goes directly into the ballot box. So, again, is this system, is this technology, perfect? I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. I’m sure there are flaws. I’m sure that there are things that there’s an issue, whether a privacy issue, or an interface issue, I think for the research that I have done, it seems like, it’s the first step in really getting a universal path that all of us can use whatever your ability or disability may be.
>> RON BANDES: Thank you, Nick.
[ Applause ]
>> RON BANDES: In regards to a perfect voting system, I can tell you, there are so many conflicting goals in these things that you can never have a perfect voting system. Just as an example, on the one hand we have a goal of voter verifiability. You should leave the voting booth with confidence that your vote was recorded as you intended it to be. On the other hand, we also have the goal of ballot secrecy, that will limit the number of waste in which we can provide verifiability. For example, many people want to take a receipt away from the polling booth that shows how they voted and that actually can’t be allowed. Because if you can prove how you voted to another person, that would encourage bribery and coercion. If you could prove it, someone could make you prove it and that would not be a good thing. So, thank you so much, Nick, for your pre search on that, and again, you can see the universal voting booth at the Carnegie Museum of Art.
Next I would like to have Paul O’Hanlon speak, please.
>> PAUL O’HANLON: I guess the thing that most seems like a barrier to me is the whole registration issue, and that and I think that we need to think more like little Willie Sutton, where is the money being held. So, I talked about personal care home. If you add nursing homes, and personal care homes together, and add up the number of people living there today in Pennsylvania, it represents the third largest city in this state. You have more people living in nursing homes and personal care homes that are living in Allentown, Pennsylvania. That’s our third largest city. And the question is, whose job is it to register them to vote, and the answer is, nobody’s right now. Because the state doesn’t recognize nursing homes and personal care homes as being state funded agencies that primarily serve people with disabilities. Now, if you go into a personal care home or nursing home, everybody is going to look pretty much disabled. And the question is, why aren’t they. And the answer is, there’s a whole other lack of clarity about the issue of whose job is it to register people with disabilities to vote. There’s a round 2 million people with disabilities in Pennsylvania, and there’s one entity given the job of registering them to vote. And that’s state funded disability service organizations. And if they don’t do that, it ain’t happening. And so, you know, we really need to look beyond sort of the individual approach to voting and voting engagement, and look at what’s going to get our community engaged. And absent I mean, I think one of the things I saw with working with Rachel is, we really need community organizers. If we don’t have community organizers making it happen, if you do you really expect the dominant culture to make sure that people with disabilities are registered to vote? I don’t expect to. I mean, one of the things that I think was really interesting, the whole issue of are you going to have a bad experience voting? So, you know, for example, we know that, you know, if you own a business or any kind of a thing that you’re trying to get the public to engage in, the last thing you want to have happen is for them to have a bad experience. Because they’re not going to do it again. And yet I would predict that the majority of people with disabilities would tell you a whole set of bad experiences they’ve had trying to vote. And so, I don’t think that we can minimize the impact of bad experiences. And I think that’s one of the reaps why we need to get much better at that.
But I think that the other question is, what is it that a minority group really is going do to get you know, sort of get their proper place in a democracy, and I think that we really need to focus on getting everybody registered to vote, knowing that getting people registered to vote is the single greatest thing that you can do to get them to vote. I me there’s no other thing that reaches the same impact on getting people to actually vote, than getting them registered. And so, there ain’t nobody getting people registered to vote in nursing homes and personal care homes. There just isn’t. And we really need to attend to that and start to think more like, Willie Sutton. Where are the people with disabilities? Whose job is it to register them to vote and if they’re not doing that, we really need to confront that problem, because if it ain’t happening, we’re sort of not going become a political factor in a democracy, because we won’t have the votes.
[ Applause ]
>> RON BANDES: Thank you, Paul. Okay. Matthew Taylor is going to talk about the accessibility of polling places and I noticed that the County is claiming this year that all 1322 of our polling places are accessible. So, I’m very curious to hear your opinion of that, Matt.
>> MATTHEW TAYLOR: Allegheny County?
>> RON BANDES: Oh, that’s right you’re in Washington.
>> MATTHEW TAYLOR: We mostly did Fayette and Washington County. I would like to know the results that as well. I would like to work off what Paul was saying about personal care homes and nursing homes we have transitional paths in independent living. We believe everyone should live in the community and have the same accessibility that everybody else has. So, what we noticed, when going into nursing home I’m sorry, going into nursing homes, transitioning people, their records are not kept up to date. I believe this was mentioned. They do not have up to date drivers license or photo I.D.s. Their birth certificates get lost. Paperwork gets lost. That makes transitioning hare. That also makes registering someone to vote hard. But I’m sorry, I’m not scrolling Facebook. I keep my notes on my phone. And it likes to lock up on me.
So, also, we in Washington, Greene and Fayette County, as I mentioned, we polled over 40 polling places in our area. I my did around 15 polling places. I would like to share a couple of stories. The one one of the polling places we went to, the ramp was 1 to 8 inches, which ADA is 1 to 12, but when you got to the top of that ramp it lead to a step. So, either way that ramp was kind of useless. And when my colleague and I were measuring the ramp, and noticing the step, someone frantically was running across the street to talk us to. And it happened to be the Judge of Elections. And she said, can I ask what you’re doing? We said, oh, we’re just checking the accessibility of the polling place, and we noticed it is inaccessible. She begged us not to take her polling place, because it is so convenient. And my response is, it’s convenient for you, because it’s across the street. And you can access it. And her response to that was, we have no people with disabilities in this community that vote here.
I said, because they can’t. They can’t get in. And that then we got to the absentee fight, and we went on, and it came out to be it didn’t get through to her, but we are fighting to get that polling place either more accessible or moved.
Another thing was, as you stated, churches. We visited a few with gravel parking lots. And then steps with no ramp at all. Sorry. Locked my phone again.
>> RON BANDES: Matthew, I will point out that your fight is probably not about the Judge of Election. It’s with the County officers
>> MATTHEW TAYLOR: Right.
>> RON BANDES: Judge of Election works two days a year.
>> MATTHEW TAYLOR: She was adamant not moving the polling place. That really struck hard.
>> RON BANDES: The good news is, she doesn’t have the power to say one way or the other.
>> MATTHEW TAYLOR: Correct. So, to speak about poll workers with disabilities. I believe the shift is 13 hours long? Or is it 16?
>> RON BANDES: The polls open for 13, plus an hour to set up and an hour to tear down.
>> MATTHEW TAYLOR: Correct. So, a lot of people with disabilities that come into would love to be poll workers, they can’t do 15 hour ace day. So they were asking about split shifts. Also most of the bathrooms are not accessible. So that would be a problem. They were asking about split shifts or maybe doing six hours at a time and somebody replacing them. Just being more visible in the community as people with disabilities. Also, training for the poll workers, with people with disabilities, if I could share a story of one of my colleagues that’s here today. Kate Blaker who is a member of the League of Women Voters, she was voting and the easel was too high for her to reach. Instead of either lowering the easel, which is easy, or removing the the electronic ballot box from the easel, and letting her use it on her lap, they just leaned it over top of her, which could be very dangerous, and she did not feel very comfortable with that.
And so, the training really needs to be ramped up, and we offered training at our SIL. And also, we are a polling place that is accessible. Obviously, at the center for independent living. We all need to get in there. Let’s see here. I am on a statewide action group, and one of our goals are to make polling places more accessible, and the statewide action group has colleagues from each center for independent living, plus the state. I believe 18 centers. And there’s members from each of them. So, every County is covered. And we are in the we just finished our first year, and we are moving into our second year of the grant cycle and we are still working on trying to train and getting the awareness out there, about the inaccessibility of the polling places.
Also. What I really found helpful was getting a good relationship with your Director of elections. Ours has our Director of elections he has come down to our facility and brought pamphlets of the new machines that were being used, and once they decide, or are making the decisions, she said that she will let us test the new machines in Washington County and see which ones, being most accessible.
>> RON BANDES: Has Washington count I selected a new system for 2020 yet?
>> MATTHEW TAYLOR: I don’t believe they selected yet. They are in the process, but we are hoping that it comes along soon, and they are hoping that she Melanie, which I I strongly believe she will keep her promise and let us see which one was the most successful for people with disabilities.
>> CHRISTINE HUNSINGER: I’ll be the one they pick.
>> MATTHEW TAYLOR: I hope not.
>> RON BANDES: Okay.
>> MATTHEW TAYLOR: Okay, as stated I’m the membership Director. 200 recommends at this time. All of the members ask if they are registered to vote. We are open Monday through Friday. But Monday through Thursday we have a computer cafe and recommend anybody who offered 0 come in and needs help to register to vote. So any time they come in, 9:00 to 4:00 Monday through Thursday, and there’s a computer cafe manager, that will help people register to vote, or anyone of our staff will help register to vote. Because as you said, that’s one of the biggest things, getting people to register is the starting point of getting them to vote.
>> RON BANDES: How about a great round of applause for all of our panelists.
[ Applause ]
>> Hello, everyone. My name is Imani Barber, if you know me, I’m very sorry.
[ Laughter ]
>> There’s no need to apologize for yourself. You’re awesome.
>> I’m not here to talk about myself I’m here to talk about Gregg Beratan. In 2016 he was one of the first people to agree to be interviewed by OSA. Hasn’t done much since then. Gregg Beratan is the cofounder of the #cripthevote project. He currently serves as Director of development for the center of disability rights. He’s educational consultant and disability rights activist. He’s caught in universities throughout the United States, England, Poland and India. That’s a long flight. It’s his research focused primarily on the way he understands disabilities served to shape inclusive education in the United States. He’s extremely kind in his activism. Please give a round of applause to Gregg Beratan.
[ Applause ]
>> GREGG BERATAN: Thank you. Thank you. I feel as though I should be introducing her. Meeting Imani was one of the most exciting things for me about coming here. We’ve known each other for, what, four years now? So, this is the first time we’ve got to meet in person. If you don’t know her, please seek out her writing. She’s one of the most eloquent voices our community has.
I had two reactions to finding out Maria Town was speaking before me. One was to be terrified, because you can’t volume Maria. She’s fantastic. And the other one was sort of relief, because I knew at least you would all be getting some substance. Before me. And so, I’m grateful to you for that. Also to the wonderful panelists and speakers. That’s fantastic. I grew up in Pennsylvania. But I haven’t been following as closely all of the developments in recent years so it was nice to catch up there.
I want to preface this with a record about language. It may be unnecessary in this setting but I tend to do this anyway, just to be safe. I primarily use identity first language. I am a disabled person, disability is not something I carry with me. Or can put down. It is a proud integral part of my identity. I have no issue with people who prefer person first language, but I do not feel the need for anyone to assert my personhood more highly. I use the phrase, #CripTheVote. I think people found the word “crip” offensive. People who use it, there’s been a project to reclaim that word as in much the same word the LBGTQ community reclaimed queer to use it as a term of pride. That’s how in #CripTheVote we try to use the term as a proud identity.
With that out of the way, I work for the Center For Disability Rights and I’m a moment of ADAPT. I think I was largely asked to be here in my role as one of the founders of #CripTheVote. It’s a non partisan campaign to engage both voters and politicians in a productive discussion about disability issue in the United States with the hope that disability takes on greater prominence within the American political landscape.
#CripTheVote started because many of us in the disability community were watching the 2016 election unfold and we’re frustrated that there was no mention of disabled people or any awareness that our community exists. Sadly four years later we find ourselves in very much the same boat. Candidates are talking about everything but our community.
When we started the hashtag, my partners, Alice Wong who many of you may know from the disability visibility project and Andrew who runs a wonderful block called Disability Thinking and has a long history in the independent living movement and I thought we would organize a few Twitter chats, maybe live tweet the debates but the disability community had other ideas. People took ownership of it, began using the hashtag 24 hour a day. We immediately began see people tweeting opinions, question, candidates having discussions about issues, sharing new stories.
In the last four years, we’ve had 52 Twitter chats that have greatly expanded the discourse around politics and disability. We discussed Medicare for all, access to the polls, mass incarceration, immigration, and gun violence. What has been striking throughout is the passion, the depth of knowledge, and the experience our community brings to each of these discussions.
And I take no shame in plugging this Sunday, if you can, please join us on Twitter or four 53rd Twitter chat on accessibility and the e caucus system, guest hosted by Disability Rights Iowa.
From day one, #CripTheVote has also highlighted the fact that the experience of disabled Americans is one of the intersectional oppression, that being disabled cannot be boiled down to a simplistic notion of ableism. To understand the experience, we must understand how racism, sexism, poverty, and ageism, all interact with ableism.
I hope it has helped us undermine a problem. My friend Melissa Thompson identified with another hashtag, disability too white. Which means far too often when talking about disabled lives the discussion focuses exclusively on white disabled people’s experiences. #CripTheVote is to make their experiences heard and ensure they are understood beyond our commune. There’s a hunger in the disability community to be engaged in the political process. We see it in support for #CripTheVote, for rev up, and even the rise of political action committee. Our committee is broad and there are many issues to be addressed. We live in an age when health care is under a threat. We have a government that disqualifies people from immigrating. Our people’s unemployment rate is consistently two to three times of non disabled peoples. We are also subjected to higher rates of incarceration and violence.
In reality, every issue that has come up in this election to date is a disability issue. What has been missing is any sign that any of the candidates running for office is giving the disability community any consideration as they address these issues.
The disability community has long been treated as a political afterthought. Useful when it is convenient, but only when it is convenient. When health care was under attack, it was ADAPT that came forward to defend us all. For those who don’t know ADAPT, although I see a document ADAPTers in the room. Please look them up. Over the draft people of years ADAPT lead the fight for ADA, independent living. Laying across buses and on the capitol steps to force change. During the health care fight it was getting dragged out of Mitch McConnell’s office that galvanized public pin against cleanse of the affordable care act. We saw disabled people in over 30 states hold three actions a day for almost three months. I don’t know what any political action like it before or since. I’m very proud to have been a part of it.
[ Applause ]
>> GREGG BERATAN: Since that fight ended, ADAPT has focused largely on the passage of disability integration act a bill that would codify the right to live in the community and guarantee any insurer public or private offers long term support services anywhere, they must also offer them in the community. But rather than saying thank you for saving health care by ensuring the rights of disabled Americans to live in the freedom of the community, Congress has said, not yet. We have other priorities. You need to wait.
But it’s not just national politics where disabled people are treated as an afterthought. Over the last year, across the country, we’ve seen low talent after locality in an attempt to demonstrate their concern for the environment, pass plastic straw bounds, disregarding the fact that plastic Strauss can be just as difficult for someone to access a bar or restaurant as a ramp.
Just to highlight this, I have done some research on this. The plastic straw bends came out of a picture of a sea turtle littered with plastic straws, and they wanted to do something about ocean waste. Well, plastic straws make up .03 percent of all plastic ocean waste. 30 percent is fishing Nets. I have yesterday to hear one person call for any limitation on commercial fishing to stop this. But this, they can demonstrate their commitment to the environment without doing anything that hurts anyone except disabled people.
The unstated assumption is that disabled people should be responsible for our own access and we should not be considered when these laws are proposed. They tell us to bring our own straws. So given the theme of this symposium, how do we make the rest of the nation understand that we count? In this and every election, sadly, other than my first suggestion and it’s already been made. None of the recommendations I made offer quick fixes or are easy. My first suction, however, is easy. It’s already been mentioned several times: Register and vote. Contact rev up, although disappointed to hear we don’t have rev up in Pennsylvania yet, so, start one, please. Contact rev up, contact other organizations, go to the DMV, register online, do what you have to but register to vote.
The more disabled people that vote, the better things will be. People pay attention to voter demographics. I’m kind of embarrassed that I didn’t think to mention the Census, because, again, this is so important to what happens to us in the future elections. If you can’t get to the polls, vote absentee. And I, like everyone else, would not suggest this is the primary choice, but if you can’t get there, and many people can’t, try and register to get an absentee ballot and vote. And if your polling place is inaccessible and I really hope those Allegheny numbers are true, I’m not holding my breath over it, but I’m hopeful. Contact a PNA, contact the press, contact someone, let them know and fight until it’s made accessible.
But above all, do what you have to vote.
My next suggestion is to educate. For too long the dominant narrative about disability has been framed within the individual. This allows people to ignore the societal oppression we face in virtually every corner of American life. I was in a candidate forum we held at center for disability rights two nights ago there was a stark difference between candidates that worked with us on poll issues in the past and those who had not. Despite the fact we didn’t use phrases such as wheelchair bound and special needs. They learned that the biggest problems disabled people face have not been made by any physical sensory or cognitive limitations but rather by socially or governmentally imposed restrictions.
When people begin to see the oppression of disabled people, as something more than the natural result of disability, they feel a greater responsibility to do something. So, educate. And there’s much to educate people about. And many to educate. Go on social media, talk to friends and family. Talk to politicians, and don’t just speak right, publish, blog. Get your positions out there. I first discovered Imani through her blog. It’s one of those powerful voices that changes the discourse. So, share your continues with the public, with politicians, with anyone you can find.
We had one person on #CripTheVote who took it on themselves to write issue briefings that they sent to all of the candidates in their state. Several actually reached out to talk with them about the issues. This is this is citizen a voter citizen rig at its best. Get involved, do what you can to educate people about the issues that are important to our community. Engage people in conversations about the things that they were taught to look away from. Help them lean in to the discomfort. Teach them to get past notions of pity and guilt that so many of us have no use for. Get them as angry as many of us are. Anger is good. And as my 5 year old will tell you, there’s a lot to be angry about.
[ Laughter ]
>> GREGG BERATAN: We have a system that still tells many disabled people that to get the services they need to live their lives, they must be in an institution. We have a system that tells people to call the police when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis despite the fact that this greatly increases their chance of being killed. We have a special education system that overidentifies students of color and pre determines that many of them will never qualify for higher education by condemning them to dim employment mas that have virtually no value. If they value this, they will do something. The next, we need to be partisan only to the disability community. This is challenging. Our politics have become so polarized that it sometimes seem impossible to see we have any choice who to vote for at all. It is not a call, however, to be open to candidates who offend us but more of a recognition that no party has done particularly well by disabled people.
We must demand more for our votes. Weave must make them engage with our issues. This is not a call for a litmus test, though many of us may have them. It is a call to not let any politician take our votes for granted. We are the largest minority. We may not vote as a bloc but sizeable that the largest portion of our community can sway an election. Disability issue when they’ve had support had the history of bipartisan support, that means we have the opportunity to work both sides of the aisle, it means we’re in position to force candidates earn our votes, make them engage with our community.
Brings me to my fourth suggestion it’s something I call the #CripTheVote Cal en. We started in the last mid term elections, seek out politicians at every level, Federal, state and local. Ask them about disability issues that matter most to you. Get them on the record and share their responses, so we can hold them accountable to their answers. If you don’t like their answers, either find a new candidate or challenge them. Make them rethink. There’s such a wealth of knowledge in your community. Let’s make the politicians engage with.
We live in a time when it has ever been easier to contact people who are running for office. Reach out for them on Twitter or Facebook. E mail their offices or campaigns. Go to town halls if you can, we refuse to be ignored. I mentioned integration disability act earlier a little known story about the first introduction of the bill the original House sponsor, Chris Gibson, retired in 2016 and people were looking for a new sponsor in the house. The hope was find another Republican to keep the bill bipartisan, a good friend of mine from Wisconsin got it into her head that she would convince Congressman to introduce the Bill. She began following him around the district from town hall to town hall trying to ask him. I should preface this by saying MerriLee is a wheelchair user and may be Personification of midwestern nice. I don’t know if you’ve met midwestern nice but there’s a picture of her in the dictionary. On one of the town halls. The Congressman called her from the podium. As she started her to speak he chastised her to stand up. And the audience who could see her, shouted at him that he count much the Congressman was deeply engaged and sent his aide over to apologize and asked if she would be willing to meet with him afterwards to discuss the bill.
Merrilee probably heard much worse than stand up, and could care less about what happened but she was more than happy to take advantage of the opportunity to speak privately with the Congressman and shortly after that town hall, Jim became the introducing sponsor for the Disability Integration Act in the House and this is what can happen from going out and chasing down your politicians and not taking no for an answer.
Because, as a community, we’ve had to fight for every right and any justice we have. Nothing has been given to us freely or easily. If you want to know what your City Council candidate is going to do about snow removal, or police violence, ask them. If you want to know what a presidential candidate is going to do about the institutional bias or ensure that disabled people are allowed to immigrate to this country, ask them. Keep asking until you get an answer. Do not let manners or civility stand in your way. If you don’t get an answer or get a non answer, push back.
If we don’t force elected officials to answer our questions about issues that matter to us, we’re just guessing that they support our issues or hoping. I don’t know about any of you but yet to meet a politician to do the right thing. Marie may have a different answer to that. I don’t no but taking a guess is the same as flipping a coin. You may get a good result, you may not. I don’t want to take that chance. Ask your politicians where they stand and when they are elected hold them to it. Make them work for you.
My final suggestion is run for office. Take jobs with politicians and in government. When #CripTheVote is done, issue surveys with members of the community, the policy suggestion that has consistently been wrapped is to get more disabled people working in policy making positions. You heard from Maria earlier and Maria’s current position at ADPD is important. Disable organizations should be lead by disabled people and ADPD is one of the biggest and most influence organization there is. Without slighting her current role I would argue the role of her in the Obama White House and Department of Labor and Houston can foot be understated. We need as many people writing policy from win as we need activists putting pressure from the outside. Without this, many elected officials live and operate in a vacuum where disabled people are either a distraction or don’t exist at all.
I was working in Albany in CDR’s policy office and one of the major pieces of legislation we were fighting to stop was a push to legalize assisted suicide in New York. And there’s one assembly member on the health committee who, for years, steadfastly refused to commit to voting for or against the legislation, but who indicated that if push came to shove they were likely to vote for it. Suddenly about two years ago, they were they began saying they would definitely vote against the Bill. Seems the deciding factor was a disabled staffer who pointed out to them that under the definition of terminal illness, in the state, everywhere this has been introduced. A condition which, with our without treatment, would result in the person’s death within six months, or and this person was diabetic. And if they had stopped their treatment, within six months they argued they would likely be dead. And the politician suddenly saw the flaw in the way this law was constructed.
But if elected so, it’s sad that this is what it took. But that’s the reality. If elected and government officials don’t see us and hear from us as they go about their work, we are not real to them. Our community does not have the financial resources to force our way into the conversation as other communities have managed to do. Although, if there are any disabled billionaires in the audience, I’m happy to work with you to try and prove us wrong.
In the meantime, run for office. Get involved in campaigns. Go to work in government. If you need help, the national Council on Independent Living has a program to help you figure out how to run for office. There’s also Emily’s list to make a concerted effort to increase the amount of disabled women who are running. I believe rev up encouraged many people in different states to run. There are also several hiring schemes to help disabled people go into government and Civil Service jobs. We need people at every level of the policymaking process to contribute to help shape this process, because without that, we’re back to being an afterthought.
I believe I’m look back at speech, the word I may have used most in this is community. The disability community has been the force that has shaped my life for the better. As a 49 year old disabled man, who can, in many circumstances pass as non disabled, although my wife might argue with that, I spent the first 30 years of my life running from a disabled identity. It was coming into the disability community and learning to see disabilities of proud identity that has made all of the difference in my life. Without it I was miserable. It’s given me friends and family. It’s gotten me arrested 20 times that I’m very proud of, and it has given me hope for the future of this somewhat bleak world. #CripTheVote worked because of the power of this community. Whatever Alice, Andrew and I have done to organize. It is the disability community that has been the real force for change and I truly believe it is our strength as a community that will make sure that we count in this and every election going forward.
[ Applause ]
>> Thank you. The last panel of the day, Ron comes back up with moderator Aerion Abney, Jean Searle, Alisa Grisham and Regis Charlton.
>> AERION ABNEY: Good afternoon, everyone, I am exceptionally excited to be here with you today, and I am equally as excited to hear from our expert panelists who are here, I see a few familiar faces in the audience today as well as I see a lot of new faces, but for those who do not know me, my name is Aerion Abney, I’m the Pennsylvania State Director with All Voting is Local, and I have the distinct privilege of serving on the panel for empowering voters with disabilities. My hope for this panel of conversation is that our panelists can give you some thoughts and ideas on some of the issues that voters with disabilities are facing as well as some of the solutions, and really talk about ways that you all can engage in some of the impactful work they are doing, both in Allegheny County and across the state.
I have a very simple job here today as the moderator. I have a list of questions that I have for the panelists and I will try to ask as many quells as I possibly can and keep the flow of the conversation going and do that all before 4:00 so you can get out of the here on time. How does that sound. Does that work?
We’ll get into it. I’ll introduce our panelists. We have Mr. Ron Bandes, as many of you already saw earlier today. He’s representing League of Women Voters. We also have Jean Searle, from disability rights Pennsylvania. Alisa Grisham from balance lots for patients. And Regis Charlton. Got that one right. From center for independent living as disability options network.
Let get into it. What would office would you say your organization provides as relates to voter registration and getting people to be participatory in the voting process for voters with disabilities.
I’ll start with you, Ron, if you don’t mind.
>> RON BANDES: Being behind schedule, I’m going to go fast. First and foremost, I don’t know if everybody nose of the existence of the permanent absentee ballot application. If you fill out the permanent ballot absentee permit application. They will second you one every year before every election. They will do this for four years and if do you it for four years they will send you a filled in application to submit your absentee billion lot. And everything else will be filled in I mean, applications will be filled in with everything but your signature. They try to make everything as easy as possible. The one thing, the very first time you apply for permanent absentee ballot status, they will ask for an affidavit from the doctor saying that you either cannot get to the polling place or you can not operate the voting machine.
So, permanent absentee ballot application available from the Pennsylvania Department of State and I’ll talk about the Website in a moment.
No. 2 is a couple I created myself some years ago about how to make complaints about elections in Pennsylvania. And this document, I have only a few of them out on the table outside of the room, but contact me if we need more. This tells you basically who to go to for the various clients you might have, the help America vote act is would be a big one having to do with, for example, if you are refused a provisional ballot, because for whatever reason they don’t find you on the Rolls, you say I’m still voting at least provisionally, and also denying voter assistance would be a County complaint. So there’s information here on how to do those things how to file a help America vote act complaint, how to file a County complaint and finally attach to the same document I have a list of helpful organizations, such as election protection coalition, the disability rights Pennsylvania and justice department of civil rights division, so, these are all instructions on how to access all of those things.
Then, I’m going to mention two Websites although I have more on this piece of paper, the first is the state Website. It’s votes PA, with an “s” dot come, strangely. It’s a government site but it is a dotcom. It is wonderful. I found the disability page lacking but there is other information about lots of other aspects of voting and I will talk to them about what they can do to improve that payment a little more. Secondly since I’m representing the League of Women Voters, I would be remiss if I don’t say vote 411.org. This can be used to find information about candidates. Of the league does not write about candidates. What you are things the candidate wrote themselves about themselves and also you’ll find information about candidate forums in your area. We’re having one tonight in Homewood for the District 9 City Council. I have to rush over there and so do other people here tonight. There’s also other information out there that I would probably tell you to go to the state site instead of going to vote 411.org such as check our voter registration. Better off go to the source, go to the state. Find your polling place, go to the said but as far as seeing your sample balance let, you’ll see the exact ballot on the state or County site, vote 411 will have information earlier than those other places. That information is not complete. Minor offices may not show up on vote 411, but the information on the ballot candidates will appear much sooner than you’ll find it elsewhere.
>> AERION ABNEY: Thanks.
>> ALISA GRISHAM: I can’t get upset about getting my name wrong. My own mother got my name long. My name is Alisa Grisham. I co write ballots with Paul. We create emergency applications for people admitted within the last 72 hours who can’t get to the polling locate of there’s this prevailing notion disability is a permanent state. Really you’re in a car accident, you break your leg, you’re disabled and you can’t get to the polls, lots of new moms, things like that. Paul said it well once, there’s a poetic wonderful thing about having people who are permanently disabled, running this project to help people who never would have ever thought of themselves as being disabled, vote for the day. And so, it is a lengthy process. It we work from 8:00 p.m. to often, we’ve, I think twice now that I’ve been involved, had the Judge of Elections keep the office open extra time. But we have volunteered who go room to room and collect emergency the ballot applications. And there’s clean room procedures. You name it. Then we have to have doctors and note his sit down together and notarize each document as, yes, this person is in the hospital. We take it to the courthouse where each individual application has to be presented to the judge of elections and approved for a ballot. We get the ballots printed we bring them back to the hospital
>> RON BANDES: Are you talking about the Common Pleas Court judge. Not a district judge of election.
>> ALISA GRISHAM: Sorry, yes, I misspoke. Thank you for the clarification. I’m just trying to remember where I was. So, we go around to volunteers room to room filling out the ballot application, actual ballot, take them back to the Common Court Judge and submit them all. So, it’s this lengthy. Wonderful process, and I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. We have people in there with terminal cancer. There’s a 90 something old woman, she was sobbing shoe knew this was her last elections and she got to vote. Several people of different ages battling cancer had similar stories. New moms and it’s this powerful, wonderful experience. And we’re trying to, you know, take this further into nursing homes, personal care homes. That is its own set of hurdles, this and that. But I will say that we are always looking for volunteers. I think everyone should have a thing on their table, come talk to me afterwards. There’s a sign up sheet, I have sign up sheets come talk to me and I’ll let Jean go on.
>> JEAN SEARLE: Thank you, my name is Jean Searle. I’m a self advocate. The one thing we see in Pennsylvania, there is not a plot of places for people with disabilities to vote. A lot of them have steps, a lot of them are not even accessible. When you do ask them to put a ramp, they refuse to put the ramp, because they figured well, nobody with disability is going to come in here, so why should we put a ramp? And we said, well, you know, you got people in your neighborhood who live right across the street from you, and you need to have a ramp so they could come and vote, and then they always say, well, that’s not important. What’s important is that people who could walk, should be able to walk and be able to come in and vote and do whatever they need to do, which I very much disagree with that.
So, we have fought with them quite a few times, and we’re still fighting. But, I also think that people with disabilities need to really put all of their heart and soul into this election, especially the one from next year. Next year is going to be the hardest for us bigtime, because a lot of people that are returning do not accept people with disabilities. They have no idea what people with disabilities are and what we do. And when we do tell them who Weir and what we want them to do, they’ll say, oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. We’ll do it. But then when it really comes down to the nitty gritty, they decided, nah, that’s okay. Let’s worry about the rich people and all of the other people with disabilities, put them out of the way, because they’re causing other problems, and we’re too much of a hassle for them. So, that’s where I see, and I think that we really need to push the legislators and push everybody that we can to really understand that people with disabilities have a right, just like everybody else does. We live in this world, you know, we are here to fight for what’s right, and fight what we deserve, but I’d also think that I prom Indianapolis to the legislature promises us stuff and they don’t deliver. I hope this year and next year that the legislature really hears us loud and clear. I also think that, because I’ve heard so many people talk today about how powerful it is for people to vote, that I think that we should definitely go out there and just, you know, sleep at their house, or protest, or do something, because I’m tired of just not sitting down and doing something. I mean, we need to just be out there, 24/7, 365 days a year. I don’t carry what kind of weather it is, laws are out there.
>> REGIS CHARLTON: I’m Regis Charlton, I’m a working for center for independent living. We help you register for vote. We ask everybody to come in if they are registered. If they say no, if you want to be registered. If they want to be registered. We assist them. We help them with the ballot. We ask if they would like us to mail the ballot for them. If they do, we’ll do that. If they would rather take the balance the registration home and film it out and send it, we do that. We’d show them where to send it in their County, because it’s different for the county. It’s on there, if they need accessible registration form, we have those as well for people that are visually impaired. We we let them know what their rights are as voters. Voters bill of rights. They are entitled to assistance if they want it or need it. We let them know where their polling place is. We let them know their place is accessible and if they think they mite need to get an absentee ballot. We do all of those things and answer any questions they have about voting and about the political process.
>> AERION ABNEY: Thank you, thank you. The next round of questions we’ll do in rapid fire in the interest of time. I ask you to keep your comments in two or three minutes. Before we do that I think there was an audience member wanted to ask you ace question, Jeep. First back you to, Ron, we were at the Allegheny County board meeting when they were making a decision about the voting machine and you gave some really profound remarks and the process going forward and how this impact the disabled voters. I know we spoke in the priest just panel, can you talk about the decision that was made across Allegheny County and the state new voting systems how that will impact voters with disabilities.
>> RON BANDES: Sure. So, all of the counties in Pennsylvania are retired to have a new voting system by next year. Some counties will by ready this November. Allegheny County is not one of them. I don’t think any Western Pennsylvania count tis will be ready this November. We’ll all be ready for the primary in 2020, the presidential primary. The new voting systems must have either a paper ballot or a paper record. A paper ballot, I think you understand. For most voters, that means it will be a pre printed ballot. They will fill in ovals next to the names of candidates whom they would like to select, and then the voter will, themselves, bring the ballot to a scanner and feed it into the scanner right there in the polling place, at least in most counties, Forest County and Elk County they mate put in a ballot box for later. But for voters who cannot hand mark a ballot, there must be an accessible device that is much like the machines we use today, unlike the machines today which record the choices in computer memory the new machine will simply print out a paper ballot. It will not tabulate your vote or store your choices it prints out the paper ballot and then bring it to the same scanner than those that hand mark their paper ballots. That’s how it will work in counties with hand marked ballots. Some choose to do that for all voters. Philadelphia County, next to Philadelphia is choosing to do that. That is an expensive solution. And one possible design and the one that Philadelphia chose, is one in which the voter never actually handles the ballot. The machine will you make a choice on a touch screen, the machine will print a ballot which is they call it a card, it’s about four, five inches wide but 14 inches long and it has a summary of your choices. Only candidates you selected would appear and not candidates you did not select. And that card would appear behind Plexiglas window, where it would shoot the card into the ballot lox. One problem, Alisa no, it was Christine made me aware of, was it’s hard to scan, using your phone, if you have some text to voice reading software such as voice dream, I think it was Christine told me about, using the camera on your phone to read the ballot to you, it doesn’t see through that Plexiglas very well and you have to ask the poll worker to remove the card and it changes the whole procedure.
So, I think that about covers it.
>> AERION ABNEY: So, miss Grisham, I’m coming to you next. Very impressed by your initiative an effort and intentionality for serving the population you serve. And getting them a ballot. I’m not sure getting that approved through the red tape was easy but for anyone interested in replicating something like you did, walk us through sort of the process that you had to go through in order to get the green light to have this approved.
>> ALISA GRISHAM: A lot of the this, as Paul spoke about earlier after the one woman did the curbside vote and the state implemented this emergency absentee ballot that paved the way for us to be able to open this, to do this. It is still there is you have to, first of all, work with the hospital, so, that is a lot of work in and of itself, and because it’s a lot of effort a lot of the time the hospitals aren’t so thrilled about having to participate, so, there’s a lot of cultivating relationships there. And there’s the hurdles of, you know, if you have a more wide spread County, now, we have a fairly contested County. So, driving ballots and what not back and forth between the courthouse downtown and respective hospitals isn’t such a big deal, but, A, we can only take care of Allegheny County residents in Allegheny County, because there’s no way we can get a single driver to go back and forth to Butler multiple times. It’s just not feasible. And I think County that’s have, you know, hospitals and County seats that are further apart, that might be a timing issue.
I will never stop doing ballots for patients, but I think in many ways, a lot of places might be better served by trying to change how we vote in the state, which will be good for everyone, if we do things like advance voting or things like that. So, in some way, I almost feel like, for most counties, that’s a more feasible idea. But, you know, anyone can do this if you’re you know, you like not sleeping for a week and living on coffee and spread sheets, so
>> AERION ABNEY: Thank you, thank you. For your next question, I’m going a little off script and looking at Miss Mary, and she’s not looking back at me. It’s my privilege as a moderator to do that. There was a specific audience member that had a question for gene Jean
>> Thanks, Jean, I know we talked about people who have physical disabilities and may not be able to see or hear but I’m thinking about a person who hey not be able to read, who can get into the polling place, but can’t read the ballot but still knows how they want to vote for. Can we talk about how those people can vote and express their preferences maybe through assistance in the polling place?
>> JEAN SEARLE: Sure. I think one day, a couple years ago, we started another program in Harrisburg, and what we do, is we we would go out to every polling place to see if it was accessible. And when people go to the polling place and if not, they would call the disability rights, we have a hotline number that people will call. We just we collect calls, on election day, and it’s occupy from 8:00 in the morning, or sometimes 7:30, all depends on what time the poll places open, from 7:30 or until 8:00. So, a couple staff people will be in the office answering phones. I remembered this one person that went to the polls with her husband, and he was very much disabled, and he could not they were not the polling place was not even accessible for him. So, she called the polling place to see if they could make it accessible for him to be able to go into the polling place to vote. And the poll worker said that there’s no way that they were able to do that. So, her idea was maybe take the poll the ballot, not ballot, but the machine outside to the car, and see if he could vote it that way. Well, they were going to do that, but it was so hard for them to do that, that they had to come up with another way for that to happen, so, they had to take the whole machine apart in order for him to be able to vote inside his car, because there was no way for him to be able to get inside the place to vote.
And the other thing is that a lot of people with physical and blind people, now they are trying tell us that they are still going to use the old machine this year, but what they’re talking about is use the paper ballot for next year for the 2020 election.
The problem that I see with that is that, first of all, it’s not accessible for a person who has Barb who are blind, who are hard of hearing, and don’t understand what’s going on, and I think with the paper ballot, it’s not going to work for anybody with a disability. They are also talking about getting rid of the machines all together, which I think is a very bad idea. I don’t know if anybody here in the room has heard that before, but this is what we’re hearing in Pennsylvania. So, I’m hoping that answers the question. But if not, I’ll ask the Board if you need it.
>> AERION ABNEY: Thank you, Jean. Regis I’m coming to you with this one. For those individuals who may be allies for voter was disabilities who may not know the best waste to be supportive. What recommendations would you have in terms of advocacy they can do to be better ail lies to make sure the voting rights for people with disabilities are always at the forefront front of everybody’s conversations?
>> REGIS CHARLTON: Sure thing. I would encourage advocates to let their people know who have disabilities that it’s a form of self empowerment. It’s an opportunity to get your voice raised. I would encourage them to know billion the legislation that’s going to impact people with disabilities. For example, the Family Care Act, the proposed changes to the MOD program right now, to raise the wages up to, I believe, $75,000, and that’s going to help people to be able to accept the promotion, accept more hours. This is has happened to a lot of people before. The ABLE account, if you are on assistance or SSI, or SSDI, the changes to that proposal right now there’s active legislation going on that’s going to raise that age from 26 to 46. Those are some things that will really impact the disabled community as well as if they vote, they are going get integrated into the community. They are going be engaged. Also, I read recently, the impact that we are having, even though it seems like it’s not, I think it’s starting to turn, more people every year with disabilities are voting. One in six voters are disabled. So, imagine every person that was disabled, was one of the six that voted, the impact we would have and we would get more attention. I just also read, in a study, from Rutgers University, that they were saying that if the people with disabilities voted at the same rate and same demographics as people without disabilities in the upcoming elections, there would be 21.3 million more voters. If that happens we sure are going to get their attention.
>> AERION ABNEY: Regis, I’ll stick with you, you have the mic. The last question for you, and I ask you keep it at 60 seconds or less. I’m looking at everybody. All right. Regis, if there is somebody who was here who would like to get involved with your organization or the work you all are doing how would they reach out to you, how would they find you, how do they get involved? What does that process look like?
>> REGIS CHARLTON: Just call our toll free number 1 866 652 5144 and we have a Website, Disability Options Network. You’ll find us. And a Google number 412 353 3826. I answer that all of time. I turn off my phone at 9:00 at my wife’s request, so I can stay married but those are the best ways you can do that.
[ Laughter ]
>> REGIS CHARLTON: Thank you.
>> JEAN SEARLE: For us, the Disability Rights of Pennsylvania our number is 1 800 652 7443. You can also reach me at DisabilityRightsPA.org. I am there, my name is Jean Searle as a self advocate. So thank you.
>> ALISA GRISHAM: So, everyone should have a card on their table, somewhere on their table with info. You can e mail us at [email protected] or sign in on the signup.
>> PAUL O’HANLON: Or Facebook Pittsburgh Ballots of Patients.
>> RON BANDES: League of Women Voters of greater pit Burke you can find online at lwvpgh.org, or our phone number, phone number in our Pittsburgh office is 412 261 4284.
>> AERION ABNEY: I also want to just flag election protection will be running again this election in November and again in 2020 for those who do not know, election protection is a hotline where you can call if you run into issues on election day, a say polling place is inaccessible. That number is 1 866 our vote. That’s 1 866 687 8683.
Give a round of applause for all of our panelists today. We appreciate you being here. Thank you so much.
[ Applause ]
>> So, this concludes our program. Folks, there are to go boxes. Thank you, to my colleague, Laura Power for coming up with that idea. We don’t waste food. We want you to take it home. Please take to go boxes, drinks, everything. Just walk out of the museum with you, just don’t take any treasures with you. Thank you, everybody, I appreciate the discussion and speakers. Thank you.
Fill out the surveys.
[ Applause ]
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